Saturday, March 21, 2009

First 'Rule' Of Evolution Suggests That Life Is Destined To Become More Complex

Spiny lobster. In complex crustaceans, such as shrimps and lobsters, almost every segment is different, bearing antennae, jaws, claws, walking legs, paddles and gills. (Credit: iStockphoto/Tammy Peluso)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 18, 2008) — Researchers have found evidence which suggests that evolution drives animals to become increasingly more complex.

Looking back through the last 550 million years of the fossil catalogue to the present day, the team investigated the different evolutionary branches of the crustacean family tree.

They were seeking examples along the tree where animals evolved that were simpler than their ancestors.

Instead they found organisms with increasingly more complex structures and features, suggesting that there is some mechanism driving change in this direction.

Read more ....

Robot Octopus Will Go Where No Sub Has Gone Before

From New Scientist:

INVEST €10 million in a robotic octopus and you will be able to search the seabed with the same dexterity as the real eight-legged cephalopod. At least that's the plan, say those who are attempting to build a robot with arms that work in the same way that octopuses tentacles do. Having no solid skeleton, it will be the world's first entirely soft robot.

The trouble with today's remote-controlled subs, says Cecilia Laschi of the Italian Institute of Technology in Genoa, is that their large hulls and clunky robot arms cannot reach into the nooks and crannies of coral reefs or the rock formations on ocean floors. That means they are unable to photograph objects in these places or pick up samples for analysis. And that's a major drawback for oceanographers hunting for signs of climate change in the oceans and on coral reefs.

Read more ....

Another Space Walk At The Space Station

In this image from NASA TV, international crew members, from left, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata, Russian cosmonaut Yury Lonchakov, American commander Lee Archambault and American astronaut Sandy Magnus participate in an interview while orbiting Earth, Friday, March 20, 2009. (AP Photo/NASA TV)

Astronauts Go On 2nd Spacewalk At Space Station -- Yahoo News/AP

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Astronauts took another spacewalk at the international space station Saturday, this time to lighten the workload for future crews.

As soon as they floated outside, Steven Swanson and Joseph Acaba made their way all the way to the end of the space station's power-grid framework. They loosened bolts holding down batteries that will be replaced on the next shuttle visit in June, and deployed an equipment storage platform.

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Africans Came With Columbus To New World

Skeletons that may represent the remains of crew members from Columbus' second excursion to the New World in 1493-94 were exhumed in 1990. The burials were a part of La Isabela on the island of Hispaniola, now a part of the Dominican Republic and that was the first European settlement in the New World. Credit: Fernando Luna Calderon, provided courtesy of T. Douglas Price

From Live Science:

Teeth from exhumed skeletons of crew members Christopher Columbus left on the island of Hispaniola more than 500 years ago reveal the presence of at least one African in the New World as a contemporary of the explorer, it was announced.

A team of researchers is extracting the chemical details of life history from the remains found at shallow graves at the site of La Isabela, the first European town in America, said T. Douglas Price, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of anthropology and leader of the team conducting an analysis of the tooth enamel of three individuals from a larger group excavated almost 20 years ago there.

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Finding Twin Earths Is Harder Than Thought

This artist's conception shows a hypothetical twin Earth orbiting a Sun-like star. A new study shows that characterizing a distant Earth's atmosphere will be difficult, even using next-generation technology like the James Webb Space Telescope. If an Earth-like world is nearby, though, then by adding observations of a number of transits, astronomers should be able to detect biomarkers like methane or ozone. (Credit: David A. Aguilar (CfA))

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 21, 2009) — Does a twin Earth exist somewhere in our galaxy? Astronomers are getting closer and closer to finding an Earth-sized planet in an Earth-like orbit. NASA's Kepler spacecraft just launched to find such worlds. Once the search succeeds, the next questions driving research will be: Is that planet habitable? Does it have an Earth-like atmosphere? Answering those questions will not be easy.

Due to its large mirror and location in outer space, the James Webb Space Telescope (scheduled for launch in 2013) will offer astronomers the first real possibility of finding those answers. In a new study, Lisa Kaltenegger (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) and Wesley Traub (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) examined the ability of JWST to characterize the atmospheres of hypothetical Earth-like planets during a transit, when part of the light of the star gets filtered through the planet's atmosphere. They found that JWST would be able to detect certain gases called biomarkers, such as ozone and methane, only for the closest Earth-size worlds.

Read more ....

Microsoft Launches New Version Of Internet Explorer

From The Daily Mail:

Microsoft has released its latest version of Internet Explorer, which is available free to download.

Internet Explorer 8 is claimed to be a faster, more secure and innovative version of the world's most popular browser.

Steve Ballmer, the chief executive officer of Microsoft, said: ‘With Internet Explorer 8, we are delivering a browser that gets people to the information they need, fast, and provides protection that no other browser can match.’

Read more .....

Strange Particle Created; May Rewrite How Matter's Made

A particle detector as big as a three-story house records the "debris" emerging from high-energy proton-antiproton collisions in the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. Data from such detectors revealed an unexpected new subatomic particle that may break all known rules governing how matter is created, scientists said in March 2009. Image courtesy Fermilab

From National Geographic:

An unexpected new subatomic particle has been discovered in Illinois's Fermilab atom smasher, scientists announced this week.

The new particle may break all known rules for creating matter, say the researchers who created the oddity.

