Science World

Ocean Health Rates 60 Out of 100

For many students, getting 60 percent on a test is practically a failing grade.  Yet a new study, which rates overall ocean health at 60 out of a 100, suggests that score is not as bad as some think.

The Ocean Health Index (OCI) assesses the health of the oceans using a wide spectrum of evaluating factors such as the ecological, social, economic and political conditions for every coastal country.

While the OCI shows there are problems maintaining ocean health, Ben Halpern, lead scientist of the project, says there are many things humans are doing right in order to achieve  a score of 60.

The individual scores of the 171 evaluated countries vary widely; from a low of 36 off the coast of Sierra Leone to a high of 86 for the waters surrounding the uninhabited Jarvis Island in the Pacific.  In general, the other highest-scoring locations are densely populated and highly developed, while developing nations tend to be more likely to score low.

Halpern says that’s because developed countries tend to have stable governments, more resources and a stronger economies, which gives them the ability to pay more attention to environmental stewardship.

Unlike previous similar studies which focus only on the negative impact of human activity, the OCI is the first global assessment to combine both natural and human dimensions of ocean sustainability, according to Halpern. The study considers people as part of the ocean, not  as separate negative influences on the ocean.

“This index is really trying to reframe the discussion around, not just how we are impacting the ocean, but how the ocean impacts us,” said Halpern.

He adds the OCI provides a way to look at how human activities decrease or increase the ability of the ocean to provide us the things that we want, such as food, economic and recreational opportunities.

Ben Halpern joins us this weekend on the radio edition of Science World.  Check out the right column for scheduled air-times or listen now to the interview below.

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Curiosity Beams Back Stunning Mars Images, Human Voice

This photo of the base of Mount Sharp, represents a chapter of the layered geological history of Mars. (Photo: ASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

This photo of the base of Mount Sharp shows the layered geology of Mars. (NASA)

NASA’s Curiosity rover has beamed back spectacular HD photos of the Martian surface.

Captured by a 100-millimeter telephoto lens and 34-milllimeter wide angle lens, the images show the dark dunes,  layered rock and canyons of Mount Sharp, a mountain inside Gale Crater, where the rover landed.

NASA also released photos of Curiosity at work as it prepares to explore the Red Planet.

In another feat, Curiosity received and beamed back the first human voice transmission to travel from Earth to another planet and back.

The voice was that of NASA Administrator, Charles Bolden. The message was radioed to Mars, where it was received and then retransmitted back to Earth by Curiosity. Here on Earth, the return signal from Mars was picked up by NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN).

Photo was taken to test the 100-mm Mast Camera on NASA's Curiosity rover. Up close in the image is the gravelly area around the rover's landing site in the distance is Mt. Sharp, Curiosity's eventual destination. (Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Up close is the gravelly area around the rover’s landing site while in the distance is Mt. Sharp, Curiosity’s eventual destination. (NASA)

This image taken by the Mast Camera (MastCam) on NASA's Curiosity rover highlights the interesting geology of Mount Sharp, a mountain inside Gale Crater, where the rover landed. (Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

This image highlights the varied geology of Mount Sharp, a mountain inside Gale Crater, where the rover landed. (NASA)

The two donut-shaped tracks make an infinity symbol, and mark the first two drives (08/22/12 & 08/27/12) of NASA's Curiosity rover. The landing site is at the far right. (Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The two donut-shaped tracks make an infinity symbol and mark Curiosity’s first two drives. The landing site is at the far right. (NASA)

In his message, Bolden noted the difficulties of putting a rover on Mars and congratulated NASA employees and all  involved with the project on the successful landing.  He also commented on how curiosity is what drives humans to explore.

“The knowledge we hope to gain from our observation and analysis of Gale Crater will tell us much about the possibility of life on Mars as well as the past and future possibilities for our own planet. Curiosity will bring benefits to Earth and inspire a new generation of scientists and explorers, as it prepares the way for a human mission in the not too distant future,” Bolden said in his recorded message.

The rover is also busy stretching its legs, recently taking a couple of test drives near its landing spot.

