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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Nasa's Curiosity rover finds water in Martian soil

Dirt sample reveals two pints of liquid water per cubic feet, not freely accessible but bound to other minerals in the soil.

Water has been discovered in the fine-grained soil on the surface of Mars, which could be a useful resource for future human missions to the red planet, according to measurements made by Nasa's Curiosity rover.

Each cubic foot of Martian soil contains around two pints of liquid water, though the molecules are not freely accessible, but rather bound to other minerals in the soil.

The Curiosity rover has been on Mars since August 2012, landing in an area near the equator of the planet known as Gale Crater. Its target is to circle and climb Mount Sharp, which lies at the centre of the crater, a five-kilometre-high mountain of layered rock that will help scientists unravel the history of the planet.

On Thursday Nasa scientists published a series of five papers in the journal Science, which detail the experiments carried out by the various scientific instruments aboard Curiosity in its first four months on the martian surface. Though highlights from the year-long mission have been released at conferences and Nasa press conferences, these are the first set of formal, peer-reviewed results from the Curiosity mission.

"We tend to think of Mars as this dry place – to find water fairly easy to get out of the soil at the surface was exciting to me," said Laurie Leshin, dean of science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and lead author on the Science paper which confirmed the existence of water in the soil. "If you took about a cubic foot of the dirt and heated it up, you'd get a couple of pints of water out of that – a couple of water bottles' worth that you would take to the gym."

About 2% of the soil, by weight, was water. Curiosity made the measurement by scooping up a sample of the Martian dirt under its wheels, sieving it and dropping tiny samples into an oven in its belly, an instrument called Sample Analysis at Mars. "We heat [the soil] up to 835C and drive off all the volatiles and measure them," said Leshin. "We have a very sensitive way to sniff those and we can detect the water and other things that are released."

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Scientists 'bind light together' to create new state of matter resembling lightsabers

A group of scientists from Harvard and MIT have created a state of matter that until now has only been found in the realms of science fiction.

The physicists were exploring the properties of photons – an elementary particle that is the most basic constituent of light and all other types of electromagnetic radiation – when they managed to create molecules formed from photons bound together.

The discovery is startling as it goes against what scientists have previously believed to be the signature quality of photons: that they are massless particles that do not interact with each other. The capacity to create molecules out of photons has been described by the physicists involved as “pushing the frontiers of science”.

"Most of the properties of light we know about originate from the fact that photons are massless, and that they do not interact with each other," said Harvard Professor of Physics Mikhail Lukin in a press release published at phys.org.

"What we have done is create a special type of medium in which photons interact with each other so strongly that they begin to act as though they have mass, and they bind together to form molecules.”

Monday, September 23, 2013

Tackling fears 'while you sleep'

US researchers suggest smells could be used to calm fears - while people sleep.

People were trained to associate two images, linked to smells, with fear.

During sleep they were exposed to one of those smells - and when they woke they were less frightened of the image linked to that smell.

A UK expert praised the Nature Neuroscience study and said it could help treat phobias and perhaps even post-traumatic stress disorders.

People with phobias are already commonly treated with "gradual exposure" therapy while they are awake, where they are exposed to the thing they are frightened of in incremental degrees.

This study suggests that the theory could be extended to therapy while they are in slow-wave, or deep, sleep.

This is the deepest period of sleep, where memories, particularly those linked to emotions, are thought to be processed.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Polymer Heals Itself Independent of Outside Triggers

A team of Spanish scientists have developed the world's first self-healing polymer capable of mending itself independent of an outside trigger.

Nicknamed the "terminator" polymer after the shape-shifting, molten T-1000 robot from "Terminator 2," the substance is capable of an impressive 97 percent healing efficiency in just two hours, rendering it impossible to manually separate.

In the past, triggers such as heat, light or specific environmental conditions, such as pH, have been required in order to set this healing process in motion. The new substance, technically a "permanently cross-linked poly(urea-urethane) elastomeric network," works independently in room temperature as a velcro-like sealant.

Ibon Odriozola, the lead researcher, and his team from the CIDETEC Center for Electrochemical Technologies previously came close to creating a substance capable of mending itself independently in the development of self-healing silicone elastomers. External pressure was needed to begin the process and an expensive silver component was required, however.