Y(4140)—as the new particle has been dubbed—couldn't have formed through either of the two known models for matter creation. Researchers aren't even sure what Y(4140) is made of.

It's long been accepted that six different "flavors" of particles called quarks combine to form larger subatomic particles.

In one method, a quark pairs with one of its opposites, an antiquark, to create a type of matter called a meson. In the second method, three quarks gather to form baryons, such as protons and neutrons.

Read more ....

Romeo And Juliet's Balcony Opens For Weddings

Well-Worn Juliet Statue
The House of Juliet is the 13th century family home of the Cappello family who, according to legend, were the Capulets of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet." The house will soon be used as a venue for weddings. This is the statue of Juliet in the courtyard of the house. The current tradition for couples is to stroke the right breast of the languid bronze statue and then leave love notes on the house's walls. Rossella Lorenzi

From Discover:

March 20, 2009 -- The House of Juliet, with the legendary balcony where Juliet Capulet is said to have pined for Romeo, will soon be used as a venue for weddings, city officials in Verona have announced.

The 13th century family home of the Cappello family who, according to legend, were the Capulets of Shakespeare's tragic play, has been always a place of pilgrimage for lovers from all over the world.

The tradition for couples is to first stroke the right breast of the languid bronze statue of Juliet in the courtyard -- the gesture is believed to bring good luck -- then leave love notes on the house's walls and Gothic wooden doors.

Read more ....

Friday, March 20, 2009

Pink Elephant Is Caught On Camera

The little pink calf was spotted in amongst an 80-strong elephant herd

From The BBC:

A pink baby elephant has been caught on camera in Botswana.

A wildlife cameraman took pictures of the calf when he spotted it among a herd of about 80 elephants in the Okavango Delta.

Experts believe it is probably an albino, which is an extremely rare phenomenon in African elephants.

They are unsure of its chances of long-term survival - the blazing African sunlight may cause blindness and skin problems for the calf.

Mike Holding, who spotted the baby while filming for a BBC wildlife programme, said: "We only saw it for a couple of minutes as the herd crossed the river.

Read more ....

Go Play Outside To Recharge Yourself

Interviewees: John Jonides and Marc Berman, University of Michigan
Produced by Jack Penland– Edited by James Eagan
Copyright © ScienCentral, Inc

From ScienCentral:

Feeling like you’re suffering from brain drain and you can’t concentrate? Psychologists have now found out that taking some time to interact with nature, even in cold weather, can make you a bit smarter.

Mother Knows Best

Are you feeling the strain of work? Have you lost focus and is your mind feeling about as sharp as the wooden rulers you had in elementary school? Scientists have some advice for you. Advice, it turns out, that your mother already told you a long time ago: Go play outside.

But, it turns out mother was only partly right. John Jonides, University of Michigan professor of psychology and neuroscience, and graduate student Marc Berman have one big condition to that advice: A walk in nature sharpens the mind, but a walk in the city does not.

Read more ....

Two Dying Red Supergiant Stars Produced Supernovae

The Crab nebula is the result of a type II supernova explosion observed by Chinese astronomers in 1054. The nebula consists of the outer parts of a red supergiant that exploded after having burned all its fuel. The nebula is still expanding into the surrounding interstellar medium with velocities of several thousand kilometers per second. In the middle of the nebula there is a neutron star, which is the collapsed central, dead core of the exploded star. (Credit: Hubble Space Telescope)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 20, 2009) — Where do supernovae come from? Astronomers have long believed they were exploding stars, but by analysing a series of images, researchers from the Dark Cosmology Centre at the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen and from Queens University, Belfast have proven that two dying red supergiant stars produced supernovae. The results are published in the journal Science.

A star is a large ball of hot gas and in its incredibly hot interior hydrogen atoms combine to form helium, which subsequently forms carbon, other heavier elements and finally iron. When all the atoms in the centre have turned to iron the fuel is depleted and the star dies. When very large and massive stars, that are at least about eight times as massive as our sun, die, they explode as supernovae.

Read more ....

More People In Love Than Previously Thought

From Live Science:

Romeo and Juliet would approve: A new study found that romantic love can stand the test of time.

Though it is widely held that romance and sex must ultimately yield to friendly companionship over time, new research found that's not the case. Instead about 13 percent of people reported high levels of romance in their long-term relationships, in a new study published in the March issue of the journal Review of General Psychology.

Researchers analyzed data from surveys of more than 6,000 people, including some in newly-formed pairs and many in marriages of more than 20 years. The scientists found that a surprisingly high number of people were still very much in love with their long-term partners, though the researchers drew a distinction between romantic love, which can endure, and passionate or obsessive love, which often fades after the beginning of a relationship.

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Liquid Saltwater Is Likely Present On Mars, New Analysis Shows

Droplets on a leg of the Mars Phoenix lander are seen to darken and coalesce. Nilton Renno, a professor in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences says this is evidence that they are made of liquid water. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Max Planck Institute)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 20, 2009) — Salty, liquid water has been detected on a leg of the Mars Phoenix Lander and therefore could be present at other locations on the planet, according to analysis by a group of mission scientists led by a University of Michigan professor. This is the first time liquid water has been detected and photographed outside the Earth.

"A large number of independent physical and thermodynamical evidence shows that saline water may actually be common on Mars," said Nilton Renno, a professor in the U-M Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences and a co-investigator on the Phoenix mission.

Read more ....

