Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Inside the iPhone 4's vibrational gyroscope

Apple first announced the iPhone 4’s gyroscope at WWDC 2010, but it was largely overshadowed by other big players inside the phone — the A4 processor, Retina display, and external antennas.
A lot of technology gets stuffed into vibrational gyroscopes (the type found in the iPhone 4), yet a casual observer may barely notice the chip itself, let alone the phenomenal contents within it. iFixit and Chipworks have partnered to show you exactly what’s inside these little gems.

Vibrational gyroscopes have a ton of practical uses, including automotive yaw sensors, game controllers, and image stabilization in cameras.


Now, iPhone 4 applications and games can also benefit from their superb accuracy.


The teardown covers not only the iPhone 4’s gyroscope, but vibrational gyroscopes in general.


We have tried our best to explain how vibrational gyroscopes function and have documented their internals at a microscopic level.

Some findings:

•The iPhone 4 utilizes a microscopic, electronic version of a vibrational gyroscope, called a MEMS gyroscope.
•A microelectromechanical system (MEMS) is an embedded system that integrates electronic and mechanical components at a very small scale.
•A basic MEMS device consists of an ASIC and a micro-machined silicon sensor.
•The AGD1 2022 FP6AQ chip found in the iPhone 4 is a MEMS gyroscope rumored to be designed by STMicroelectronics.
•Chipworks has confirmed that the MEMS gyroscope found inside the iPhone 4 is nearly identical to an off-the-shelf STMicroelectronics L3G4200D gyroscope.
•The picture (above) is that of the GK10A MEMS die, found in the L3G4200D.
•The GK10A is comprised of a plate, called the “proof mass,” that vibrates (oscillates) when a drive signal is applied to set of drive capacitor plates.
•When a user rotates the phone, the proof mass gets displaced in the X, Y, and Z directions by Coriolis forces. An ASIC processor senses the proof mass’ displacement through capacitor plates located underneath the proof mass, as well as finger capacitors at the edges of the package.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Arianespace Mission - Ariane 5 launch with Arabsat-5A and COMS satellites

Arianespace stepped up its 2010 launch pace with tonight’s successful dual-passenger Ariane 5 mission, which lofted payloads for the Middle East and South Korea.


Lifting off from the Spaceport’s ELA-3 launch facility in French Guiana, the Ariane 5 ECA placed Arabsat-5A and COMS into geostationary transfer orbits – providing a payload delivery performance of approximately 7,400 kg.

“This launch is the 37th consecutive success for our Ariane 5 launcher, and it clearly demonstrates our policy of quality — which is exactly what you — our customers expect, and I thank you for the confidence you have always shown for us,” Arianespace Chairman & CEO Jean-Yves Le Gall said in comments from the Spaceport’s Jupiter mission control room.

He noted that Arianespace maintains a strong backlog of satellites to be orbited, which has been further expanded with additional contracts concluded so far this year.

“Since the creation of our company 30 years ago, we have successfully launched 281 satellites,” Le Gall said. “And this will continue, as our order book today has 34 satellites for launch to geostationary orbit, along with six Ariane 5 missions with the Automated Transfer Vehicle, and 17 launches to be performed by Soyuz.

And since the beginning of 2010, we already have signed nine new contracts – the latest of which is with the Argentinean operator Arsat, which I am announcing today as a new contract.”

After its 6:41 p.m. liftoff from the Spaceport, the vehicle’s cryogenic upper stage was injected with the following provisional orbital parameters:
- Perigee: 249.9 km. for a target of 249.7 km.
- Apogee: 35,972 km. for a target of 35,958 km.
- Inclination: 2.00 deg. for a target of 2.00 deg.

During tonight’s launch, the Arabsat-5A satellite was deployed first during the flight sequence, being released from atop Ariane 5’s payload “stack” at 26 min. into the mission. Produced by Astrium and Thales Alenia Space on a turnkey contract for the Arabsat telecommunications operator, the satellite had a mass at liftoff of about 4,940 kg.

Arabsat-5A carries 24 Ku-band transponders and 28 C-band transponders for telecommunications and TV broadcasting services over the Middle East and Africa. Astrium provided the Eurostar 3000 spacecraft platform and was responsible for satellite integration, while Thales Alenia Space supplied the payload.

This mission marked another milestone in Arianespace’s 25-year relationship with the Saudi Arabia-based Arabsat telecommunications operator, which began with the launch of Arabsat 1A in 1985 on an Ariane 3 vehicle. A total of seven Arabsat satellites have been launched by Arianespace during the past 25 years.

The COMS satellite passenger was separated from Ariane 5 at 32 min. into tonight’s flight, completing this second heavy-lift mission of 2010. The multi-purpose COMS spacecraft for South Korea’s KARI (Korea Aerospace Research Institute) is fitted with three payloads for meteorological observation, ocean surveillance and experimental broadband multimedia communications services.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

German TanDEM-X satellite returns first 3D images

BBC News - German TanDEM-X satellite returns first images

Germany's new radar satellite, TanDEM-X, has returned its first images.

The spacecraft was launched from Kazakhstan on Monday on a mission to make the most precise 3D map of the Earth's surface.

The pictures demonstrate the platform is in excellent health and ready to team up with the TerraSAR-X satellite launched in 2007.

Together, the pair will trace the variation in height across the globe to a precision of better than two metres.

This digital elevation model (DEM) will support a multitude of applications, such as the programming of navigation computers in military jets to enable them to fly ultra low. The data will also be given to relief workers to show them where an earthquake has wrought most damage in a city.

