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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

How Giant Black Holes Spin: New Twist Revealed

An artist’s impression of a supermassive black hole at the centre surrounded by matter flowing onto the black hole in what is termed an accretion disk. Also shown is an outflowing jet of energetic particles, believed to be powered by the black hole's spin.
A newly discovered way to determine the spin of monster black holes could help shed light on the evolution of these bizarre objects and the galaxies they anchor.

Astronomers watched as a black hole that sits at the core of a spiral galaxy 500 million light-years from Earth gobbled up gas and dust from its surrounding accretion disk. They were able to measure the distance between the inner edge of the disk and the black hole, which, in turn, allowed them to estimate the black hole's spin.

“If a black hole is spinning, it drags space and time with it, and that drags the accretion disk, containing the black hole's food, closer towards it," study lead author Chris Done, of the University of Durham in the United Kingdom, said in a statement. "This makes the black hole spin faster — a bit like an ice skater doing a pirouette."

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

New Teeth Grown with Stem Cells from Urine

A healthy smile doesn't just look nice. It says so much about your overall physical health. Swollen, red and bleeding gums can lead to signs of gingivitis, which can cause chronic inflammation, infection and permanent bone loss and tooth loss down the road. Hence why your dentist is always handing out free tooth brushes at the end of every visit or your mom is pestering you about flossing and rinsing before bed.

Well, you should listen. According to the World Health Organization, while nearly 100 percent of adults (and 60 to 90 percent of children) have dental cavities, poor dental cleaning habits can lead to severe periodontal disease later in life, including tooth, gum and bone lose.
Fortunately,researchers from the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health (China) have possibly found a temporary answer for those who have already missed out on the memo to properly brush and floss. They've created stem cells to make rudimentary forms of human teeth, only not in the most pleasant way. They derived stem cells in this new experiment from human urine.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Pilot projects bury carbon dioxide in basalt

Basalt formations, such as these towers on the Columbia River in Washington state, could be used to trap carbon dioxide.
Two experiments test viability of sequestering emissions in porous layers of hard rock.

By early August, scientists will have pumped 1,000 tonnes of pure carbon dioxide into porous rock far below the northwestern United States. The goal is to find a permanent home for the carbon dioxide generated by human activities.

Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, Washington, began the injections into the Columbia River Basalt formation near the town of Wallula on 17 July. The rock contains pores created as many as 16 million years ago, when magma flowed across what is now the Columbia River Basin. Bubbles of CO2 migrated to the edges of the magma as it cooled, forming layers of holes sandwiched between solid rock.

In pumping emissions back underground, “we are returning the carbon dioxide from whence it came”, says Pete McGrail, an environ­mental engineer at the PNNL who is heading the experiment, part of a larger energy-department programme on ways to sequester carbon.

The Wallula project is the second of two worldwide to target basalt formations, which scientists hope can hold — and permanently mineralize — vast quantities of gas. In basalt, dissolved CO2 should react with calcium and magnesium to form limestone over the course of decades. Until the gas is locked away, the porous basalt layers are capped by solid rock that will prevent leaking. That should eliminate concerns about leakage that have dogged other proposals to store CO2 deep underground, often in sandstone reservoirs.

The basalt reactions are part of a natural weathering process that has helped to regulate atmospheric CO2 levels throughout geological time. Scientists have analysed mineralization in the lab, but it is only now being tested in the field.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

How Height Is Connected to Cancer

Jealous of your long-legged peers? Turns out they may not have won the gene pool after all.

New research published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention found a surprising correlation between height and cancer risk among postmenopausal women; the taller the woman, the greater her risk for the disease.

The researchers studied more than 20,900 women ages 50 to 79 who participated in the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI)  study, an on-going analysis of post menopausal women and the factors that contribute to their health. They separated the women into five groups based on their height, starting with women shorter than 5 feet 1 inch, and matched them to data on their cancer rates.

They discovered that for every 10 centimeters of height, a woman’s risk of developing a range of different cancers increased by 13%. When they looked at all the cancers together, they found that taller women had a 13% to 17% greater risk of developing melanoma, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer and colon cancer. They also had a 23% to 29% greater risk of developing kidney, rectum, thyroid and blood cancers.  All of the cancers showed a positive association with height; none of the taller women showed a lower risk of cancer compared to their shorter counterparts.

While the connection seems odd, previous studies have exposed the same association;  it’s possible, for example, that on the most basic level, the greater number of cells and tissues that taller people possess simply increases the odds that some of those cells will develop abnormally and become malignant. Alternatively, some of the same processes that fuel the growth that contributes to height may also feed tumors.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Harvard study reveals coffee may lower risk of suicide by 50%

Study indicates caffeinated coffee lowers risk of depression and suicide in men and women.