Curiosity is already sending more data from the Martian surface than all of NASA’s earlier rovers combined, the space agency said.

Members of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission listen to a voice message from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in the mission support area at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Neil Armstrong, First Man on the Moon, Dead at 82

Official NASA Apollo 11 portrait of Astronaut Neil A. Armstrong, commander of the Lunar Landing mission. (Photo: NASA)

Official NASA Apollo 11 portrait of Astronaut Neil A. Armstrong, commander of the Lunar Landing mission. (Photo: NASA)

Neil Armstrong, the first man to step onto the surface of the moon, died Saturday  from heart-surgery related complications. He was 82.

It was more than 40 years ago that Armstrong uttered the now-iconic words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” forever sealing his place in history.

He spoke the words just before stepping onto the moon, effectively ending the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Neil Alden Armstrong was born on Aug. 5, 1930 in Wapakoneta, Ohio. His love of flying began at age 2 when his father took him to the Cleveland Air Races.

Throughout his childhood, while his family moved from one small Ohio town to another, Armstrong’s interest in flying grew. He read countless fiction and non-fiction books on aviation.

After high school, Armstrong entered a special US Navy program that allowed him to complete his first year and a half at Purdue University before being called up for naval service where he flew a number of missions during the Korean War.

Test pilot Neil Armstrong with the rocket-powered X-15-3 aircraft (Photo: NASA)

Test pilot Neil Armstrong with the rocket-powered X-15-3 aircraft (Photo: NASA)

Following his service in the US Navy, Armstrong earned a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering and became an experimental research test pilot, flying a variety of airplanes and jets, including the famous X-15 rocket powered aircraft.

In June of 1962, Armstrong learned NASA was looking for its second group of astronauts.  He submitted his application, but it arrived about a week after the applications were due.  Fortunately for Armstrong, an old friend working at NASA’s Manned Spacecraft center saw his late-arriving application and slipped it into the group of applications being considered.

On Sept. 13, 1962,  Armstrong was invited to join NASA’s Astronaut Corps as part of   “the New Nine,” the next group of US astronauts following the original Mercury 7 astronauts.

Armstrong first flew into space on March 16, 1966, as command pilot for the two-man Gemini 8 mission. At the time, it was the most complex manned space flight attempted by NASA.  Gemini 8 was the first US space mission to rendezvous and dock with another spacecraft, an unmanned vehicle called the Agena.  Armstrong later served as a back-up command pilot for the Gemini 11 mission.

July 16, 1969 - Mission commander Neil Armstrong, command module pilot Michael Collins, and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin prepare to ride the special transport van to Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A where their Apollo 11 spacecraft awaited them.  (Photo: NASA)

July 16, 1969 – Mission commander Neil Armstrong, command module pilot Michael Collins, and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin prepare to ride the special transport van to Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A where their Apollo 11 spacecraft awaited them. (Photo: NASA)

In April 1967, Armstrong was selected for  NASA’s Apollo program, placing him  among a group of astronauts bound for the moon.

After serving as back-up commander for Apollo 8, the mission that first orbited the moon in 1968, Armstrong was teamed up with fellow astronauts, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins for the Apollo 11 mission, which put  the first man on the moon.

On July 16, 1969, Armstrong, – along with crewmates Aldrin and Collins – climbed into the space capsule, nicknamed Columbia. Powered by the monstrous Saturn V launch vehicle, Apollo 11 lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center for its 384,000 kilometer trip to the moon.

Four days later, on July 20, 1969, Armstrong and Aldrin took the lunar module known as the “Eagle,” for a trip from the orbiting command module to the surface of the moon.

About seven hours after the Eagle landed at the Sea of Tranquility, Armstrong  climbed down the Eagle’s ladder and onto the surface of the moon.

The world celebrated as they watched Armstrong and Aldrin do what most thought was impossible – walk on the moon.

Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface, taken by Buzz Aldrin, July 1969 (Photo: NASA)

Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface, taken by Buzz Aldrin, July 1969 (Photo: NASA)

After spending about 21 hours on the lunar surface, the Eagle left the moon to rendezvous with the command module for the trip back to Earth.  Apollo 11’s historic mission ended with a  splash into the North Pacific Ocean on July 24, 1969.

Shortly after the Apollo 11 flight, Armstrong announced  he would not return to space.

About a year after his history-making moment, Armstrong earned a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Southern California. He resigned from NASA in 1971.

After NASA, Armstrong taught  at the University of Cincinnati (Ohio), served on the board of directors of several major corporations and was chairman of the EDO Corporation, which designed and manufactured products  used in defense, intelligence, and commercial industries.  He retired from EDO in 2002.

Armstrong was selected to serve on panels investigating both the Apollo 13 accident in 1970 and, later, the 1986 space shuttle Challenger disaster.

A few weeks ago, Armstrong underwent surgery to relieve blocked coronary arteries. He died Saturday from complications related to the procedure surgery.

Buzz Aldrin, who piloted the Apollo 11 lunar module,  said of Armstrong’s passing, “I am very saddened to learn of the passing of Neil Armstrong today. Neil and I trained together as technical partners but were also good friends who will always be connected through our participation in the Apollo 11 mission. Whenever I look at the moon it reminds me of the moment over four decades ago when I realized that even though we were farther away from Earth than two humans had ever been, we were not alone.”

Video montage produced by NASA in 2009 for the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 trip to the moon and back.

A statement released by Armstrong’s family after his death, summed it up this way,  “[he was a] reluctant American hero [and had] served his nation proudly, as a navy fighter pilot, test pilot, and astronaut… While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves.”

NASA Plans Another Mission to Mars

Artist rendition of the InSight Lander at work on the surface of Mars. (Photo: JPL/NASA)

Artist rendition of the InSight Lander at work on the surface of Mars. (Photo: JPL/NASA)

NASA just can’t get enough of Mars.  Two weeks after successfully landing  the much-ballyhooed rover Curiosity on the red planet, officials at the U.S. space agency announced that yet another  mission to Mars is set for 2016.

The InSight mission, which stands for “Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport,” will investigate deep below the Martian surface to see why the planet developed differently than Earth.

InSight, according to NASA, will be more than a mission to Mars. Officials hope  this terrestrial planet explorer will  answer some long-held questions about planetary and solar system science, including the processes that went into forming the rocky planets of the inner solar system -Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars- more than four billion years ago.

Unlike the Mars explorers currently cruising the planet’s surface, the InSight lander is designed to stay put while several sophisticated instruments do the heavy lifting.

While a robotic arm and two cameras help set and monitor all of the gear placed on the planet’s surface, an onboard geodetic instrument will determine the rotational axis of Mars.

Other devices include one that measures the seismic waves traveling though the interior of Mars, as well as a subsurface heat probe designed to gauge the heat flow from the planet’s interior.

The InSight mission is getting assistance from international partners including the French space agency, CNES, which is contributing the seismic monitoring equipment. The German Aerospace Center is slated to  provide the subsurface heat probe.

Mission team members for InSight, the new Mars lander mission selected by NASA to launch in 2016, explain how the spacecraft will advance our knowledge of Mars’ history and rocky planet evolution.

The InSight mission was selected from three finalist proposals which were chosen from many in May 2011. The two rejected missions included putting a spacecraft on the surface of a comet, while the other proposed a mission to Saturn’s moon Titan.

“The exploration of Mars is a top priority for NASA, and the selection of InSight ensures we will continue to unlock the mysteries of the Red Planet and lay the groundwork for a future human mission there,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “The recent successful landing of the Curiosity rover has galvanized public interest in space exploration and today’s announcement makes clear there are more exciting Mars missions to come.”

Scheduled for launch in March 2016, InSight is expected to land on Mars in September 2016 for a 720-day mission.

Need to Check Your Cholesterol? Take a Picture

Indian researchers have developed a pain-free cholesterol test that uses digital cameras instead of needles.  (Photo: Andrew Ferguson via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Indian researchers have developed a pain-free cholesterol test that uses digital cameras instead of needles. (Photo: Andrew Ferguson via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Checking your cholesterol could soon be as simple as snapping a picture of your hand.