The Quest To Make Hydrogen The Fuel Of The Future

The world's first hydrogen fuel station in Reykjavik, Iceland, April 2003.
Photo supplied by

From NOVA:

Australia and many other countries around the world are preparing for hydrogen to take over from fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas, and move to what's being called the 'hydrogen economy'. But there are some big hurdles to overcome before it can happen.

You may not realise it, but scientists, the energy industry, governments and climate change experts around the world have joined forces and are on a global quest - and a race against time. Their goal is to find an economical, practical and safe form of energy to replace our reliance on fossil fuels.

Hydrogen, the most abundant element in the Universe, is one potential candidate. Many regard it as the ultimate 'clean, green' fuel because when it burns in oxygen, only heat and water are created.

Read more ....

If Galaxies Are All Moving Apart, How Can They Collide?

This Hubble Space Telescope image shows a collision between two spiral galaxies, NGC 6050 and IC 1179, in the Hercules constellation. NASA, ESA and HUBBLE HERITAGE

From Scientific American:

Cosmologist Tamara Davis, a research fellow at the University of Queensland in Australia and an associate of the Dark Cosmology Center in Denmark, brings together an answer:

The dynamics of the universe are governed by competing forces whose influence varies with scale, so local forces can override universal forces in discrete regions. On scales larger than galaxy clusters, all galaxies are indeed moving apart at an ever increasing rate. The mutual gravitational attraction between two galaxies at that distance is too small to have a significant effect, so the galaxies more or less follow the general flow of the expansion. But it is a different story in a galaxy's local neighborhood. There the gravitational attraction can be very significant and the interactions much more exciting.

Read more ....

Schools Of Robofish To Sniff Out Pollution In The Thames

Green robofish: The pollutant-seeking robots will be based on this model at the London Aquarium, with sensors to detect contaminants and GPS navigation

From The Daily Mail:

Schools of robotic fish could be sent into the Thames to produce a 3D pollution map of the river.

Researchers at the University of Essex in Colchester are working on the robofish as part of a £2.5million EU-funded project to find new ways of monitoring water waste.

Each fish will be about 50cm long, 15cm high and 12cm wide. They will be packed with pollution sensors that can electronically 'sniff' harmful chemicals in the water.

Read more ....

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Chris Anderson: Web Creating Free Economy

From Times Online:

Digital technology is offering consumers better deals and reshaping economic theory, says the author of The Long Tail

The "free economy", where businesses give away their products to make money, is spreading fast thanks to the recession and the increasing reach of digital technology, according to the author Chris Anderson.

Mr Anderson, whose acclaimed book The Long Tail is about how the digital revolution allows businesses to profit from selling small quantities of relatively unpopular items, said that consumers with less in their pockets were looking for bargains, making the free business strategy even more attractive.

Read more ....

Genesis For Exploding Stars Confirmed

The Crab nebula is the result of a type II supernova explosion observed by Chinese astronomers in 1054. The nebula consists of the outer parts of a red supergiant that exploded after having burned all its fuel. Credit: Hubble Space Telescope

From Live Science:

Telescope images have confirmed something astronomers have long suspected, that red supergiant stars are the stars that explode in so-called type II supernovas.

Type II supernovas are the impressive cosmic explosions that result from the internal collapse of a massive star. (For this reason, they are also known as core-collapse supernovas.)

On average, a supernova will occur about once every 50 years in a galaxy the size of the Milky Way. But scientists don't know when these stellar powder kegs will blow, so identifying the star that birthed them, called the progenitor star, can be tricky.

Read more ....

Tongan Inspection Team Heads To Undersea Volcano

From Yahoo News/AP:

NUKU'ALOFA, Tonga – Scientists sailed Thursday to inspect an undersea volcano that has been erupting for days near Tonga — shooting smoke, steam and ash thousands of feet (meters) into the sky above the South Pacific ocean.

Authorities said Thursday the eruption does not pose any danger to islanders at this stage, and there have been no reports of fish or other animals being affected.

Spectacular columns are spewing out of the sea about 6 miles (10 kilometers) from the southwest coast off the main island of Tongatapu — an area where up to 36 undersea volcanoes are clustered, geologists said.

Read more ....

More News On The Tonga Volcano

Tonga volcano spews spectacular plume into South Pacific sky -- Scientific American
Underwater volcano erupts off Tonga -- BBC
Tongan Eruption, Quake, Tsunami Alert -- New York Times
Underwater volcano sends huge columns of ash into Pacific sky -- Times Online

World Faces 'Perfect Storm' Of Problems By 2030, Chief Scientist To Warn

Food and water shortages as a result of climate change and growing populations are likely to trigger mass migration and unrest. Photograph: AFP/Getty

From The Guardian:

Food, water and energy shortages will unleash public unrest and international conflict, Professor John Beddington will tell a conference tomorrow.

A "perfect storm" of food shortages, scarce water and insufficient energy resources threaten to unleash public unrest, cross-border conflicts and mass migration as people flee from the worst-affected regions, the UK government's chief scientist will warn tomorrow.

In a major speech to environmental groups and politicians, Professor John Beddington, who took up the position of chief scientific adviser last year, will say that the world is heading for major upheavals which are due to come to a head in 2030.

Read more ....