Keep calm and get your caffeine on.

A recent Harvard study revealed that caffeinated coffee may lower the suicide risk in both men and women by 50%, Huffington Post reported.

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health compared the risk of suicide for adults who drank two to four cups of caffeinated coffee per day with non-coffee drinkers, who consumed less coffee per day and those who chose decaffeinated.

The study, published in The World Journal of Biological Psychiatry, included more than 200,000 subjects observed during a 16-year period. Results indicated that the suicide risk for those who drank between two to four cups of coffee per day were about 50% less than the risk for subjects in the other groups.

"Unlike previous investigations, we were able to assess association of consumption of caffeinated and non-caffeinated beverages, and we identify caffeine as the most likely candidate of any putative protective effect of coffee," lead researcher Michel Lucas said in the statement.

Friday, July 26, 2013

False memory planted in mouse's brain

The feat will help to reveal how more complex false memories, such as of sexual abuse or alien abduction, can arise in people

Researchers used a technique called optogenetics to create a false memory in laboratory mice.
Scientists have implanted a false memory in the brains of mice in an experiment that they hope will shed light on the well-documented phenomenon whereby people "remember" events or experiences that have never happened.

False memories are a major problem with witness statements in courts of law. Defendants have often been convicted of offences based on eyewitness testimony, only to have their convictions later overturned when DNA or some other corroborating evidence is brought to bear.

In order to study how these false memories might form in the human brain, Susumu Tonagawa, a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and his team encoded memories in the brains of mice by manipulating individual neurons. He described the results of the study in the latest edition of the journal Science.

Memories of experiences we have had are made from several elements including records of objects, space and time. These records, called engrams, are encoded in physical and chemical changes in brain cells and the connections between them. According to Tonagawa, both false and genuine memories seem to rely on the same brain mechanisms.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Arctic methane 'time bomb' could have huge economic costs

Scientists say that the release of large amounts of methane from thawing permafrost in the Arctic could have huge economic impacts for the world.

Increasing temperatures in the Arctic region are reducing sea ice cover and increasing the possibility of methane leaching from the sea bed
The researchers estimate that the climate effects of the release of this gas could cost $60 trillion (£39 trillion), roughly the size of the global economy in 2012.

The impacts are most likely to be felt in developing countries they say.

The research has been published in the journal Nature.

Scientists have had concerns about the impact of rising temperatures on permafrost for many years. Large amounts of methane are concentrated in the frozen Arctic tundra but are also found as semi-solid gas hydrates under the sea.

Price of gas
Previous work has shown that the diminishing ice cover in the East Siberian sea is allowing the waters to warm and the methane to leach out. Scientists have found plumes of the gas up to a kilometre in diameter rising from these waters.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Incredible tech: How to find life on Mars

This global view of Mars is composed of about 100 Viking Orbiter images. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Finding life on Mars isn't easy.

While NASA's Curiosity rover found that Mars could have once supported life at some point in the ancient past, scientists still haven't been able to detect a definitive sign that either single cellular or multicellular life once roamed the Red Planet.

"Suppose we landed on Mars and we saw a skyscraper, a huge building 10 stories high or something," NASA Ames Research Center astrobiologist Chris McKay said. "It would be clear that that was not just a pile of rocks even if the building was abandoned. Biologically, there's an equivalent. Things like proteins and DNA and enzymes are the biological equivalent of skyscrapers. They're huge, complex molecules that were assembled for a particular purpose."

Finding life with a new rover
NASA officials recently announced that the space agency's new rover set for launch in 2020 will look for evidence of life in the Red Planet's past.

Scientists aiding in the development of the rover have said that researchers will have a better chance of detecting indicators of past life on Mars than finding microbes today.

"To go and look for simple organisms, or not-so-simple organisms, that are living within that toxic, harsh environment we just think is a foolish investment of the technology at this time," Jack Mustard, a professor at Brown University and chairman of the 2020 rover mission's Science Definition Team told reporters last week in a news conference.

NASA scientists have also recommended that the new rover collect rock samples that can be saved and eventually brought back to Earth on a future mission. Returning samples to Earth will allow scientists to perform advanced experiments with sensitive instruments found in a laboratory.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Dolphins 'call each other by name'

Scientists have found further evidence that dolphins call each other by "name".

The research sheds new light on the intelligence of dolphins
Research has revealed that the marine mammals use a unique whistle to identify each other.

A team from the University of St Andrews in Scotland found that when the animals hear their own call played back to them, they respond.