Infoterra GmbH, the company with exclusive rights to commercialize the TanDEM information, says the market for radar products is steadily growing.

The new images depict a landscape in Ukraine, the north of Madagascar, and Moscow.

The pictures illustrate neatly the particular specialism of using radar to sense the planet's surface.

In the Madagascan data, for example, the choppiness of the waves in the open stretches of the Indian Ocean can be contrasted with the smooth reflection of the radar signal from the enclosed, clam waters of the Baie de Diego.

And in the image of Moscow-Sheremetyevo airport, the flat concrete surfaces of the runways appear as black lines because the radar beam has been very efficiently reflected away from the satellite.

'Magnified' lunar eclipse in North America

BBC News - 'Magnified' lunar eclipse in North America finishes

A partial lunar eclipse which was unusually magnified to viewers in North America has now ended.

The eclipse began at 1017 GMT, when the Moon entered the shadow of Earth, and lasted around three hours.

Because of the timing, the eclipse was not visible from the UK or Europe.

But in many parts of the US and Canada, the eclipse appeared larger because it occurred while the Moon was close to the horizon. The effect is known as the "Moon illusion".

According to Nasa, low-hanging Moons look "unnaturally large when they beam through trees, buildings and other foreground objects". The reason for this is not understood.

"Observers in India, Japan, and parts of East Asia will experience the same phenomenon," Nasa wrote on its website.

"They'll see the eclipse on Saturday evening as the Moon is rising."

At its maximum, 54% of the Moon's diameter was covered. This occurred at 0438 US Pacific time (1138 GMT).

Because the Moon, Sun and Earth were not aligned, the eclipse did not reach "totality".

A full lunar eclipse will take place in December and will be visible throughout North America.


Arianespace launch 195 – Arabsat-5A and COMS: Liftoff is set for Saturday, June 26, 2010


Arianespace - Press Release - Arianespace launch 195 – Arabsat-5A and COMS

Kourou, June 26, 2010

In the two synchronized sequences performed during the launch countdown on Thursday, June 24, an atypical pressure value was observed in the pressurization system of Ariane 5’s cryogenic main stage.

After precise analysis of this phenomenon, and complementary checks were carried out, Arianespace has decided to resume final countdown operations for Flight 195 with the Arabsat-5A and COMS satellite payloads.

Lockhead Martin's Supersonic Vision


Image: This artist's rendering shows an advanced concept design of an environmentally friendly supersonic airframe and propulsion system. Credit: Lockheed Martin Corporation

NASA has awarded an 18-month, $1.96 million study contract to a team led by Lockheed Martin Corporation to generate environmentally friendly supersonic airframe and propulsion concepts and develop technology maturation plans to make those concepts a reality.

Goals of the team—which includes GE Global Research, Purdue University, and Wyle Laboratories—are to produce a future Next Generation Air Transportation System system-level solution, conduct extensive teaming, and leverage past experience and methodology to provide an integrated advanced vehicle concept operational in the 2030-2035 timeframe.

The team will use analytical and design tools to assess performance parameters to find synergistic combinations of technologies and concepts for aerodynamic, structural, aero-servo-propulso-elastics, boom, airport noise, emissions and fuels.

Results of the study will include an optimized supersonic vision vehicle, identification of the highest-value enabling technologies to make that vehicle a reality, and technology roadmaps that lay out an industry-wide path to maturing necessary technologies.

The intention is to devise a revolutionary concept that has the ability to showcase green technologies, which would be an exciting vision that promotes understanding of future supersonic travel.

NASA Supersonic Green Machine


This future aircraft design concept for supersonic flight over land comes from the team led by the Lockheed Martin Corporation.

The team's simulation shows possibility for achieving overland flight by dramatically lowering the level of sonic booms.

They do this through the use of an "inverted-V" engine-under wing configuration.

Other revolutionary technologies help achieve range, payload and environmental goals.

This supersonic cruise concept is among the designs presented in April 2010 to the NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate for its NASA Research Announcement-funded studies into advanced aircraft that could enter service in the 2030-2035 timeframe.

Image credit: NASA/Lockheed Martin Corporation

More images available at the NASA Image Gallery

Friday, June 25, 2010

Hubble Image of Carina Nebula: Star birth in the extreme

Star birth in the extreme Hubble spacetelescope.org

Hubble's view of the Carina Nebula shows star birth in a new level of detail.

The fantasy-like landscape of the nebula is sculpted by the action of outflowing winds and scorching ultraviolet radiation from the monster stars that inhabit this inferno.

In the process, these stars are shredding the surrounding material that is the last vestige of the giant cloud from which the stars were born.

The immense nebula is an estimated 7,500 light-years away in the southern constellation Carina the Keel (of the old southern constellation Argo Navis, the ship of Jason and the Argonauts, from Greek mythology).

This image is a mosaic of the Carina Nebula assembled from 48 frames taken with Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys.

The Hubble images were taken in the light of ionized hydrogen. Colour information was added with data taken at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.

Red corresponds to sulfur, green to hydrogen, and blue to oxygen emission.

Video of Tourists Bathing in Florida's Oil Contaminated water

Schedule for opening Asteroid Explorer HAYABUSA (MUSES-C) Sample Container

JAXA announce that they will start opening the sample container of HAYABUSA on June 24, 2010 (Japan Standard Time) in the curation center (*1) at the JAXA Sagamihara Campus. It will take about one week to finish opening the sample container (*2).