Astronauts Successfully Install Solar Wings

This video still image released by NASA TV, shows Space Shuttle Discovery crew member Steven Swanson, right, being helped with his space suit by international space station commander Lee Archambault before a spacewalk Thursday, March 19, 2009. The spacewalk will be the first of three planned for Discovery's space station visit. (AP Photo/NASA TV)

From Yahoo News/AP:

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Spacewalking astronauts installed the last set of solar wings at the international space station Thursday, accomplishing the top job of shuttle Discovery's mission.

Steven Swanson and Richard Arnold II struggled with some cable connections, but managed to hook everything up.

"It wasn't quite as smooth as we had hoped, but those guys did a great job," astronaut Joseph Acaba told Mission Control.

The next milestone will be Friday, when the folded-up solar wings are unfurled.

Manpower was needed inside and out to attach the $300 million segment to the space station. Swanson and Arnold helped their colleagues inside the shuttle-space station complex cautiously move the 31,000-pound, 45-foot-long girder into position with a robotic arm.

Read more

20 Things You Didn't Know About... Time

From Discover Magazine:

1 “Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so,” joked Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Scientists aren’t laughing, though. Some speculative new physics theories suggest that time emerges from a more fundamental—and timeless—reality.

2 Try explaining that when you get to work late. The average U.S. city commuter loses 38 hours a year to traffic delays.

3 Wonder why you have to set your clock ahead in March? Daylight Saving Time began as a joke by Benjamin Franklin, who proposed waking people earlier on bright summer mornings so they might work more during the day and thus save candles. It was introduced in the U.K. in 1917 and then spread around the world.

Read more ....

What Perfumes Did Ancient Egyptians Use? Researchers Aim To Recreate 3,500-Year-Old Scent

In X-rays, a liquid residue can be clearly seen in the ancient Egyptian perfume bottle. (Credit: Frank Luerweg, University of Bonn)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 18, 2009) — The Ancient Egyptians cherished their fragrant scents, too, as perfume flacons from this period indicate. In its permanent exhibition, Bonn University's Egyptian Museum has a particularly well preserved example on display. Screening this 3,500-year-old flacon with a computer tomograph, scientists at the university detected the desiccated residues of a fluid, which they now want to submit to further analysis. They might even succeed in reconstructing this scent.

Pharaoh Hatshepsut was a power-conscious woman who assumed the reins of government in Egypt around the year 1479 B.C. In actual fact, she was only supposed to represent her step-son Thutmose III, who was three years old at the time, until he was old enough to take over.

Read more ....

The Science Of Spring

From Live Science:

The first day of spring is no guarantee of spring-like weather, but officially the season's start comes around at the same time each year nonetheless.

Well, sort of.

The first day of spring arrives on varying dates (from March 19-21) in different years for two reasons: Our year is not exactly an even number of days; and Earth's slightly noncircular orbit, plus the gravitational tug of the other planets, constantly changes our planet's orientation to the sun from year to year.

And weather-wise, Earth's seasons have shifted in the past 150 years or so, according to a study that came out last month. The hottest and coldest days of the years now are occurring almost two days earlier.

Read more ....

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

West Antarctic Ice Comes And Goes, Rapidly

From E! SCience News:

Researchers today worry about the collapse of West Antarctic ice shelves and loss of the West Antarctic ice sheet, but little is known about the past movements of this ice. Now climatologists from Penn State and the University of Massachusetts have modeled the past 5 million years of the West Antarctic ice sheet and found the ice expanse changes rapidly and is most influenced by ocean temperatures near the continent. "We found that the West Antarctic ice sheet varied a lot, collapsed and regrew multiple times over that period," said David Pollard, senior scientist, Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences' Earth and Environmental Systems Institute. "The ice sheets in our model changed in ways that agree well with the data collected by the ANDRILL project."

Read more ....

Nobody Listens To The Real Climate Change Experts

Cold comfort: If the present trend continues, the world will be 1.1C cooler in 2100
Photo: Getty

From The Telegraph:

The minds of world leaders are firmly shut to anything but the fantasies of the scaremongers, says Christopher Booker.

Considering how the fear of global warming is inspiring the world's politicians to put forward the most costly and economically damaging package of measures ever imposed on mankind, it is obviously important that we can trust the basis on which all this is being proposed. Last week two international conferences addressed this issue and the contrast between them could not have been starker.

Read more ....

General Fusion Research Update

From The Next Big Future:

General Fusion is using the MTF (Magnetized Target Fusion) approach but with a new, patent pending and cost-effective compression system to collapse the plasma. They describe the injectors at the top and bottom of the above image in the new research paper. The goal is to build small fusion reactors that can produce around 100 megawatts of power. The company claims plants would cost around US$50 million, allowing them to generate electricity at about four cents per kilowatt hour.

If there are no funding delays, then in 2010-2011 for completion of the tests and work for an almost full scale version (2 meters instead of 3 meter diameter).

Read more ....

Green Beer For Fewer Greenbacks

DRINKING UP THE SUN: Brewer and co-owner Alex Stiles toasting the sun in front of the Lucky Lab's solar array. He drinks Solar Flare Ale, which is "light and balanced with a slight malty character and a refreshing hops bitterness," according to co-owner Gary Geist. IMAGE COURTESY OF GROVER P. THUMPER

From Scientific American:

You have probably heard of green buildings, green cars and, perhaps, even green phones. But were you aware that green beer is flowing from the taps of some U.S. breweries, and not the kind for St. Patrick's Day tomorrow? Among the leaders of the movement is Lucky Labrador Brewing Company in Portland, Ore., which for the past year has been saving big bucks by using solar energy to heat water used in the brewing process.