Dr Vincent Janik, from the university's Sea Mammal Research Unit, said: "(Dolphins) live in this three-dimensional environment, offshore without any kind of landmarks and they need to stay together as a group.

"These animals live in an environment where they need a very efficient system to stay in touch."

Signature whistles

It had been-long suspected that dolphins use distinctive whistles in much the same way that humans use names.

Previous research found that these calls were used frequently, and dolphins in the same groups were able to learn and copy the unusual sounds.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Curiosity rover confirms Martian air is mostly CO2

The Curiosity rover has tasted Mars' air: It's made mostly of carbon dioxide with hints of other gases.

The measurements by the most advanced spacecraft to land on the red planet closely match what the twin Viking landers detected in the late 1970s and what scientists have gleaned from Martian meteorites—rock fragments that fell to Earth.


Image: This photo released by NASA shows a self-portrait taken by the NASA rover Curiosity in Gale Crater on Mars. Measurements of the Martian air by the rover found it’s mostly made of carbon dioxide with traces of other gases, according to two studies appearing in the Friday, July 19, 2013 issue of the journal Science. AP Photo/NASA

Mars' atmosphere is overwhelmingly dominated by carbon dioxide, unlike Earth's air, which is a mix of nitrogen and oxygen.

There was a small surprise: Viking found nitrogen to be the second most abundant gas in the Martian air, but Curiosity's measurements revealed a nearly equal abundance of nitrogen and argon, a stable noble gas.

Mission scientists are puzzled, but suspect it might have to do with the different tools used to sample the atmosphere.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Two Suns Could Increase The Possibility Of Life On Other Planets

A binary star system could increase the possibility a planet could sustain liquid water on its planet's surface. NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle
Researchers are suggesting two suns may be better than one. If the theory is correct, it would vastly increase the number of planets that could, potentially, sustain life and give astronomers new targets to observe.

Astronomers from the University of Texas at El Paso, ot UTEP, and New Mexico State University have found a mechanism that exists only between binary stars that may increase the chance a planet could sustain liquid water at its surface. The researchers also point out the fact that the mechanism could actually make it more difficult to sustain liquid water on planet orbiting a binary system. The research, led by Paul A. Mason from UTEP, will be published in Astrophysical Journal Letters. The astronomers belong to Group of Computational Physics and Astrophysics, FACom.

The mechanism is based on the two stars orbiting one another in a binary system becoming tidally locked. The moon is tidally locked to the Earth and one side of the moon always facing the Earth. Tidal locking occurs when a body’s rotation synchronizes to its orbit of the larger host, due to the effects of gravity. In the case of the moon, it takes 27 days to complete one revolution -- the same amount of time needed to complete one orbit around the Earth.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Private Plan to Put a Telescope on the Moon

An artist’s rendering of the proposed telescope on the Malapert crater on the moon. Moon Express/ILOA
Two private companies are teaming up to attempt the first-ever mission to the moon’s south pole in order to place a telescope atop a lunar mountain.

This plan is being spearheaded by the International Lunar Observatory Association (ILOA), a non-profit aiming to build a scientific and commercial base on the moon, with help from the startup Moon Express, which hopes to become a Space Age version of FedEx in the coming decade.

The companies want to put a 2-meter radio antenna along with a smaller optical telescope on a lunar peak, most likely the 5-km-high rim of a crater called Malapert. From this position, both telescopes could view the center of our Milky Way galaxy with unprecedented clarity because they wouldn’t be subjected to our atmosphere’s hazy interference. The moon would also block them from radio and other electromagnetic noise created by modern civilization. Astronomers have long proposed putting similar telescopes on the moon’s far side – which faces permanently away from our planet – because the pictures could exceed anything produced by the best terrestrial or even space-based instruments.

But far-side telescopes would need to be controlled with costly satellite relays. Located at the lunar south pole, Malapert crater provides the advantage of “a direct line of access to Earth,” said entrepreneur Steve Durst, founder and director of ILOA.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Stanford scientists break record for thinnest light-absorber

Stanford scientists have built the thinnest, most efficient absorber of visible light on record, a nanosize structure that could lead to less-costly, more efficient, solar cells.

An electron micrograph shows the cross-sectional view of the record-thin absorber layer created at Stanford. Shown are three gold nanodots, each about 14-by-7 nanometers in size, coated with in sulfide.
Stanford University scientists have created the thinnest, most efficient absorber of visible light on record. The nanosize structure, thousands of times thinner than an ordinary sheet of paper, could lower the cost and improve the efficiency of solar cells, according to the scientists. Their results are published in the current online edition of the journal Nano Letters.