Reentry Capsule of HAYABUSA

(*1) Curation Center : the facility that accepts samples and provides treatment and storage of the samples.

(*2) Sample container : A box inside the capsule where the samples are stored.

The curation operations are being carried out in cooperation with NASA.

Oscar, the cat with a pair of prosthetic paws

Oscar, the cat with a pair of prosthetic paws, courtesy of  neuro-orthopaedic surgeon Noel Fitzpatrick at Fitzpatrick Referrals in  Eashing, Surrey. Oscar was given a pair of new artificial feet in a  single surgical procedure by the Surrey-based surgeon. The work of this  pioneering vet will be the focus of a new six part documentary series  The Bionic Vet, to be broadcast on BBC1 from June 30

Oscar, the cat with a pair of prosthetic paws, courtesy of neuro-orthopaedic surgeon Noel Fitzpatrick at Fitzpatrick Referrals in Eashing, Surrey.

Oscar was given a pair of new artificial feet in a single surgical procedure by the Surrey-based surgeon.

The work of this pioneering vet will be the focus of a new six part documentary series The Bionic Vet, to be broadcast on BBC1 from June 30.

First Indian (ISRO) Astronaut Lands safely

Rajaram Das, a Sadhu or a Hindu holyman, performs yoga  in a dry  pond in the northern Indian city of Mathura, as part of a ritual to  appease Indra, the Hindu rain god, for rain

Sorry, guys. Just kidding!

Rajaram Das, a Sadhu or a Hindu holyman, performs yoga in a dry pond in the northern Indian city of Mathura, as part of a ritual to appease Indra, the Hindu rain god, for rain

Transgenic Technology: Fluorescent Archocentrus nigrofasciatus fish

A fluorescent Archocentrus nigrofasciatus fish swims in a tank  during a press conference organised by the Fisheries Agency of Council  of Agriculture in Taipei. Transgenic technology has been used on the  fish which can enhance resistance to infection and causes variations in  immune-related genes after infection by different bacterial species, say  researchers

A fluorescent Archocentrus nigrofasciatus fish swims in a tank during a press conference organised by the Fisheries Agency of Council of Agriculture in Taipei.

Transgenic technology has been used on the fish which can enhance resistance to infection and causes variations in immune-related genes after infection by different bacterial species, say researchers

NASA WISE Image: Seagull Nebula

The Seagull nebula, seen in this infrared mosaic from NASA's  Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, draws its name from its  resemblance to a gull in flight. Astronomers catalogue the nebula as IC  2177. This cosmic cloud is one of many sites of star formation within  the Milky Way galaxy. It is located 3,800 light-years away from Earth,  inside the Orion spur, the same partial spiral arm of the Milky Way  where our solar system is located. The nebula is nearly 240 light-years  across

This cosmic cloud is one of many sites of star formation within the Milky Way galaxy.

The Seagull nebula, seen in this infrared mosaic from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, draws its name from its resemblance to a gull in flight.

Astronomers catalogue the nebula as IC 2177 and it is nearly 240 light-years across.

It is located 3,800 light-years away from Earth, inside the Orion spur, the same partial spiral arm of the Milky Way where our solar system is located.

Picture: KPA / ZUMA / REX FEATURES

NASA LRO Image: The Far Side of the Moon

The far side of the moon is shown in this image from the Lunar  Reconnaissance Orbiter. The image shows the moon's topography, with the  highest elevations in red and the lowest areas in blue

The far side of the moon is shown in this image from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. The image shows the moon's topography, with the highest elevations in red and the lowest areas in blue

Picture: NASA / REUTERS

Russia And Europe: Join Forces To Protect Earth From Asteroids

Russia And Europe May Join Forces To Protect Earth From Asteroids

Russian space officials and members of the European Commission will meet in early July to discuss joining forces against thousands of potentially hazardous asteroids, the head of the Russian Federal Space Agency Roscosmos said.

Despite the growing concern about the asteroid threat, no anti-asteroid defense programs have been developed in practice so far, with only several theoretical concepts being studied. At a meeting in Moscow on July 7, the European Commission will consider Roscosmos's proposal to start a joint anti-asteroid project with the European Union.

"I received a letter, in which the European Commission proposes to meet on July 7 in Roscosmos with scientists and engineers of the Federal Space Agency, the Russian Academy of Sciences and other institutions and organizations. At the meeting, the Russian bid to start a joint project with the EU will be considered," Anatoly Perminov said.

In his Wednesday's report to Roscosmos, the head of the Astronomy Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences, Boris Shustov, said Russian scientists had detected a total of 6,960 near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) as of April 10.

The vast majority - 6,070 space bodies, or 87.2% of the total - are asteroids measuring from 100 meters to 1,000 meters in diameter. Others are 48 comets (1.2%) and 806 asteroids measuring more than a thousand of meters in diameter (11.6 %).

Hubble Bubble: Spectacular Space Bubble Photograph


Spectacular Space Bubble Photographed by Hubble

A spectacular new photo from the Hubble Space Telescope has revealed a stunning space bubble filled with baby stars.

The new space bubble image highlights an area called N11 – a complex network of gas clouds and star clusters within our neighboring galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud.

This energetic star-forming region is the second largest known to date, and one of the most active in our galactic neighbour.

Bubbles in space

The Large Magellanic Cloud contains many bright nebula bubbles, though N11 is one of the most magnificent, Hubble officials said.

Astronomers took the new N11 photo using Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys, which was repaired in May 2009 during NASA's last service call to the iconic space telescope. The image is actually a mosaic of five different views observed by Hubble, researchers said.