Lucky Labrador's first green beer, "Solar Flare Ale," was an instant sensation when it was introduced in February 2008, according to brewery co-owner Gary Geist. Sales spiked in the month following the beer's debut, Geist says. But, he notes that going solar is more about long-term benefits than about temporary sales spurts.

Read more ....

Edmonton Canada Bests All Time Record Low By -12 Degrees, Columnist Questions Climate Situation

From Watts Up With That?

UPDATE: The author’s (Lorne Gunter) claim of breaking a record by -12 degrees is only partially correct. The phrase “smashing the previous March low” should have read “smashing the previous March 10th low”

The previous March record Tmin occurred in 2003 and was -42.2°C details here (Thanks to reader K Stricker for the link) - Anthony

So why are eco types moaning about record highs while ignoring record lows?

By Lorne Gunter, The Edmonton Journal

So far this month, at least 14 major weather stations in Alberta have recorded their lowest-ever March temperatures. I’m not talking about daily records; I mean they’ve recorded the lowest temperatures they’ve ever seen in the entire month of March since temperatures began being recorded in Alberta in the 1880s.

Read more ....

My Comment: I live north of Montreal in the Laurentians. The winters for the past 3-4 years have been very hard, and while we have not broken any records, it has been very very cold. Even the summers have been below normal temperatures. So .... while other parts of the world are experiencing "global warming", this definitely has not been the case here.

Where Does Consciousness Come From?

New research suggests that four specific, separate processes combine as a "signature" of conscious activity. (Credit: iStockphoto/Linda Bucklin)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 17, 2009) — Consciousness arises as an emergent property of the human mind. Yet basic questions about the precise timing, location and dynamics of the neural event(s) allowing conscious access to information are not clearly and unequivocally determined.

Some neuroscientists have even argued that consciousness may arise from a single "seat" in the brain, though the prevailing idea attributes a more global network property.

Do the neural correlates of consciousness correspond to late or early brain events following perception? Do they necessarily involve coherent activity across different regions of the brain, or can they be restricted to local patterns of reverberating activity?

Read more ....

Saturn Photographed with Four Moons

This sequence of images captures the parade of several of Saturn's moons transiting the face of the gas giant planet. This is a rare event because the rings are tilted edge on to Earth every 15 years. Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

With Live Science:

A new Hubble photograph captured a rare alignment of four of Saturn's moons lining up in front of their planet.

The snapshot, taken on Feb. 24 with the NASA/European Space Agency (ESA) Hubble Space Telescope, shows the moons transiting in front of Saturn. The moons, from far left to right, are the white icy moons Enceladus and Dione, the large orange moon Titan, and icy Mimas. Due to the angle of the Sun, they are each preceded by their own shadow.

These rare moon transits only happen when the tilt of Saturn's ring plane is nearly "edge on" as seen from the Earth. Saturn's rings will be perfectly edge on to our line of sight on Aug. 10 and Sept. 4, 2009. Unfortunately, Saturn will be too close to the Sun to be seen by viewers on Earth at that time. This "ring plane crossing" occurs every 14-15 years. In 1995-96 Hubble witnessed the previous ring plane crossing, as well as many moon transits, and helped to discover several new moons of Saturn.

Read more

Probe Launches To Map Earth's Gravity In Best Detail Yet

From New Scientist:

A sleek satellite that is set to make the most detailed map of the Earth's gravity took to the skies on Tuesday. The probe is expected to make important contributions to ocean current measurements and climate models.

If all goes well, the satellite will assume an orbit some 285 km above the Earth, gradually falling to an altitude of 268 km, where the probe will take much of its science data. It will remain in orbit for at least two years, beginning science operations in late August or early September when the probe will have sufficient solar power to do its observations.

Read more ....

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Chemistry of Life: Where Oil Comes From

The generally accepted theory for the origin of petroleum a geologic processing of the dead remains of ancient ocean life. Credit: DOE

From Live Science:

Editor's Note: This occasional series of articles looks at the vital things in our lives and the chemistry they are made of.

Oil, the lifeblood of U.S. transportation today, is thought to start with the remnants of tiny organisms that lived millions of years ago, but the exact chemical transformation is somewhat mysterious. New research is looking at the role played by microorganisms that live in the deep dark bowels of the Earth.

A minority of scientists say otherwise, but most geologists think that the petroleum we pump from the ground (and later refine into gasoline and other fuels) comes predominantly from the fossils of marine life, such as algae and plankton.

Read more ....

A Cyber Sensation: World's First Robotic Model To Star In Her Own Fashion Show

The 'cybernetic human' has been designed to look like an average Japanese woman and portrays anger (L) and surprise (R)

From Daily Mail:

Robots could soon be gracing the catwalk, thanks to a black-haired cybernetic beauty who is preparing to make her debut at a fashion show in Japan.

Fetchingly named HRP-4C, the humanoid has 30 motors in her body that allows her to walk and move her arms as well as eight motors on its face to create expressions like anger and surprise.

Read more ....

Scientists Aim To Replicate The Sun

NASA's STEREO (Ahead) spacecraft observed this visually stunning prominence eruption on the Sun in the 304 angstrom wavelength of extreme UV light. Prominences are relatively cool clouds of gas suspended above the sun and controlled by magnetic forces.