Folks with an aversion to needles will welcome news that researchers in India have developed a cholesterol test which uses a digital camera instead of needles.

N.R. Shanker and his colleagues from the Sree Sastha Institute of Engineering and Technology write about their new, non-invasive  cholesterol test in a recent edition of the International Journal of Medical Engineering and Informatics.

A snap shot of the back of a patient’s hand, taken with a digital or mobile phone camera, is cropped to focus on the finger creases  where  cholesterol tends to be concentrated and can be detected by the camera, according to researchers.

Using a special image processing computer program they developed, researchers compare the patient’s hand image to thousands of similar pictures  contained within a large database.

The database images represent varying degrees of cholesterol levels and each image is linked to a measurement that had been taken with a standard cholesterol blood test.

Indian researchers say the creases between fingers on the back of the hand can indicate a person's cholesterol levels. (Photo: David DeHetre via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Indian researchers say the creases between fingers on the back of the hand can indicate a person’s cholesterol levels. (Photo: David DeHetre via Flickr/Creative Commons)

If the non-invasive test shows  a patient has a higher-than-normal total cholesterol level,  a more extensive cholesterol blood test is administered to determine the specific levels of good (HDL) vs. bad (LDL) cholesterol in the patient’s blood stream.

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance  the body produces to help keep it healthy.  According to the National Institutes of Health, cholesterol makes hormones, vitamin D and substances that help digest food.

Our bodies produce two types of cholesterol, LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol and HDL (high-density lipoprotein).

Too much bad cholesterol can build up as plaque – a thick, hard deposit the artery walls.  Continued buildup of this plaque can develop into a condition called arteriosclerosis, or narrowing of the arteries, putting a person at risk of heart disease, stroke or heart attack.

Good cholesterol, according to the American Heart Association, is thought to protect against heart attack.

Some researchers even believe that HDL can remove excess cholesterol from arterial plaque, slowing down its buildup on the walls of your arteries.

High levels of LDL cholesterol can be caused eating a diet that’s high in saturated fats or it could be genetic in nature passed along within a family from generation to generation.

High LDL cholesterol levels lead to plaque build up on artery walls (Image: CDC)

High LDL cholesterol levels lead to plaque build up on artery walls (Image: CDC)

Your bad cholesterol levels can also increase if you live a sedentary lifestyle.

Exercise can cause LDL levels to drop while levels of  good (HDL) cholesterol rise.

So if you find that you have an elevated level of LDL cholesterol, bringing it back down to normal may be as easy as eating a healthy diet and getting some exercise.

Study: Not Keeping Physically Active Could Kill You

Many people today have sedentary jobs, sitting at their desks all day (Photo: Star511 at Flickr/Creative Commons)2

Many people today have sedentary jobs, sitting at their desks all day (Photo: Star511 at Flickr/Creative Commons)

Are the technologies and comforts of modern society making us inactive and lazy?

In a recent study published by the British medical journal, the “Lancet,” in 2008 physical inactivity led to the death of nearly 5.3 million people across the world – that’s one in every 10 deaths.

It’s been reported that the problem of physical inactivity is growing in pandemic proportions.

Dr. Michael Joyner, a physiologist at the Mayo Clinic, writing in “The Journal of Physiology,” expands on concerns about the lack of physical activity and says that inactivity or a lack of exercise should be treated as if it were a medical condition.

Joyner says that the idea of inactivity’s impact on our health has been emerging in the medical community for at least the last 10 years.

“We’re looking at the exercise, inactivity/activity all wrong,” he says. “We’ve defined the normal state as the physically inactive state when in fact the normal state is the active state and so many of our lifestyle-related diseases and chronic diseases have their root cause in physical inactivity.”

Joyner also says that innovative treatments for many of these health problems center on increasing people’s physical activity.

He suggests that inactivity be “medicalized,” similar to what has been done to treat other health issues such as addiction and smoking.  That way, Joyner says, new treatments can be developed including those that focus on behavioral modifications and physical activity.