Officially known as LHA 120-N 11, N11 is one of many nebulas catalogued in 1956 by American astronomer Karl Henize, who later became a NASA astronaut. The object's characteristic shape earned it a nickname as the "Bean Nebula."

N11's billowing pink clouds of glowing gas and the dramatic and colorful features visible in the burgeoning nebula are telltale signs of star-formation. The nebula is a well-studied patch of space that is spread across more than 1,000 light-years and has produced some of the most massive stars currently known.

That star-formation bonanza actually holds the key to the N11 nebula's gossamer bubble look.

Three successive generations of stars, each forming further away from N11's center than the last, have created shells of gas and dust that were later blown away from their parent stars. This created the dazzling ring shapes that are so prominent in the Hubble image.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Chronic fatigue syndrome: suspicion is back on virus

A leading scientist at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) supports the theory that a retrovirus causes chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and says that government researchers have independently confirmed the association.

The link between xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV) and CFS was reported last year by scientists at the Whitmore Peterson Institute in Reno, Nevada. But it has since come under heavy criticism after several groups failed to replicate the association with their own patients.

However, Harvey Alter, an infectious disease expert at NIH, gave a talk on protecting the blood supply from disease at a closed workshop in Zagreb, last month with a slide that called the XMRV-CFS association "extremely strong and likely true, despite the controversy", the Wall Street Journal reports.

The same slide also indicates that scientists at NIH and the Food and Drug Administration have confirmed the link between CFS and XMRV themselves. His team also estimates that XMRV and related viruses are present in 3 to 7 per cent of blood donors.

The news is generating a lot of buzz on CFS patient forums, where hopes have been high that the connection would offer a solid explanation - and potentially a treatment - for the enigmatic condition.

Venus in the ultraviolet

Venus in the ultraviolet

Venus in the ultraviolet
Venus Monitoring Camera image taken in the ultraviolet (0.365 micrometres), from a distance of about 30 000 km.

It shows numerous high-contrast features, caused by an unknown chemical in the clouds that absorbs ultraviolet light, creating the bright and dark zones.

With data from Venus Express, scientists have learnt that the equatorial areas on Venus that appear dark in ultraviolet light are regions of relatively high temperature, where intense convection brings up dark material from below. In contrast, the bright regions at mid-latitudes are areas where the temperature in the atmosphere decreases with depth. The temperature reaches a minimum at the cloud tops suppressing vertical mixing. This annulus of cold air, nicknamed the ‘cold collar’, appears as a bright band in the ultraviolet images.

Credits: ESA/MPS/DLR/IDA


Artist’s concept of lightning on Venus
This artist’s concept of Venus, dated 2006, suggests the presence of lightning in the atmosphere.

NASA may revise last shuttle flight dates

NASA may revise last shuttle flight dates


National Aeronautics and Space Administration officials say they are considering changing the launch dates for the final two space shuttle missions.

NASA program managers said the change would move the launch date for STS-133 from Sept. 16 to Oct. 29 and STS-134 from late November to Feb. 28 to allow additional time to prepare for those missions.

"The change is under review and any changes will be announced at the first of July," NASA officials said in a statement.

At the Kennedy Space Center, technicians Wednesday were to complete Discovery's payload pre-mate test. The drag chute door installation and checkout was completed Tuesday night.

Removal of the shuttle's three main engines was scheduled Thursday, following resolution of an issue with a turbopump in one of the spacecraft's engines, officials said. The turbopump will be replaced and the engines will be reinstalled.

The astronauts were involved in training exercises this week at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston for the STS-133 mission. The crew members worked Wednesday on robotics tasks they will use during their mission to the International Space Station.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Antihypertensive drugs may protect against Alzheimer’s disease

Antihypertensive drugs may protect against Alzheimer’s disease — Science Blog

Researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine have found that the drug carvedilol, currently prescribed for the treatment of hypertension, may lessen the degenerative impact of Alzheimer’s disease and promote healthy memory functions. The new findings are published in two studies in the current issues of Neurobiology of Aging and the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

“These studies are certainly very exciting, and suggest for the first time that certain antihypertensive drugs already available to the public may independently influence memory functions while reducing degenerative pathological features of the Alzheimer’s disease brain,” said study author Giulio Maria Pasinetti, MD, PhD, Saunders Family Professor of Neurology and Director of the Center of Excellence for Novel Approaches to Neurotherapeutics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

Dr. Pasinetti’s team found for the first time that carvedilol, a blood pressure lowering agent, is capable of exerting activities that significantly reduce Alzheimer’s disease-type brain and memory degeneration. This benefit was achieved without blood pressure lowering activity in mice genetically modified to develop Alzheimer’s disease brain degeneration and memory impairment. These data were published in Neurobiology of Aging.

In a second study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, the research team led by Dr. Pasinetti assessed how mice learned new tasks and information and recall of past information chemically stored in the brain. They found that carvedilol treatment was capable of promoting memory function, based on assessments of learning new tasks and information and recall of past information, which is already chemically stored in the brain.

In the study, one group of mice received carvedilol treatment and the other group did not. The scientists conducted behavioral and learning tests with each group of mice, and determined that it took the mice in the carvedilol significantly less time to remember tasks than the other group.

“Ongoing clinical research is in progress to test the benefits of carvedilol, which may prove to be an effective agent in the treatment of symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Pasinetti. “We look forward to further studying this drug in the human population.”