"Achieving complete absorption of visible light with a minimal amount of material is highly desirable for many applications, including solar energy conversion to fuel and electricity," said Stacey Bent, a professor of chemical engineering at Stanford and a member of the research team. "Our results show that it is possible for an extremely thin layer of material to absorb almost 100 percent of incident light of a specific wavelength."

Thinner solar cells require less material and therefore cost less. The challenge for researchers is to reduce the thickness of the cell without compromising its ability to absorb and convert sunlight into clean energy.

For the study, the Stanford team created thin wafers dotted with trillions of round particles of gold. Each gold nanodot was about 14 nanometers tall and 17 nanometers wide.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

It's Not Your Imagination: Mosquitoes Love Some People More

Here's why mosquitos ravage you but leave your friend untouched.
When you sit around evening barbecues or lakeside campfires this summer, you may notice a few friends bemoaning mosquito bites more than others. This might not be because they're the complaining type: The bloodsuckers are more attracted to certain body chemistries.

 Female mosquitoes need blood to reproduce (males don't lay eggs and thus don't bite). In order to eat blood, these ravenous female mosquitoes first need to find it, which means sniffing out a host to bite. The insects do this, in part, via smell receptors on their antennae and mouths. Just as we use smell receptors in our nose to detect the aroma wafting from our favorite food, a mosquito's smell receptors uniquely respond to chemical signals emanating from a host's body. 

 So far, scientists have found that the human body gives off several hundred such chemicals. You, your friends, and everyone else each has a unique chemical signature with different blends and concentrations; the unlucky ones with more of the ingredients that attract mosquitoes are more likely to be bitten. 

 This doesn't mean that certain people are more attractive to all mosquitoes, says Ulirich Bernier, Ph.D., a research chemist and mosquito attractant expert at the Agricultural Research Service at the United States Department of Agriculture. There are around 3,000 mosquito species worldwide, each with a unique set of receptors that make them more or less drawn to certain body chemistries. This can make the same person more appealing to one species of mosquito than another. 

Bernier says it may also explain why certain species are more attracted to humans than to other animals, such as Anopheles gambiae , a major spreader of malaria in sub-Saharan Africa that feeds almost solely on people. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Long-Lost Pyramids Found?

The structures were spotted last year by amateur satellite archaeologist Angela Micol. She used Google Earth 5,000 miles away in North Carolina.
Mysterious, pyramid-like structures spotted in the Egyptian desert by an amateur satellite archaeologist might be long-lost pyramids after all, according to a new investigation into the enigmatic mounds.

Angela Micol, who last year found the structures using Google Earth 5,000 miles away in North Carolina, says puzzling features have been uncovered during a preliminary ground proofing expedition, revealing cavities and shafts.

"Moreover, it has emerged these formations are labeled as pyramids on several old and rare maps," Micol told Discovery News.

Located about 90 miles apart, the two possible pyramid complexes appeared as groupings of mounds in curious positions.

One site in Upper Egypt, just 12 miles from the city of Abu Sidhum along the Nile, featured four mounds with an unusual footprint.

Some 90 miles north near the Fayum oasis, the second possible pyramid complex revealed a four-sided, truncated mound approximately 150 feet wide and three smaller mounds in a diagonal alignment.

"The images speak for themselves," Micol said when she first announced her findings. "It's very obvious what the sites may contain, but field research is needed to verify they are, in fact, pyramids,"

First reported by Discovery News, her claim gained widespread media attention and much criticism.

Authoritative geologists and geo-archaeologists were largely skeptical and dismissed what Micol called "Google Earth anomalies" as windswept natural rock formations -- buttes quite common in the Egyptian desert.

"After the buzz simmered down, I was contacted by an Egyptian couple who claimed to have important historical references for both sites," Micol said.

Red Planet Riviera: Ancient Mars Ocean Found?


With the help of rover Curiosity, we now know that ancient Mars had large quantities of liquid water flowing across its surface. However, evidence for large bodies of water — i.e. oceans — has been hard to come by. But using high-resolution orbital data, Caltech scientists now think they’ve found a long-dry river delta that once flowed into a very large body of water. Welcome to the Aeolis Riviera — the strongest evidence yet for a Martian coastline.

Aeolis Dorsa is a vast plain about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) east of Gale Crater, where NASA’s rover Curiosity is currently exploring. Using high-resolution observations from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera, the Caltech team spotted what appears to be a river delta leading to a large depression, a candidate for the basin of an ancient ocean.