Taking it further, Joyner suggests that nations take public health measures to help promote physical activity.

Instead of spending hours sitting on your couch watching TV, why not get up and go for a walk? (Photo: Jessica Spengler via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Instead of spending hours sitting on your couch watching TV, why not get up and go for a walk? (Photo: Jessica Spengler via Flickr/Creative Commons)

So why has a lack of physical activity become such a problem? Joyner says there are what he describes as “death spirals” occurring simultaneously that encourages us to be less physically active and eat too much.

For example, he points out, that instead of getting their children to go outside and play, many parents today simply allow them to sit around the house to watch TV or play video games.  And, rather than encourage them to walk or ride their bicycles to school, some parents just drive their kids to and from their school’s doorstep.

Adults too have been sucked into the inactive lifestyle, according to Joyner.  He says that more people today are working in urban environments, where it might be difficult to be physically active all day long.

“In places like the United States and other developed countries, we’re sort of prisoners to our cars and so forth,” Joyner said.

Joyner says that less activity along with all of the rich, calorie-laden food that’s quickly available and ready to eat can combine into a real problem.

That problem, he says, includes non-communicable diseases like diabetes, hypertension, obesity, heart disease, stroke, and depression, which have been affecting the developed world and are increasingly affecting countries that are in economic transition.

According to Joyner, the diseases are all linked to lower levels of physical activity.

On the other hand, he says, people who maintain an active lifestyle are relatively protected from the conditions.  Joyner also points out that those who already have the diseases can get better when they become more physically active.

Joyner warns that if nothing is done to address inactivity, people are going to continue to get sick, their kidneys and blood vessels will fail, and they will need plenty of costly medical treatments.

Getting physically active can be as easy as taking a brisk walk every day. (Photo: Trailnet via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Getting physically active can be as easy as taking a brisk walk every day. (Photo: Trailnet via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Joyner says that if physical inactivity were treated as a medical condition, doctors and other providers can be better educated about the benefits of physical activity and become much more aware of the value of prescribing exercise instead of drugs.

That, he says, could also encourage the development of more formal rehabilitation programs that include innovative cognitive and behavioral therapy.

If after reading this you recognize that you aren’t as physically inactive as you should be, Joyner says a number of studies have shown that 150 minutes a week of “moderately vigorous physical activity” offers a level of protection from potentially deadly diseases and conditions.

“The easiest way to do that,” Joyner says, “is to go out on five 30-minute walks a week, and push it a little bit.” But he warns not to push too hard, “just a good brisk walk.”  If you find it difficult to do 30 minutes at a time, Dr. Joyner suggests that you can break up the walking sessions into three 10-minute segments and only do what you can handle.

For those people who have been inactive for a long period of time, gained some weight or have developed medical problems, getting physically active can be an even more difficult challenge.

If you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, are a smoker or are over 45 years of age, Joyner says that you might want to see your physician before starting a physical activity or exercise program.

But don’t be discouraged, Joyner adds that in general, data shows that a majority of people can go out and walk to their level of discomfort without a lot of risk, meaning that most can begin a walking program relatively easy.

Dr. Michael Joyner is with us for this week’s radio edition of Science World and he talks about the dangers of being physically inactive and most importantly what we can do to help ourselves get and stay active and healthy.

Listen to the interview below.

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Dr. Joyner’s blog – here

Science Images of the Week

Millions of monarch butterflies are expected to migrate south in less than a month in their seasonal trip from Canada to Mexico. Ecologists in Kansas and Missouri say extreme temperatures in the Midwest could hurt their southern migration. (Photo: AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

Millions of monarch butterflies are expected to migrate south in less than a month in their seasonal trip from Canada to Mexico. Ecologists in Kansas and Missouri say extreme temperatures in the Midwest could hurt their southern migration. (Photo: AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