'Superstorm' rages on exoplanet

BBC News - 'Superstorm' rages on exoplanet

Data on carbon monoxide gas in the atmosphere show that it is streaming at fierce speeds from the planet's hot day side to its cool night side.

Writing in Nature, a team detected longitudinal winds of roughly 2km/s (7,000km/h) in the atmosphere of a "hot Jupiter" planet.

Hot Jupiters are gas giants that orbit very close to their parent stars.

The planet HD209458b orbits a star in the constellation Pegasus, some 150 light-years away. It circles this star at around one-eighth the distance Mercury orbits Earth.

This means the exoplanet is heated intensely by its parent star, and has a surface temperature of about 1,000C on its hot side.

But as the planet always has the same side to its star, one side is broiling, whereas the other is much cooler.

"On Earth, big temperature differences inevitably lead to fierce winds, and as our new measurements reveal, the situation is no different on HD209458b," said co-author Simon Albrecht.

Ignas Snellen, who led the team of astronomers, commented: "HD209458b is definitely not a place for the faint-hearted.

"By studying the poisonous carbon monoxide gas with great accuracy we found evidence for a 'super wind', blowing at a speed of 5,000 to 10,000km per hour."

In Nature, the authors also report a new technique for obtaining an exoplanet's mass. They directly calculated the velocity of the exoplanet as it orbited its home star - its orbital velocity.

They did this by first measuring its "Doppler shift" - the apparent change in the frequency of sound or light waves caused either by movement of the observer or by the source of the waves (in this case the planet).

Once the orbital velocity of HD209458b could be determined, the masses of both the star and planet could be calculated using Newton's law of gravity.

God particle signal is simulated as sound

BBC News - God particle signal is simulated as sound

Scientists have simulated the sounds set to be made by sub-atomic particles such as the Higgs boson when they are produced at the Large Hadron Collider.

Their aim is to develop a means for physicists at Cern to "listen to the data" and pick out the Higgs particle if and when they finally detect it.

Dr Lily Asquith modelled data from the giant Atlas experiment at the LHC.

She worked with sound engineers to convert data expected from collisions at the LHC into sounds.

"If the energy is close to you, you will hear a low pitch and if it's further away you hear a higher pitch," the particle physicist told BBC News.

"If it's lots of energy it will be louder and if it's just a bit of energy it will be quieter."

The £6bn LHC machine on the Swiss-French border is designed to shed light on fundamental questions in physics.

It is housed in a 27km-long circular tunnel, where thousands of magnets steer beams of proton particles around the vast "ring".

At allotted points around the tunnel, the beams cross paths, smashing together near four massive "experiments" that monitor these collisions for interesting events.

Scientists are hoping that new sub-atomic particles will emerge, revealing insights into the nature of the cosmos.

Brain origins of 'blindsight' revealed

Brain origins of 'blindsight' revealed



SOME blind people have the remarkable ability to navigate physical obstacles without consciously perceiving them (see video, above). It now looks like they have their lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN) - part of the thalamus in the middle of the brain - to thank for this "blindsight".

That's according to a team at the US National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland. They used macaques in which the primary visual cortex had been destroyed.

The monkeys' eye-focusing movements revealed that they were "seeing" images shown at the periphery of their visual field, but only if their LGN was intact (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature09179)

Here We Are: Carl Sagan and the Pale Blue Dot

A Matter of Perspective

A Matter of Perspective

The Seagull nebula, seen in this infrared mosaic from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, draws its common name from it resemblance to a gull in flight. But it depends on your point of view.

When the image is rotated 180 degrees it bears a passing resemblance to a galloping lizard -- or perhaps a dragon or a dinosaur.

The image spans an area about seven times as wide as the full moon, and three times as high (3.55 by 1.37 degrees), straddling the border between the constellations Monoceros and Canis Major (the Big Dog). So you might say this lizard is running with the Big Dog, while the gull is flying from it.

Astronomers catalog the nebula as IC 2177. This cosmic cloud is one of many sites of star formation within the Milky Way galaxy. It is located 3,800 light-years away from Earth, inside the Orion spur -- the same partial spiral arm of the Milky Way where our solar system is located. The nebula is nearly 240 light-years across.

WISE is an all-sky survey, snapping pictures of the whole sky -- from asteroids to stars to powerful, distant galaxies.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

Desktop cosmos: Small is beautiful for big physics - physics-math - 23 June 2010 - New Scientist

Desktop cosmos: Small is beautiful for big physics - physics-math - 23 June 2010 - New Scientist

IN THE control centre on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state, banks of plasma screens await a signal that might never come. Hope springs from two concrete tubes that stretch out at right angles from the control centre and extend 4 kilometres towards the horizon. Inside them, laser beams ping relentlessly back and forth. The site is one of two that make up the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, LIGO, the largest experiment so far for spying the ripples in space-time known as gravitational waves.

Off the coast of west Africa, perched on the highest point of the Canary Islands, a gamma-ray telescope called MAGIC - the name stands for the Major Atmospheric Gamma-ray Imaging Cherenkov telescope - scans the heavens for bursts of high-energy photons from far corners of the universe. Every now and again it catches a fleeting glimpse of something. Seconds, perhaps, of activity are followed by silence again.

Back in the US, meanwhile, teams work flat out on plans for a $650 million space probe called the Joint Dark Energy Mission. It is just the latest and most ambitious bid to study how the universe is expanding and tell us what the vast bulk of the cosmos is made of.