“Scientists have long hypothesized that the northern lowlands of Mars are a dried-up ocean bottom, but no one yet has found the smoking gun,” said Mike Lamb, assistant professor of geology at Caltech and a co-investigator of this research, in a news release. The research has been published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Floating Free: New Levitation System Uses Sound Waves

A new technique uses sound waves to
levitate objects and move them in mid-air
Hold on to your wand, Harry Potter: Science has outdone even your best "Leviosa!" levitation spell.

Researchers report that they have levitated objects with sound waves, and moved those objects around in midair, according to a new study.

Scientists have used sound waves to suspend objects in midair for decades, but the new method, described today (July 15) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, goes a step further by allowing people to manipulate suspended objects without touching them.

This levitation technique could help create ultrapure chemical mixtures, without contamination, which could be useful for making stem cells or other biological materials.

Parlor trick

For more than a century, scientists have proposed the idea of using the pressure of sound waves to make objects float in the air. As sound waves travel, they produce changes in the air pressure — squishing some air molecules together and pushing others apart.

By placing an object at a certain point within a sound wave, it's possible to perfectly counteract the force of gravity with the force exerted by the sound wave, allowing an object to float in that spot.

In previous work on levitation systems, researchers had used transducers to produce sound waves, and reflectors to reflect the waves back, thus creating standing waves.

"A standing wave is like when you pluck the string of a guitar," said study co-author Daniele Foresti, a mechanical engineer at the ETH Zürich in Switzerland. "The string is moving up and down, but there are two points where it's fixed."

Using these standing waves, scientists levitated mice and small drops of liquid.

But then, the research got stuck.

Acoustic levitation seemed to be more of a parlor trick than a useful tool: It was only powerful enough to levitate relatively small objects; it couldn't levitate liquids without splitting them apart, and the objects couldn't be moved.

Levitating liquids

Foresti and his colleagues designed tiny transducers powerful enough to levitate objects but small enough to be packed closely together.

By slowly turning off one transducer just as its neighbor is ramping up, the new method creates a moving sweet spot for levitation, enabling the scientists to move an object in midair. Long, skinny objects can also be levitated.

The new system can lift heavy objects, and also provides enough control so that liquids can be mixed together without splitting into many tiny droplets, Foresti said. Everything can be controlled automatically.


The system blasts sounds waves at what would be an ear-splitting noise level of 160 decibels, about as loud as a jet taking off. Fortunately, the sound waves in the experiment operated at 24 kilohertz, just above the normal hearing range for humans.

Nasa's Hubble telescope discovers new Neptune moon

Voyager failed to spot the tiny moon during its 1989 fly-pass
The Hubble space telescope has discovered a new moon orbiting Neptune, Nasa has confirmed.

Designated S/2004 N 1, this is the 14th known moon to circle the giant planet.

It also appears to be the smallest moon in the Neptunian system, measuring just 20 km (12 miles) across, completing one revolution around Neptune every 23 hours.

US astronomer Mark Showalter spotted the tiny dot while studying segments of rings around Neptune.

Nasa said the moon was roughly 100 million times dimmer than the faintest star visible to the naked eye.

It is so small that the Voyager spacecraft failed to spot it in 1989 when it passed close by Neptune and surveyed the planet's system of moons and rings.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Test of new magnet is an atom-smashing success

This track is an example of simulated data modeled for the ATLAS detector on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN. The Higgs boson is produced in the collision of two protons at 14 TeV and quickly decays into four muon, a type of heavy electron that is not absorbed by the detector. The tracks of the muons are shown in yellow.
A powerful new magnet to replace existing ones in the world's largest atom smasher, the Large Hadron Collider, just passed its first test with flying colors.

The magnet, which allows the massive particle collider to study two to three times more proton collisions, could help unveil the mysterious properties of the newly discovered Higgs boson, an elementary particle that is thought to explain how all other particles get their mass.

The Large Hadron Collider(LHC) between Switzerland and France sends two proton beams barreling at near light-speed around a 17-mile (27 kilometers) underground ring until they smash into each other, creating myriad subatomic particles in the process. 