The new polymer, in contrast, makes use of commercially available materials, allowing for a high degree of scalability.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Time Perception in Animals Based on Pace of Life: How Fast Eyes Move

Time perception varies in animals. For example, flies observe motion on timescales that are far finer than our own eyes can perceive. Now, scientists have discovered that an animal's ability to perceive time is linked to its pace of life. 
Time perception varies in animals. For example, flies observe motion on timescales that are far finer than our own eyes can perceive. Now, scientists have discovered that an animal's ability to perceive time is linked to its pace of life.

Different animals perceive time differently. In fact, one species of tiger beetle runs faster than its eyes can see, causing it to essentially becoming blind. The beetle has to stop periodically to re-evaluate its prey's position because of this. Even in humans, athletes have been shown to quicken their eyes' ability to track moving balls during games.

In order to examine this type of time perception, the researchers employed a phenomenon called the critical flicker fusion frequency. This phenomenon is based on the maximum speed of flashes of light an individual can see before the light source is perceived as constant. This particular occurrence is the principle behind the illusion of non-flashing television, computer and cinema screens. The scientists showed that animals that would be expected to be agile possess the most refined ability to see time at high resolutions.

Friday, September 13, 2013

In a Breathtaking First, NASA Craft Exits the Solar System

This image obtained in 2002 shows one of the twin Voyager spacecraft, launched in 1977.
By today’s standards, the spacecraft’s technology is laughable: it carries an 8-track tape recorder and computers with one-240,000th the memory of a low-end iPhone. When it left Earth 36 years ago, it was designed as a four-year mission to Saturn, and everything after that was gravy.

But Voyager 1 has become — thrillingly — the Little Spacecraft That Could. On Thursday, scientists declared that it had become the first manufactured object to exit the solar system, a breathtaking achievement that NASA could only fantasize about back when Voyager was launched in 1977, the same year “Star Wars” was released.

“I don’t know if it’s in the same league as landing on the moon, but it’s right up there — ‘Star Trek’ stuff, for sure,” said Donald A. Gurnett, a professor of physics at the University of Iowa and the co-author of a paper published Thursday in the journal Science about Voyager’s feat. “I mean, consider the distance. It’s hard even for scientists to comprehend.”

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Mars One Update: More Than 200,000 Individuals Applied To Be Among The First Settlers On Mars

Mars One received more than 200,000 applications over the course of five months.
2023 is still a long way away, but the Mars One mission just took one step closer to fruition. As of the application deadline a week ago, more than 200,000 people from 140 different countries have applied to be among the first colonists on the red planet.

Over the course of five months, hundreds of thousands of applicants applied to be a part of the Mars One mission. Mars One is a not-for-profit foundation that aims to create a permanent settlement on Mars by 2023. The application process is just the beginning: Once the Mars One Selection Committee chooses candidates from this applicant pool, those selected will have to pass three more rounds before the final selection.

The second round will include an interview with Mars One committee members, and candidates advancing to the third round will compete against one another. The third round will group candidates by regions, approximately 20 to 40 candidates per region, and include a series of challenges to prepare them for the potential mission. The challenges will be broadcast on television and the Internet, notes Mars One, and regional audiences will get to choose one winner while the committee chooses the remaining candidates that advance to the fourth round.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

World's happiest nations are...

Denmark: World's happiest country


Those looking for greater happiness and satisfaction in life should head to northern Europe, but steer clear of Egypt and countries worst hit by the eurozone crisis, according to the 2013 World Happiness Report released Monday by Columbia University's Earth Institute.

Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden are the world's happiest countries, according to the survey of 156 countries. Rwanda, Burundi, the Central African Republic, Benin and Togo -- all nations in Sub-Saharan Africa -- are the least satisfied with their lives, the report said.

The United States came in at number 17 in the world in terms of overall happiness, but it still lags behind Canada (6), Australia (10), Israel (11) the United Arab Emirates (14) and Mexico (16), according to the Earth Institute.

The report ranks the United Kingdom as the 22nd happiest country in the world. Other major nations included Germany (26), Japan (43), Russia (68) and China (93).

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Interstellar Wind’s Shifting Direction Opens Up Study Of Larger Implications

Analyzing the course of Interstellar Winds for last forty years researchers have found it has changed direction over time, showing larger implications than we may realize.

Interstellar Wind is basically stream of charged particles that comes from outside solar system. It is different from the solar wind that many of us are familiar of, which is emitted from the sun and goes beyond our solar system.


Studying data from the 1970′s onward from 11 different satellites, scientists found the Interstellar Wind have changed direction by about 6 degrees. The data were pulled from United States Department of Defense Space Test Program 72-1, SOLRAD 11B, NASA’s Mariner, Soviet Prognoz 6, and newer platforms like NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX), and the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE).