These are just three of many experiments that could deliver breakthroughs in our understanding of nature's most enigmatic force, gravity. If so, they will do it in the traditional way of big physics, with large collaborations and hefty bank balances. But that might not be the only way. If ideas being explored by a good few physicists are right, quantum gravity and dark energy could all be laid bare on the bench-top by the strange dances of atoms cooled to within a nudge of absolute zero.

Familiar yet unfathomable, gravity is a perennial tease. Its quiet muscularity binds stars and galaxies together, steadies Earth on its trek around the sun, and keeps our feet firmly on the ground. According to our current theory of gravity, Einstein's general relativity, all this is down to massive objects warping space and time and so making things slide towards them.

There are a few wrinkles to this explanation: for example, the failure of instruments such as LIGO to spot gravitational waves despite general relativity indicating that accelerating cosmic bodies should be producing them. Yet overall the theory seems solid. No experiment has delivered a result in disagreement with general relativity's predictions.

But still many physicists are unsatisfied. For them it is profoundly unsettling that general relativity is not a quantum theory, unlike the theories that describe the other three forces of nature. Add to that the observation that the cosmos seems to be expanding ever faster - something hard to explain if gravity does indeed dominate the universe - and it is clear why we feel we have much still to learn

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Growing brain is particularly flexible

The brain is continuously changing. Neuronal structures are not hard-wired, but are modified with every learning step and every experience. Certain areas of the brain of a newborn baby are particularly flexible, however.

In animal experiments, the development of the visual cortex can be strongly influenced in the first months of life, for example, by different visual stimuli.

Nerve cells in the visual cortex of fully-grown animals divide up the processing of information from the eyes: Some “see” only the left eye, others only the right. Cells of right or left specialisation each lie close to one another in small groups, called columns.

The researchers showed that during growth, these structures are not simply inflated — columns do not become larger but their number increases. Neither do new columns form from new nerve cells. The number of nerve cells remains almost unchanged, a large part of the growth of the visual cortex can be attributed to an increase in the number of non-neuronal cells.

These changes can be explained by the fact that existing cells change their preference for the right or the left eye. In addition, another of the researchers’ observations also points to such a restructuring: The arrangement of the columns changes. While the pattern initially looks stripy, these stripes dissolve in time and the pattern becomes more irregular.

“This is an enormous achievement by the brain — undertaking such a restructuring while continuing to function,” says Wolfgang Keil, scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization Göttingen and first author of the study.

“There is no engineer behind this conducting the planning, the process must generate itself.” The researchers used mathematical models and computer simulations to investigate how the brain could proceed to achieve this restructuring.

On the one hand, the brain tries to keep the neighbourhood relations in the visual cortex as uniform as possible. On the other, the development of the visual cortex is determined by the visual process itself — cells which have once been stimulated more strongly by the left or right eye try to maintain this particular calling.

The researchers’ model explains the formation of columns by taking both these tendencies into account. The scientists showed that when the tissue grows and the size of the columns is kept constant, the columns in the computer model change exactly as they had observed in their experimental studies on the visual cortex of the cat: The stripes dissolve into a zigzag pattern and thus become more irregular. In this way, the researchers provide a mathematical basis which realistically describes how the visual cortex could restructure during the growth phase.

Skydiver catches Image of NASA Shuttle Launch

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Robo Bees: Conservation and monitoring

A photo issued by the Bio Biotechnology and Biological Sciences  Research Council of a bee fitted with tiny radio ID tags to monitor  their movements as part of research into whether pesticides could be  giving the insects brain disorders

A photo issued by the Bio Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council of a bee fitted with tiny radio ID tags to monitor their movements as part of research into whether pesticides could be giving the insects brain disorders

NASA ALI Image of Manam Volcano: Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea's Manam Volcano releases a thin, faint plume, as  clouds cluster at the volcano's summit. The Advanced Land Imager (ALI)  on NASAs Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite took this image

Papua New Guinea's Manam Volcano releases a thin, faint plume, as clouds cluster at the volcano's summit. The Advanced Land Imager (ALI) on NASAs Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite took this image

Picture: AP / NASA

Aurora Australis from the ISS

This NASA image shows the Aurora Australis observed from the  International Space Station on May 29, 2010.This photo was taken during a  geomagnetic storm that was most likely caused by a coronal mass  ejection from the Sun on May 24, 2010. The ISS was located over the  Southern Indian Ocean at an altitude of 350 kilometres (220 miles), with  the astronaut observer most likely looking towards Antarctica (not  visible) and the South Pole. The aurora has a sinuous ribbon shape that  separates into discrete spots near the lower right corner of the image.  While the dominant colouration of the aurora is green, there are faint  suggestions of red left of image centre. Dense cloud cover is dimly  visible below the aurora. The curvature of the Earth's horizon  is  clearly visible, as is the faint blue line of the upper atmosphere  directly above it. Several stars appear as bright pinpoints against the  blackness of space at image top right

This NASA image shows the Aurora Australis observed from the International Space Station on May 29, 2010.This photo was taken during a geomagnetic storm that was most likely caused by a coronal mass ejection from the Sun on May 24, 2010.

The ISS was located over the Southern Indian Ocean at an altitude of 350 kilometres (220 miles), with the astronaut observer most likely looking towards Antarctica (not visible) and the South Pole.

The aurora has a sinuous ribbon shape that separates into discrete spots near the lower right corner of the image. While the dominant colouration of the aurora is green, there are faint suggestions of red left of image centre.