The new magnet produces a much larger magnetic field to focus the proton beams into an even more minuscule area, thereby ensuring that more protons crash into each other.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

'Anthropocene' Period Would Recognize Humanity's Impact on Earth

The Anthropocene is the name of a proposed new geological time period (probably an epoch) that may soon enter the official Geologic Time Scale. The Anthropocene is defined by the human influence on Earth, where we have become a geological force shaping the global landscape and evolution of our planet.
According to this idea, the present epoch — still known as the Holocene, which started 11,000 years ago — would have ended somewhere between the end of 18th century and the 1950s (when the Anthropocene began). The earlier time limit considers the increasing amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere that is mostly due to the burning of fossil fuels for energy to power our growing industrial technology.
We may consider this process to have started in 1784, with the invention of the steam engine by James Watt. The present high levels of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere are probably causing global warming. The later time period takes into account the increasing background radiation from the nuclear tests by the United States and the Soviet Union during the beginning of the Cold War. 
This new frontier in the geological timeline is potentially more precisely defined than any was before due to its recent occurrence. The Antrhopocene is also supported by increasing evidence of human influence on natural global processes, such as the sediment transport being supplanted by our construction processes; land occupation and transformation; water course deviation and water reserve appropriation; massive extinction and introduction of invasive species; development and widespread use of previously non-existent chemical substances (eg. plastics and persistent organic pollutants); and even the creation of new elements (the last 20 in the periodic table).
In this interview, Dr. David Grinspoon, Baruch S. Blumberg Chair of Astrobiology at the Library of Congress and Curator of Astrobiology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, talks about a book he is writing on the Anthropocene from an astrobiology point of view.

Powerful Magnet Could Be Key to Understanding Higgs Boson Particle

Scientists are one step closer to figuring out how all particles get their mass. Beams made up of billions of protons are accelerated to speeds approaching the speed of light in the Large Hadron Collider, and scientists have installed a new, giant magnet that will allow more protons to crash into each other, which researchers hope will yield more information about the Higgs Boson particle.
Source: http://news.yahoo.com


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Modest Debut of Atlas May Foreshadow Age of ‘Robo Sapiens’

Moving its hands as if it were dealing cards and walking with a bit of a swagger, a Pentagon-financed humanoid robot named Atlas made its first public appearance on Thursday.

C3PO it’s not. But its creators have high hopes for the hydraulically powered machine. The robot — which is equipped with both laser and stereo vision systems, as well as dexterous hands — is seen as a new tool that can come to the aid of humanity in natural and man-made disasters.


Image: Atlas was designed to learn quickly on two legs.   The Pentagon-financed humanoid robot could, one day, come to the aid of humanity in natural and man-made disasters.

Atlas is being designed to perform rescue functions in situations where humans cannot survive. The Pentagon has devised a challenge in which competing teams of technologists program it to do things like shut off valves or throw switches, open doors, operate power equipment and travel over rocky ground. The challenge comes with a $2 million prize.

Some see Atlas’s unveiling as a giant — though shaky — step toward the long-anticipated age of humanoid robots.

“People love the wizards in Harry Potter or ‘Lord of the Rings,’ but this is real,” said Gary Bradski, a Silicon Valley artificial intelligence specialist and a co-founder of Industrial Perception Inc., a company that is building a robot able to load and unload trucks. “A new species, Robo sapiens, are emerging,” he said.

The debut of Atlas on Thursday was a striking example of how computers are beginning to grow legs and move around in the physical world.

Although robotic planes already fill the air and self-driving cars are being tested on public roads, many specialists in robotics believe that the learning curve toward useful humanoid robots will be steep. Still, many see them fulfilling the needs of humans — and the dreams of science fiction lovers — sooner rather than later.

Walking on two legs, they have the potential to serve as department store guides, assist the elderly with daily tasks or carry out nuclear power plant rescue operations.

Friday, July 12, 2013

7-YEAR-OLD KID WRITES TO NASA, AND NASA WRITES BACK

DEXTER WALTERS MAY BE JUST A KID, BUT HE KNOWS HE WANTS TO GO TO MARS SOMEDAY. SO HE WROTE TO NASA ABOUT HIS INTERESTS, AND TO HIS SURPRISE, HE GOT A RESPONSE.

Dexter's original letter to NASA

Two weeks ago, 7-year-old Dexter Walters wrote a letter to NASA saying he'd like to be considered a candidate for a one-way trip to Mars. "I heard that you are sending two people to Mars and I would like to come, but I'm 7, so I can't," the letter read. "I would like to come in the future. What do I need to do to become an astronaut?"

The boy, who lives in the United Kingdom with his mother, Katrina Anderson, hadn't expected a response. But this morning, Dexter met the mailman at the postbox, and amid letters addressed to his mom, he found a thick one with his name on it. It was from NASA.

"I ran into the room and said 'Its for me! Its for me,'" Dexter told Fast Company. "I was thinking this is incredible because I've waited all my life to do this." The letter thanked the would-be astronaut for writing, saying, "Just think--in a few years, you could be one of the pioneers that may help lead the world's activities for better understanding our earth and for exploring space." The letter also included pictures of the Red Planet and the Curiosity Rover, along with resources Dexter could use to learn more about space.