From UPI:

LIVERMORE, Calif., March 15 (UPI) -- Scientists in California say they're trying to replicate the power of the sun by firing laser beams at a tiny pellet of hydrogen.

Physicists at the National Ignition Facility in Livermore say the nuclear fusion experiments may offer the world a clean source of energy
, The Times of London reported Sunday.

The hydrogen pellet will be hit with 192 laser beams capable of generating 500 trillion watts -- 1,000 times the power of the U.S. national grid, said the scientists.

Read more ....

What Happens At The Moment Of Death?

Peering Down The Tunnel Beyond Death -- Globe And Mail

Hollywood favours, for simplicity's sake, the instant flat-line death; the hero gasps a brilliant line, his eyes dim and he's gone. But in real life, dying has more drama. The heart and lungs quit, the blood, carrying its life-giving oxygen, stops flowing and the brain, without its generator, chugs to a standstill. Abandoned in the dark, the cells take their last stand, firing off chemicals like distress flares. When no rescue comes, they begin to suffocate one by one. The cell membranes rupture, spilling out the insides. Or they implode.

Yet now and then there is Hollywood-style rescue: The heart is kick-started back to life, blood pumps, the brain sucks in oxygen in time to save itself. We've all heard the stories of people who return from the edge of death: bright tunnels, visions of dead relatives and, most logic-defying of all, floating above themselves watching the doctors trying to save them.

Read more ....

Young Dinosaurs Roamed Together, Died Together

While approaching the edge of a lake in what is today the Gobi Desert of Inner Mongolia, a herd of young Sinornithomimus dinosaurs suddenly finds itself hopelessly trapped in mud some 90 million years ago. (Credit: Art by Todd Marshall, courtesy of Project Exploration)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 16, 2009) — A herd of young birdlike dinosaurs met their death on the muddy margins of a lake some 90 million years ago, according to a team of Chinese and American paleontologists that excavated the site in the Gobi Desert in western Inner Mongolia.

The Sudden sudden death of the herd in a mud trap provides a rare snapshot of social behavior. Composed entirely of juveniles of a single species of ornithomimid dinosaur (Sinornithomimus dongi), the herd suggests that immature individuals were left to fend for themselves when adults were preoccupied with nesting or brooding.

Read more ....

Robot Madness: Preventing Insurrection of Machines

USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67) conducts a Phalanx live fire training exercise. The Phalanx is a fast-reaction, rapid-fire 20-millimeter gun system that automatically detects, tracks and engages threats such as anti-ship missiles and aircraft. Credit: U.S. Navy

From Live Science:

In Robot Madness, LiveScience examines humanoid robots and cybernetic enhancement of humans, as well as the exciting and sometimes frightening convergence of it all. Return for a new episode each Monday, Wednesday and Friday through April 6.

A robotic future holds the promise of providing tireless workers and companions for humans, but it can also evoke worries about an armed machine insurrection along the lines of the "Terminator" movies.

Experts consider that dark vision to be on the distant horizon, although they now point to other ethical issues that arise from the growing presence of battlefield bots and their potential to decide to attack autonomously, possibly as soon as in the next 20 years .

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People With Higher IQs Live Longer

From The Telegraph:

People with higher IQs are more likely to live into healthy old age, according to a study.

Unfortunately, those who do not perform so well in intelligence tests could suffer a higher risk of heart disease, fatal accidents and suicide.

The discovery was made after researchers looked into the medical records of one million Swedish army conscripts.

After taking into account whether they had grown up in a safer, more affluent environment, they established the connection between IQ and mortality.

One of the researchers, Dr David Batty, said the statistics showed "a strong link between cognitive ability and the risk of death."

He added: "People with higher IQ test scores tend to be less likely to smoke or drink alcohol heavily. They also eat better diets, and they are more physically active. So they have a range of better behaviours that may partly explain their lower mortality risk."

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Fossil Hunters Find Sea Monster ... And A Dinosaur The Size Of A Skinny Chicken

Artist's impression of a 45-tonne Pliosaur attacking a Plesiosaur.
Photograph: Atlantic Productions

From The Guardian:

The giant meat-eating reptile, known as a pliosaur, had a bite four times as powerful as T. rex. The second creature, on the other hand, may be the least scary dinosaur ever discovered.

The remains of a giant meat-eating sea monster that patrolled the oceans during the reign of the dinosaurs have been unearthed on an island in the remote Arctic archipelago of Svalbard.

Norwegian fossil hunters recovered the rear half of the formidable reptile's skull in south-west Spitsbergen in what has been described as one of the most significant Jurassic discoveries ever made.

The predator has been identified as a new species of pliosaur, a group of extinct aquatic reptiles that had huge skulls, short necks and four flippers to power them through the water.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Who Protects The Internet?

Webmaster: John Rennie and "the Beast" aboard the Wave Sentinel in
the port of Dorset, England Jonathan Worth


Pull up the wrong undersea cable, and the Internet goes dark in Berlin or Dubai. See our animated infographics of how the web works!

For the past five years, John Rennie has braved the towering waves of the North Atlantic Ocean to keep your e-mail coming to you. As chief submersible engineer aboard the Wave Sentinel, part of the fleet operated by U.K.-based undersea installation and maintenance firm Global Marine Systems, Rennie--a congenial, 6'4", 57-year-old Scotsman--patrols the seas, dispatching a remotely operated submarine deep below the surface to repair undersea cables. The cables, thick as fire hoses and packed with fiber optics, run everywhere along the seafloor, ferrying phone and Web traffic from continent to continent at the speed of light.