NASA's new Mars rover Curiosity's takes a panoramic picture of itself by its navigation cameras. The picture is actually a mosaic of multple shots taken by the Mars rover. (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA’s new Mars rover Curiosity takes a panoramic picture of itself by its navigation cameras. The picture is actually a mosaic of multiple shots taken by the Mars rover. (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

That's sure one big snake! Researchers at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the University of Florida campus prepare to examine the anatomy of a 17-foot-7-inch Burmese python, the largest found in Florida so far. The more than 75 kg snake carried a state record 87 eggs in its oviducts. (Photo: Unniversity of Florida photo by Kristen Grace/Florida Museum of Natural History)

That’s sure one big snake! Researchers at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the University of Florida campus prepare to examine the anatomy of a 17-foot-7-inch Burmese python, the largest found in Florida so far. The more than 75 kg snake carried a state record 87 eggs in its oviducts. (Photo: University of Florida photo by Kristen Grace/Florida Museum of Natural History)

NASA's Orion spacecraft will take astronauts on missions to destinations far beyond Earth, such as to an asteroid and Mars. This photo shows one of Orion’s main parachutes undergoing a test of recovery procedures for the parachutes. (Photo: NASA/James Blair)

NASA’s Orion spacecraft will take astronauts on missions to destinations far beyond Earth, such as to an asteroid and Mars. This photo shows one of Orion’s main parachutes undergoing a test of recovery procedures for the parachutes. (Photo: NASA/James Blair)

Cave divers exploring a submarine lava tube cave in the Canary Islands for a National Science Foundation-supported expedition,"Survey of Anchialine Cave Fauna of the Bahama Islands" (Photo: Jill Heinerth/NSF)

Cave divers exploring a submarine lava tube cave in the Canary Islands for a National Science Foundation-supported expedition, ‘Survey of Anchialine Cave Fauna of the Bahama Islands’ (Photo: Jill Heinerth/NSF)

Lab on a chip (LOC) devices are microchip-size systems that can prepare and analyze tiny fluid samples with volumes ranging from a few microliters (millionth of a liter) to sub-nanoliters (less than a billionth of a liter)—and some day could revolutionize how laboratory tasks such as diagnosing diseases and investigating forensic evidence are performed. (Photo: Cooksey/NIST)

Lab on a chip (LOC) devices are microchip-size systems that can prepare and analyze tiny fluid samples with volumes ranging from a few microliters (millionth of a liter) to sub-nanoliters (less than a billionth of a liter) and some day could revolutionize how laboratory tasks such as diagnosing diseases and investigating forensic evidence are performed. (Photo: Cooksey/NIST)

Turning its eye to the Tarantula Nebula, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has taken this close-up of the outskirts of the main cloud of the Nebula. The Tarantula Nebula is located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, one of our neighboring galaxies, and situated at a distance of 170,000 light-years away from Earth. (Photo: European Space Agency/Judy Schmidt)

Turning its eye to the Tarantula Nebula, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has taken this close-up of the outskirts of the main cloud of the Nebula. The Tarantula Nebula is located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, one of our neighboring galaxies, and situated at a distance of 170,000 light-years away from Earth. (Photo: European Space Agency/Judy Schmidt)

Juvenile crocodile captured in Homestead, Fla. Since the croc monitoring program began at the plant in 1978, some 5,000 hatchlings have been captured and marked. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Juvenile crocodile captured in Homestead, Florida. Since the croc monitoring program began at the plant in 1978, some 5,000 hatchlings have been captured and marked. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

The heat shield for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory is being prepared at Lockaheed Martin Space Systems, Denver. It's the largest ever built for a planetary mission. (Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin)

The heat shield for NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory is being prepared at Lockaheed Martin Space Systems in Denver. It’s the largest ever built for a planetary mission. (Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin)

Female pillar coral releases eggs in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Researchers say it was the first time anyone has observed female pillar coral spawning. (Photo; AP Photo/Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, Karen Neely)

Female pillar coral releases eggs in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Researchers say it was the first time anyone has observed female pillar coral spawning. (Photo; AP Photo/Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, Karen Neely)

Scientists Find Fault with Chemical in Antibacterial Products

Washing hands with some antibacterial soap (Photo: Laura Holder via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Washing hands with some antibacterial soap (Photo: Laura Holder via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Scientists in Colorado and California say in a study recently published online by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they have found that a chemical used in some antibacterial soaps and similar products can obstruct muscle contractions.