Anderson was so thrilled by the letter, she posted it to Reddit, where it currently sits in the homepage's number two slot, with more than 1,600 comments. One commenter even said they work at NASA HQ:

Thursday, July 11, 2013

True color of a planet orbiting another star - Hubble spots azure blue planet

Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have, for the first time, determined the true colour of a planet orbiting another star. If seen up close this planet, known as HD 189733b, would be a deep cobalt blue, reminiscent of Earth's color as seen from space.

But that's where the similarities end. This "deep blue dot" is a huge gas giant orbiting very close to its host star. The planet's atmosphere is scorching with a temperature of over 1000 degrees Celsius, and it rains glass, sideways, in howling 7000 kilometre-per-hour winds.

At a distance of 63 light-years from us, this turbulent alien world is one of the nearest exoplanets to Earth that can be seen crossing the face of its star. It has been intensively studied by Hubble and other telescopes, and its atmosphere has been found to be dramatically changeable and exotic, with hazes and violent flares (heic0720 - http://www.spacetelescope.org/news/heic0720/, heic1209 - http://www.spacetelescope.org/news/heic1209/ ). Now, this planet is the subject of an important first: the first measurement of an exoplanet's visible color.


This illustration shows HD 189733b, a huge gas giant that orbits very close to its host star HD 189733. The planet's atmosphere is scorching with a temperature of over 1000 degrees Celsius, and it rains glass, sideways, in howling 7000 kilometer-per-hour winds.

(Photo Credit: NASA, ESA, M. Kornmesser)

"This planet has been studied well in the past, both by ourselves and other teams," says Frederic Pont of the University of Exeter, UK, leader of the Hubble observing programme and an author of this new paper. "But measuring its colour is a real first -- we can actually imagine what this planet would look like if we were able to look at it directly."

Bacteria in space grows in strange ways, experiments show

Bacteria grown in a dish of fake urine in space behaves in ways never-before-seen in Earth microorganisms, scientists say.

A team of scientists sent samples of the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosainto orbit aboard NASA's space shuttle Atlantis to see how they grew in comparison to their Earth-dwelling counterparts.

The 3-D communities of microorganisms (called biofilms) grown aboard the space shuttle had more live cells, were thicker and had more biomass than the bacterial colonies grown in normal gravity on Earth as controls. The space bacteria also grew in a "column-and-canopy" structure that has never been observed in bacterial colonies on Earth, according to NASA scientists.


Image: Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacterium grown onboard the space shuttle Atlantis, forms in a "column-and-canopy" structure unlike the arrangements observed in bacteria grown on Earth.

"Biofilms were rampant on the Mir space station and continue to be a challenge on the [International Space Station], but we still don't really know what role gravity plays in their growth and development," NASA's study leader Cynthia Collins, an assistant professor in the department of chemical and biological engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., said in a statement. "Our study offers the first evidence that spaceflight affects community-level behaviors of bacteria, and highlights the importance of understanding how both harmful and beneficial human-microbe interactions may be altered during spaceflight."

Most biofilms found in the human body and in nature are harmless, but some are associated with disease, NASA officials said.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

3-D Printing: Technology May Bring New Industrial Revolution

3-D printing technology, used industrially for the last few decades, is poised to break into the mass market. Its endless and swiftly developing possibilities -- from entrepreneurial manufacturing to the potential sculpting of human organs -- could become the next industrial revolution.

An electron microscope photo showing a nano-scale Formula 1 racing car.

When the TV series Star Trek first brought the starship Enterprise into our living rooms, the concept of a replicator was pure science fiction, a fantastical utopian vision we might experience one day centuries in the future. Replicators, something of a mixture between computer and miniature factory, were capable of creating food and replacement parts from next to nothing. They were highly practical devices, since Captain Kirk couldn't exactly take along a lot of supplies for his journeys through outer space. That futuristic vision, though, has receded far into the past -- overtaken by the present.

The real-world replicator-like technology poised to revolutionize the world is known as 3-D printing, though that term is misleading, since the process has little to do with printing. Three-dimensional printers can be as small as a suitcase or as large as a telephone booth, depending on the object they are meant to faithfully replicate from a 3-D computer blueprint. Inside the machine, the product is assembled by stacking extremely thin layers of material on top of one another, sort of like reassembling an apple that has been cut into super-fine slices.
Many different technological routes can be taken to reach the same goal. In one variation, nozzles spray liquid material into layers. Another method, which produces even better results, aims laser beams at finely powdered material, causing the grains to fuse together at precisely the spot where the beam hits. All 3-D printing techniques, however, follow the same principle: The object grows layer by layer, each one just a few hundredths of a millimeter thick, until it acquires the desired shape. This technique can be applied to steel, plastic, titanium, aluminum and many other metals.