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Quantum Physicist Wins $1.4M Templeton Prize For Writing on “Veiled Reality”

From Discover:

French physicist Bernard d’Espagnat has won the annual Templeton Prize with its purse of $1.4 million; the prize is often given to scientists who find common ground between religion and science. Professor d’Espagnat, 87, worked with great luminaries of quantum physics but went on to address the philosophical questions that the field poses [BBC News].

Physicists may be more open to seeing a higher power behind the great mysteries of the universe than scientists in other disciplines: Including Dr. d’Espagnat, five of the past 10 Templeton winners have been physicists or have had strong connections to the discipline [The Christian Science Monitor].

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Watery Asteroids May Explain Why Life Is 'Left-Handed'

Image: Amino acids, such as isovaline (illustrated), come in left- and right-handed forms, but almost every living organism on Earth uses left-handed forms. New research suggests that water on asteroids amplified a bias - possibly caused by polarised starlight - towards left-handed amino acids (Illustration: NASA/Mary Pat Hrybyk-Keith)

From New Scientist:

Soggy rocks hurtling through the solar system gave life on Earth an addiction to left-handed proteins, according to a new study. The research suggests that water on asteroids amplified left-handed amino acid molecules, making them dominate over their right-handed mirror images.

Curiously, almost every living organism on Earth uses left-handed amino acids instead of their right-handed counterparts. In the 1990s, scientists found that meteorites contain up to 15% more of the left version too. That suggests space rocks bombarding the early Earth biased its chemistry so that life used left-handed amino acids instead of right.

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Botnet Back-Up Gives Glimpse Into Hackers' World

Photo: Coromandel teen Owen Thor Walker last year admitted to running a botnet that controlled a million computers worldwide. Photo / Alan Gibson

From New Zealand Herald:

SAN FRANCISCO - Getting hacked is like having your computer turn traitor on you, spying on everything you do and shipping your secrets to identity thieves.

Victims don't see where their stolen data end up. But sometimes security researchers do, stumbling across stolen-data troves that offer a glimpse of what identity theft looks like from criminals' perspective.

Researchers from U.K.-based security firm Prevx found one such trove, a website used as a stash house for data from 160,000 infected computers before it was shut down this month.

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7 International Spacecraft that Could Replace NASA's Shuttle

A Chinese rocket carrying the Shenzhou-7 spaceship blasts off from the launch pad at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. (Photo by Xu Haihan/ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images)

From Popular Mechanics:

NASA's Orion won't be ready until at least 2015, but the current space shuttle is due to retire next year. Meet the seven international spacecraft from the world's space fleet that could inherit the job of ferrying supplies into space.

The space shuttle is due for retirement in 2010, and NASA’s next spaceship, Orion, won’t be available until at least 2015. That will leave a five-year gap during which NASA astronauts and space-station cargo will be grounded unless they find other ways to get to orbit. In the past, NASA has cadged rides off its former arch-rival, the Russian Federal Space Agency, and its Soyuz (for astronauts) and Progress (for cargo) spacecraft. But relations between the U.S. and Russia are cooling, raising the very real prospect that Congress will forbid NASA to buy spaceflights from Russia. NASA has stepped up its support of two U.S. companies, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and Orbital Sciences Corporation, that hope to have unmanned cargo spaceships ready for launch by 2010. (See details below.) Even if these companies succeed, NASA will still have to rely on Soyuz for manned flights. But maybe not for long. Here’s a roundup of seven rides to low Earth orbit besides the space shuttle and Soyuz that could be available for space-station flights.

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Gallery: The Top 10 Failed NASA Missions

9. Demonstration for Autonomous Rendezvous Technology (DART) Spacecraft : The Mission: Upset with the expense and risk of launching the shuttle every time a satellite needed maintenance, NASA created the DART to show that a robotic satellite could dock with other satellites. DART was supposed to autonomously navigate towards, and then rendezvous with, an existing communications satellite.

The Problem: And did it ever rendezvous! The computer controlling DART incorrectly estimated the distance between the two satellites, causing DART to bump right into the other satellite! DART then used up all of its fuel, eventually crashing into the ocean.
Courtesy of NASA


From Popsci.:

Like no other modern endeavor, the space program inspires all mankind by pushing the edge of the possible. At least, when it works it does. Often, the casual integration of satellite technology into nearly all modern electronics combines with imagery of brave astronauts going forth for all mankind to obscure the basic fact that sending something into space is damn hard, and often fails.

So, inspired by the recent loss of NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory satellite, is taking a look back at the Top 10 missions that didn’t slip the surly bonds of Earth, failed to trod the high untrespassed sanctity of space, and most certainly did not touch the face of God.

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Trend: Daughters Follow Dads' Footsteps

From Live Science:

Women nowadays are three times more likely than those born a century ago to do what men have done for millennia — follow their father's footsteps into his line of work, a newly announced study finds.

One way or another, fathers and daughters have been paying more attention to each other, and daughters picked up job cues or assistance from dads, as more and more women entered the labor force, the research suggests.

Just under 6 percent of women born from 1909 to 1915 worked in their father's occupation, while around 20 percent of women born in the mid-1970s do so (they are in their early 30s now), the researchers found.