They say that at a cellular level, the chemical can slow a fish’s swimming abilities and it reduces muscular strength in mice.

The chemical, called triclosan is an antimicrobial agent and its uses in the U.S. are regulated by both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  Triclosan can be found in products such as soaps, deodorants, mouthwashes, toothpaste, bedding, clothes, carpets, toys and trash bags.

It should be noted that most hand sanitizers however use alcohol and do not contain triclosan.

According to researchers, a 1998 estimate by the EPA found more than 454 metric tons of triclosan is produced each year in the U.S.  The chemical was found in human urine, blood and breast milk. It was also found in various waterways and marine life including algae, fish and dolphins.

To assess the effects of triclosan on muscle activity, the scientists performed several experiments on mice and fish. They used doses of the chemical similar to what people and animals could be exposed to during everyday life.

“The effects of triclosan on cardiac function were really dramatic,” said study co-author Nipavan Chiamvimonvat, MD. “Although triclosan is not regulated as a drug, this compound acts like a potent cardiac depressant in our models.”

Dr. Chiamvimonvat cautioned that taking the results of their experiments with animal models to humans would be a large step and that further study is needed.  But researchers said the fact that the effects of the chemical were so striking in their experiments, provides strong evidence that triclosan could have effects on animal and human health at current levels of exposure.

Other experts are said to have also expressed concern that the overuse of antibacterial products could lead to the development of resistant bacterial strains.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said that although triclosan is not currently known to be hazardous to humans, they’re continuing to review it because of several scientific studies that have come out since the product was last reviewed.

“Triclosan can be useful in some instances,” noted Bruce Hammock, the study’s co-author, “however it has become a ubiquitous ‘value-added’ marketing factor that actually could be more harmful than helpful. At the very least, our findings call for a dramatic reduction in its use.”

 

Stormy Sun Weather Could Damage World’s Power Grids

Space weather can affect electrical power grids (Photo: miuenski miuenski via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Space weather can affect electrical power grids (Photo: miuenski miuenski via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Stormy weather on the sun could soon wreak havoc on Earth, knocking the world’s power grids off line while damaging communication equipment, satellites,  spacecraft and GPS systems, possibly leaving us  unable to communicate or transact normal business.

Mike Hapgood, a scientist who specializes in space weather at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in England, told Reuters  governments around the world are taking threats posed by these solar storms so seriously that they’re putting them on their national risk registers, which are normally used for disaster planning, along with events  like tsunamis and volcanic eruption.

“These things may be very rare but when they happen, the consequences can be catastrophic,” Hapgood said.

The sun, just like Earth, has its own weather systems. And, just like on Earth, the sun can have bouts of really stormy conditions from time to time.

Image of a Coronal Mass Ejection from our Sun (Photo: SOHO Consortium, ESA, NASA)

Image of a Coronal Mass Ejection from our Sun (Photo: SOHO Consortium, ESA, NASA)

The frequency and intensity of these solar weather storms wax and wane throughout an 11-year cycle. Scientists say  we’re headed for a period  where the sun will be the most active, something they call a ‘solar maximum.’

Thanks to Earth’s protective magnetic fields and our atmosphere, we’re mostly protected from the effects of solar events.

In the United States, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provides real-time monitoring and forecasting of solar and geophysical events and is the country’s official source of space weather alerts, watches and warnings.

NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) is part of the National Weather Service, the component of NOAA that provides weather, water and climate data, as well as forecasts and warnings.

SWPC’s daily forecasts provide the latest space weather information. Warnings and alerts are issued for any potentially-troublesome solar or geophysical conditions.

Satelites, GPS and communications equipment can be hobbled (Image: FMCSA/Dept of Transportation)

Satelites, GPS and communications equipment can be hobbled (Image: FMCSA/Dept of Transportation)

With the sun entering its most active phase of the 11-year solar cycle, SWPC ‘s Joe Kunches says those involved in industries and technologies most affected by solar flares and coronal mass ejections should pay close attention to space weather forecasts.