Assembling, screwing together, adhering, welding -- all these processes are rendered obsolete when even the most complex shapes can be produced by a single machine using this casting technique. The end result can be an artificial hip, a hearing aid, a cell phone case, customized footwear or even the Urbee, a prototype car that has been making a splash.

Engineers at the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) have used this technique to print out an entire bicycle that only needs added tires and a chain to be fully functional. British researchers, meanwhile, have printed a maneuverable drone with a rear-engine drive. Printed components are also used in Formula 1 racing and at NASA. Dental laboratories use 3-D printers to produce crowns, while doctors experiment with artificial heart tissue. Filmmakers also print animation models and automotive parts suppliers create replacement parts.

Three-dimensional printing technology, used industrially for the last few decades, is poised to break into the mass market. Its endless and swiftly developing possibilities -- from entrepreneurial manufacturing to the potential creation of human organs -- are likely to create a new industrial revolution. Here, a graphic of the 3-D printing technique known as "sintering."

A Slow Process

The printing of electronic components is even in the works. American corporation Xerox, for example, has developed a silver ink that functions as an electrical conductor and can be printed directly onto plastic or other materials, making it possible to integrate simple circuits into printed objects.

Europe's ExoMars May End Russia's Bad Luck on Mars

Officials in charge of Europe's ExoMars rover, part of a joint Mars exploration project with Russia, say they are confident the life-seeking robot will reach the Red Planet's surface despite Russia's record of star-crossed Mars missions.

Russia is in charge of building the rocket-powered landing system for the rover, which is designed to search for signs of past and present life on Mars. The ExoMars rover will also drill up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) beneath the rust-colored Martian soil and look for biological markers encased in the planet's bedrock. There, the markers would be protected from the damaging radiation and chemical processes present at the planet's surface.

The ExoMars program comprises two missions, a Trace Gas Orbiter with a stationary lander set for launch in January 2016, and a 660-pound (300 kilograms) rover scheduled to depart Earth in May 2018. The missions have a collective cost of about 1.2 billion euros ($1.6 billion).

Source: http://www.space.com

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Check out NASA’s new rover, the first in ‘an army of polar robots’

Meet NASA’s newest addition, the Goddard Remotely Operated Vehicle for Exploration and Research, or GROVER for short.

This 800-pound bot is made for polar exploration in extreme cold and just wrapped up a test expedition at the highest point in Greenland, where it faces wind gusts at 30 miles per hour and temperatures around 20 degrees Fahrenheit below zero.

On its five-week test mission, the rover roamed over 18 miles of frozen wasteland, sending back diagnostic information in real time and charging its solar-powered battery every 12 hours. The uneven terrain and extreme temperatures presented plenty of challenges to all those systems — mobility, power, and internal electronic instruments.

Here’s the lil’ guy at work:



GROVER’s job will be to use radar to gather information about our own planet buried beneath layers of ice and snow, all while being remotely controlled from thousands of miles away.

Monday, July 8, 2013

‘Bionic Ear’ Created By Princeton Researchers Using 3-D Printer [VIDEO]

Princeton researchers were able to create a "bionic ear" using a 3-D printer.
Princeton University researchers are harnessing the power of a 3-D printer to create a “bionic ear.” The creation of an ear using a combination of silicone and collected bovine tissue via a 3-D printer is just the latest advancement in the field of cybernetics.

The Associated Press toured the research lab at Princeton where the 3-D ear was created. The bionic ear is not meant to replace an actual ear but serve as an aid or enhancement tool. Michael McAlpine describes the role of cybernetics, which combines biological material with synthetic ones, as a transitional tool that will allow humans to more seamlessly interact with their gadgets and helping people go beyond their five senses. McAlpine said to AP, “We’re going to want these new senses to give us direct electronic communication with our cellphones and our laptop devices.”

The bionic ear created by McAlpine and his team combines bovine tissue, silicone and a silver coil that acts as an antenna. The bionic ear is printed using a 3-D printer and is left to cultivate for 10 weeks. The cultivation process lets the bovine tissue cells to grow and multiply, notes AP. The bionic ear is able to pick up radio signals and transmit them, mimicking the function of a human ear. The researchers demonstrated the bionic ear’s capabilities to AP by transmitting a recording of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” to a set of speakers using electrodes in the ear that were embedded during the printing process.