Dense cloud cover is dimly visible below the aurora. The curvature of the Earth's horizon is clearly visible, as is the faint blue line of the upper atmosphere directly above it. Several stars appear as bright pinpoints against the blackness of space at image top right

Picture: NASA / AFP

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Secret Powers of Time - Animated video

RSA - The Secret Powers of Time



Professor Philip Zimbardo conveys how our individual perspectives of time affect our work, health and well-being. Time influences who we are as a person, how we view relationships and how we act in the world. View the full video of Professor Philip Zimbardo’s talk at the RSA.

Detecting land mines with sound

Detecting land mines with sound

The researchers built a prototype detector and tested it at the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory Army Corps of Engineers land-mine facility in New Hampshire. They were able to detect both metal and plastic mines but said that the system will have to get a major boost in acoustic power before minefield searchers can use it safely.

Robert W. Haupt, a technical staff member at Lincoln Lab, explores innovative ways to find and reduce the large number of land mines abandoned in war-torn countries. An estimated 26,000 people are killed or maimed every year by 60 to 70 million undetected land mines in 70 countries. Those casualties include military troops but most are civilians--half of them children under age 16--who step on uncleared minefields after a war.

Many existing prototype mine detection systems can detect only metal, have limited range or are impractical in the field. "Reliable methods that quickly and accurately locate land mines made of metal and plastic, unexploded ordnance and other mine-like targets are desperately needed," Haupt said.

Haupt and fellow Lincoln Lab staff member Ken Rolt developed a high-powered sound transmitter that looks like a stop sign studded with 35mm film canisters or prescription pill containers. This is called a parametric acoustic array, and Haupt and Rolt have built one of the most powerful ones around.

The array is made up of ceramic transducers--devices that emit a powerful narrow acoustic beam at ultrasonic frequencies. One meter away, the ultrasonic pressure level measures 155 decibels--more acoustic power than a jet engine. Immediately outside the beam, the acoustic intensity dies away to almost nothing.

By a process know as self-demodulation, the air in front of the acoustic beam converts the ultrasound to much lower frequency audible tones that sound like extremely loud tuning forks. Unlike ultrasound, the low-frequency sound can penetrate the ground, causing detectable vibrations in the mine's plungers and membranes.

"The use of ultrasound allows us to make a very narrow and highly directional beam, like a sound flashlight," Haupt said. It would take a huge number of conventional loudspeakers to do the same trick, and they would weigh too much, take up too much space and use too much power to be practical, he said. Plus, they would deafen anyone within earshot. "Using a narrow sound beam, we can put sound just where we want it, and we can minimize sound levels outside the beam to avoid harming the operators or people nearby," he said.

Flying in formation, TanDEM-X and TerraSAR-X

Flying in formation, TanDEM-X and TerraSAR-X

  Flying in formation, TanDEM-X and TerraSAR-X

Flying in formation, TanDEM-X and TerraSAR-X

Germany's second Earth observation satellite, TanDEM-X, was launched successfully on 21 June 2010 at 04:14 Central European Summer Time (CEST, at 08:14 local time) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Atop a Russian Dnepr rocket, the satellite, weighing more than 1.3 tons and five metres in length, started its journey into orbit. At 4.45 CEST first signal was received via Troll ground station in the Antarctic.



  Launch of Germany's Earth observation satellite TanDEM-X
Launch of Germany's Earth observation satellite TanDEM-X

The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) manages TanDEM-X (TerraSAR-X add-on for Digital Elevation Measurement) via its ground segment, and is responsible for mission operations and for generating and utilising the scientific data.

"TanDEM-X is a key German project and will provide us with a homogeneous 3D elevation model of the Earth which will be an indispensable aid for a great many scientific and commercial avenues of enquiry," said DLR Chairman Prof. Dr Johann-Dietrich Wörner at the launch event held in the German Space Operations Center (GSOC) at the DLR site in Oberpfaffenhofen.

"This mission demonstrates Germany's expertise in satellite-based radar technology and is, in particular, the outcome of a consistent focus in the national space programme. Also, TanDEM-X demonstrates a successful public-private partnership," stressed Prof. Wörner.

Public-private partnership

TanDEM-X is being run as a public-private partnership (PPP) between the DLR Astrium GmbH, with DLR funding coming from the German Ministry of Economics and Technology. Infoterra GmbH, a subsidiary of Astrium, is responsible for the commercial marketing of the TanDEM-X data.

Astrium GmbH in Friedrichshafen built the satellite and is sharing the costs for its development and operation. The TanDEM-X mission has a total cost of 165 million Euros. DLR is contributing 125 million Euros and the European space company Astrium is contributing 40 million Euros.

TanDEM-X and its twin satellite, TerraSAR-X, will fly in formation

  TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X flying in close formation
TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X flying in close formation

Together with its twin satellite TerraSAR-X, in space since 2007, TanDEM-X will survey the entire land surface area of the Earth - a total of 150 million square kilometres - several times over.

It will accomplish this from an altitude of 514 kilometres within three years.

"This will be the first time we will ever have had a globally standardised 3D digital elevation model of Earth, and with a measuring point density of 12 metres, it will be incredibly accurate," said Prof. Dr Alberto Moreira, Science Director of the TanDEM-X mission and Director of the DLR Microwaves and Radar Institute.

Today, for large areas of Earth, there are only approximate, non-standardised or incomplete elevation models, and it is these gaps that the TanDEM-X mission is designed to fill.

To accomplish this, TanDEM-X and TerraSAR-X will fly just a few hundred metres apart and will constitute the first configurable synthetic aperture radar (SAR) interferometer in space.

With a conventional SAR, the radar on the satellite transmits microwave pulses that are reflected by the surface of the Earth and received back by the radar.