Kunches agrees severe solar events should be added to governments’ national risk registries alongside tsunamis and volcanic eruptions.

“We’ve become so accustomed to electricity and all of the things that are afforded by having a reliable power system, food storage and so on, that if you had a strong and very severe space weather event, probably most people on the ground would have no knowledge of that directly, but they would know in short order when the systems on which they depend aren’t working anymore,” said Kunches.

Video of prominence eruption producing a coronal mass ejection 4/16/12 (Video: NASA)

Kunches joins us this weekend on the radio edition of ”Science World” to discuss potential  solar events which could impact our daily lives.

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:

Science Images of the Week

Doppler radar installation in Arizona's Empire Mountains, east of Tucson, set (Photo: Bill Morrow via Creative Commons/Flickr)

Doppler radar installation in Arizona’s Empire Mountains, east of Tucson (Photo: Bill Morrow via Creative Commons/Flickr)

Curiosity's Heat Shield dropping away as seen by during its descent to the surface of Mars on Aug. 6, 2012 (Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Curiosity takes a picture of its heat shield dropping away during its descent to the surface of Mars on Aug. 6, 2012 (Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

A technician tests a component of the Curiosity rover's ChemCam unit, which will help identify rock and soil targets on Mars. (Photo: LeRoy Sanchez/NNSA-USDOE)

A technician tests a component of the Curiosity rover’s ChemCam unit, which will help identify rock and soil targets on Mars. (Photo: LeRoy Sanchez/NNSA-USDOE)

From the Hubble Space Telescope - Two spiral galaxies are squaring off in the constellation of Virgo. When two galaxies collide, the stars that compose them usually do not. This is because galaxies are mostly empty space. (Photo: NASA, ESA, M. Livio (STScI) and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA))

The Hubble Space Telescope captured two spiral galaxies squaring off in the constellation of Virgo. When two galaxies collide, the stars that compose them usually do not, because galaxies are mostly empty space. (Photo: NASA)

View of the interior of the newly attached Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV-3) docked to the International Space Station, (Photo: NASA/ISS Expedition 32)

View of the interior of the newly-attached Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) transfer vehicle  docked to the International Space Station. (Photo: NASA)

Participants of marine debris removal activities sit atop a mound of derelict fishing gear collected in Papahānaumokuākea. (Photo: NOAA)

Participants of marine debris removal activities sit atop a mound of derelict fishing gear collected in Hawaii. (Photo: NOAA)

Captured lightning (Photo: Bert Hickman, Stoneridge Engineering via NSF)

This “fossil” of an electrical discharge is created by striking a nail into a highly-charged block of acrylic where this captured lightning is stored.  These creations help scientists create a network of artificial blood vessels. (Photo: Bert Hickman, Stoneridge Engineering via NSF)

Hubble's Deepest View of Universe Unveils Never-Before-Seen Galaxies (Photo: NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth (UCO/Lick Observatory and the University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (UCO/Lick Observatory and Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team)

Hubble’s deepest view of the universe unveils never-before-seen galaxies (Photo: NASA)

A hydrothermal vent field at Axial Volcano (submarine volcano and seamount) as seen through the porthole of the submersible Alvin. (Photo: Mark Spear/WHOI via NSF)

Photo taken from the submersible Alvin of a hydrothermal vent – a break in the surface of the sea floor that spews water which has been heated by the underlying magma of the Axial volcano – some 480 km west of Cannon Beach, Oregon. (Photo: Mark Spear/WHOI via NSF)

Glassy powder being applied to a metal component, when the powder is fused with lasers it forms a new super durable coating material that helps extended the life of tools that wear out quickly (Photo:Oak Ridge National Laboratory)

Glassy powder being applied to a metal component. When the powder is fused with lasers, it forms a new super-durable coating that helps extend the life of tools that wear out quickly. (Photo:Oak Ridge National Laboratory)