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Super-Earth may have water-rich atmosphere

Artist's rendition of a transit of GJ 1214 b in blue light. The blue sphere represents the host star GJ 1214, and the black ball in front of it on the right is GJ 1214 b

Blue light observations of a super-Earth - 40 light years from our planet - have indicated that it may have a water-rich atmosphere, astronomers say.

Blue light observations of a super-Earth - 40 light years from our planet - have indicated that it may have a water-rich atmosphere, astronomers say. 

Japanese astronomers and planetary scientists used Subaru Telescope's two optical cameras, Suprime-Cam and the Faint Object Camera and Spectrograph (FOCAS), with a blue transmission filter to observe planetary transits of super-Earth GJ 1214 b (Gilese 1214 b).

The team investigated whether this planet has an atmosphere rich in water or hydrogen.

The Subaru observations show that the sky of this planet does not show a strong Rayleigh scattering feature, which a cloudless hydrogen-dominated atmosphere would predict. When combined with the findings of previous observations in other colours, this new observational result implies that GJ 1214 b is likely to have a water-rich atmosphere.

Super-Earths are emerging as a new type of exoplanet with a mass and radius larger than the Earth's but less than those of ice giants in our Solar System, such as Uranus or Neptune.

Scientists focused their efforts on investigating the atmospheric features of a well-known super-Earth, GJ 1214 b, located 40 light years from Earth in the constellation Ophiuchus, northwest of the center of our Milky Way galaxy.

The team's research examined features of light scattering of GJ 1214 b's transit around its star. Current theory posits that a planet develops in a disk of dense gas surrounding a newly formed star.

The element hydrogen is a major component of a protoplanetary disk, and water ice is abundant in an outer region beyond a so-called "snow line."

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Asteroid Deflection: Researchers Want To Hurl Large Space Probes To Redirect Potential Threats

A large space probe could deflect an asteroid away from Earth.
Researchers have discovered thousands of near-Earth asteroids and some of those objects may, potentially, pose a threat to the planet. Deflecting an asteroid could prevent a catastrophe on Earth and researchers are currently testing possible methods to push a potential threat off course and way from the planet.

Frank Schäfer, from the Fraunhofer Institute for High-Speed Dynamics, Ernst-Mach-Institut, EMI in Freiburg, has researching asteroid deflection in a lab on a much smaller scale. The institute is a part of the international NEOShield Project which researches possible defense, or detection methods, of near-Earth Objects (NEOs).

Instead of lasers, or advanced technology, Schäfer is focusing on objects with heavy mass that can crash into these asteroids, causing them to change their trajectory safely away from Earth. Schäfer describes the asteroid deflection as having the same principles as a game of billiards, except with large space probes and an asteroid threat to Earth.

The experiments focus on an object with a lot of mass crashing into an asteroid at a fast speed. When the object hits the asteroid, there is some debris that gets knocked off the asteroid which helps propel the potential threat away from Earth. Schäfer said in a statement, “During impact, not only does the probe transfer its own momentum to the asteroid, there is also the recoil of detached material from the crater, which is ejected against the direction of the impact. This recoil effect acts like a turbocharger on the deviation of the asteroid.”

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Canyon longer than Grand Canyon found buried under Greenland ice sheet

3-D view of the subglacial canyon, looking to the southeast from the north of Greenland
One of the biggest canyons in the world has been discovered buried beneath more than two miles of ice in Greenland.

The hidden canyon is up to half a mile deep, six miles wide and stretches for 466 miles beneath the country’s giant ice sheet.

It is thought to have been carved out by a meandering river more than four million years ago – at a time before ice covered the area and humans were just beginning to evolve from primates. 

Researchers at Bristol University, the British Antarctic Survey and Nasa stumbled across the canyon when using airborne radar to image the landscape beneath the ice.

They believe the buried valley, which is longer than the Grand Canyon in Arizona, may still contain running water and acts as an important channel for melt water beneath the ice.

It winds its way from the centre of Greenland to a deep fjord on the northern coast, and water still trickles out into the Arctic Ocean from beneath the glaciers.
The scientists believe the subglacial canyon is longer than the Grand Canyon in Arizona 
Scientists said this probably explains why they have not found lakes beneath the ice sheet there, while beneath the ice in Antarctica they are relatively common.