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Anger And Hostility Harmful To The Heart, Especially Among Men

New research shows that anger and hostility are significantly associated with both a higher risk for coronary heart disease (CHD) in healthy individuals and poorer outcomes in patients with existing heart disease. (Credit: iStockphoto/Vasko Miokovic)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 16, 2009) — Anger and hostility are significantly associated with both a higher risk for coronary heart disease (CHD) in healthy individuals and poorer outcomes in patients with existing heart disease, according to the first quantitative review and meta-analysis of related studies, which appears in the March 17, 2009, issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Management of anger and hostility may be an important adjuvant strategy in preventing CHD in the general public and treating CHD patients, according to authors.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Planets Like Earth Appear To Be Out There

From Japan Times:

LONDON — The real wonder of our age is this. You can go on the Web, type in PlanetQuest New Worlds Atlas, or Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia, or NASA Star and Exoplanet Database, and directly access the data on 340 new planets that have been discovered in the past five years.

That number is set to grow very fast now, for on March 6 The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) successfully launched the Kepler telescope, which will find many more planets including potentially Earth-like ones. It will stare unblinkingly at an area of space containing about 100,000 relatively near stars, watching for the tiny dimming of a star that happens when one of its planets passes between the star and us.

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After 10 Years, Space Station Finally Nears Completion

The space shuttle Discovery sits on launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (Scott Audette/REUTERS)

From Christian Science Monitor:

The Space Shuttle Discovery will bring the last US-made piece to the space station when it launches Wednesday.

A decade ago, the United States docked its first module, Destiny, to an embryonic International Space Station. Tonight, the space shuttle Discovery is set to launch an American segment that could be called “Finally!”

The last major US-built component – a 15.5-ton truss bearing the station’s last set of solar panels – is nestled snuggly in Discovery’s cargo bay, awaiting the orbiter’s launch, now scheduled for Thursday night after Wednesday’s planned launch was scrubbed due to a hydrogen gas leak.

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Shuttle Discovery Lifts Off On Mission To ISS -- News Updates March 15, 2009

The US Space Shuttle Discovery lifts off. Photo AFP

From AFP:

CAPE CANAVERAL (AFP) — The shuttle Discovery has blasted off on a mission to outfit the International Space Station with a final pair of solar wings ahead of the arrival in a few weeks of an expanded space crew.

The spacecraft launched at 7:43 pm (2343 GMT) from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Just over eight minutes later, the shuttle entered orbit.

The journey was expected to take two days to reach the ISS, where the seven-member crew was to deliver and install the fourth and final pair of solar wings on the orbiting ISS, in one of the last major tasks of the more than decade-long effort to construct the station.

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More News On The Launch Of Discovery

Discovery blasts off into space -- BBC
Successful Launch Starts Shuttle Mission -- Aviation Week
Discovery heads to International Space Station -- Orlando Sentinel
STS-119 Launches into Space…Finally -- The Future Of Things
Discovery blasts off for mission to international space station -- CBC
Space shuttle Discovery reaches orbit successfully -- Scientific American
Space Shuttle Discovery successfully launches after a month of delays -- Wikinews
Backgrounder: Crew members of U.S. space shuttle Discovery's STS-119 mission -- China View

Low-Energy Light Bulbs Can Cause Rashes And Swelling To Sensitive Skin, Warn Experts

A break with tradition: Medical experts say people with light-sensitive skin disorders should be exempt from using low-energy light bulbs

From Daily Mail Online:

The phasing out of traditional light bulbs could cause misery for thousands who have light-sensitive skin disorders, medical experts warned yesterday.

Dr Robert Sarkany said some low-energy bulbs gave vulnerable people painful rashes and swelling.

He backed calls by patient groups for the Government to give medical exemptions for those at risk.

The warning comes as British shops start to clear their shelves of traditional bulbs, which are being replaced by more energy-efficient versions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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'Supermodel' Satellite Set To Fly

In orbit, the same side of the GOCE satellite remains facing the Sun. The spacecraft is equipped with four body-mounted and two wing-mounted solar panels. Due to the configuration in orbit, the solar panels will experience extreme temperature variations so it has been necessary to use materials that will tolerate temperatures as high as 160ºC and as low as -170ºC. (Credit: ESA - AOES Medialab)

From The BBC:

Europe is set to launch one of its most challenging space missions to date.

The Goce satellite will map minute variations in the pull of gravity experienced across the planet.

Scientists will use its data to improve their understanding of how the oceans move, and to frame a universal system to measure height anywhere on Earth.

The super-sleek spacecraft will go into orbit on a modified intercontinental ballistic missile from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in north-west Russia.

Lift-off for the Rockot vehicle is timed for 1421 GMT on Monday.

Most satellites launched into space are ugly boxes. The European Space Agency's (Esa) Goce satellite is very different.

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Earth's Dimming Skies: Before And After

From Wired Science:

Earth's skies have dimmed since the mid-1970s, as airborne pollutants scatter the sun's rays and turn blue skies into a milky haze.

The effect was quantified in a study published on Thursday in Science, and widely covered by the press. But the study explained the effect with graphs, and stories only described a phenomena for which words aren't enough.

Enter Photoshop and the guidance of study co-author Kaicun Wang, a University of Maryland, College Park atmospheric scientist. The resulting visualization takes the worst dimming, experienced in southeast Asia, and applies it to a view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

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