The distance between the satellite and the Earth's surface is calculated from the time it takes the signals to return.

Since the satellite is moving around the Earth, the radar 'illuminates' a strip along the ground, which gives the radar its synthetic aperture, much larger than its real one.

With SAR interferometry, a geographical area is imaged from two different viewing positions, giving different perspectives. This is similar to the way humans use their two eyes to get an accurate, 3D image.

The two 'radar eyes' are on the satellite duo TanDEM-X and TerraSAR-X, and produce an interferogram from the different distances the signals have to cover; elevation data is derived from this

Within three years, this will create a gigantic data record equivalent to the storage capacity of 200 000 DVDs. TanDEM-X is designed for a service life of at least five years and is scheduled to overlap the scheduled service life of TerraSAR-X for at least three of those years.

Satellite-based Earth measurement creates a globally homogeneous terrain model without interruptions at national borders or other inconsistencies (compared with aircraft-based measurements).

Radar can see through bad weather and operates regardless of lighting conditions. Today, this process is without competitors and enjoys considerable respect, especially in the USA.

Are We Entering an Era of Self-Directed Evolution?

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In the past decade, we’ve examined our Solar System’s orbit through the Milky Way to ask whether there may be clues to periodic mass extinctions on our planet.

We've launched missions seeking out habitable Alien Earths and the existence of dark energy and have migrated from wondering if there's life on Mars to searching out and studying myriads of exo planets in the Milky Way and infinite galaxies beyond.

Our incredible advances have also underscored own, very human limitations — our eyes, notes astronomer James Kaler in his new book, Heaven’s Touch: From Killer Stars to the Seeds of Life, How We Are Connected to the Universe, see wavelengths between 0.00004 and 0.00008 of a centimeter.

Kaler calls our visual spectrum “…but one octave on an imaginary electromagnetic piano with a keyboard hundreds of kilometers long.”

Physicist Stephen Hawking believes that we have entered a new phase of evolution. "At first, evolution proceeded by natural selection, from random mutations. This Darwinian phase, lasted about three and a half billion years, and produced us, beings who developed language, to exchange information."

But what distinguishes us from our cave man ancestors is the knowledge that we have accumulated over the last ten thousand years, and particularly, Hawking points out, over the last three hundred.

"I think it is legitimate to take a broader view, and include externally transmitted information, as well as DNA, in the evolution of the human race," Hawking said.

In the last ten thousand years the human species has been in what Hawking calls, "an external transmission phase," where the internal record of information, handed down to succeeding generations in DNA, has not changed significantly. "But the external record, in books, and other long lasting forms of storage," Hawking says, "has grown enormously. Some people would use the term, evolution, only for the internally transmitted genetic material, and would object to it being applied to information handed down externally. But I think that is too narrow a view. We are more than just our genes."

The time scale for evolution, in the external transmission period, has collapsed to about 50 years, or less.

MARS Rover Opportunity Breaks The 13 Mile Mark

Opportunity Breaks The 13 Mile Mark

Opportunity is driving again and has now covered 21 kilometers (13 miles) of odometry on Mars.

The pancam mast assembly (PMA) azimuth error from Sol 2257 (May 30, 2010), has been attributed to a problem within the miniature thermal emission spectrometer (Mini-TES) instrument.

An investigation of the Mini-TES is ongoing. The PMA has been restored to operation for imaging (not Mini-TES use).

On Sol 2267 (June 10, 2010), a quick fine attitude (QFA) was performed to refine the rover's attitude knowledge and to correct for gyro drift. Additional drive direction imagery was also collected.

On Sol 2270 (June 13, 2010), Opportunity drove for the first time since the PMA anomaly, covering over 70 meters (230 feet). The rover drove again on Sol 2272 (June 15, 2010), achieving almost 72 meters (236 feet) of distance to the east.

As of Sol 2272 (June 15, 2010), solar array energy production was 297 watt-hours, atmospheric opacity (Tau) was 0.280 and the solar array dust factor is 0.570.

Total odometry is 21,005.47 meters (21.00 kilometers, or 13.05 miles).

Hunting For Fossils On Jupiter's Europa

Hunting For Fossils On Europa

If extraterrestrial life exists on Jupiter's moon Europa, instead of deploying probes to drill past its ice shell to look for aliens in the ocean below, one might just go fossil-hunting on the icy surface.

"A prospector sent there could possibly find extraterrestrial life within our lifetimes," suggested planetary scientist Richard Greenberg at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at Tucson.

Europa, which is roughly the size of Earth's moon, is enveloped by a global ocean that may be about 100 miles deep (160 km). This ocean is overlain by an icy crust of unknown thickness, although some estimates are that it could be only a few miles thick.

Since wherever there is water on Earth there is a chance of life, for many years scientists have entertained the notion that this Jovian moon could support extraterrestrials. Recent findings even suggest its ocean could be loaded with oxygen, enough to support millions of tons worth of marine life like the type that exists on Earth.

To see if any kind of life actually evolved on Europa, scientists have proposed missions to drill through its outer shell, perhaps using heat to melt through the ice, whirring blades to clear away rocks and robot subs to explore the ocean.

"With that vision in mind, NASA has a multi-staged plan, first with a Europa orbiter scheduled for 18 years from now, and 10 or 20 years after that, a lander to see what the surface is like, and then maybe a generation later, hopefully we can figure out how to drill all the way down through the ice," Greenberg noted.

He recently wrote a book, "Unmasking Europa," which touched upon how one might search for life on the Jovian moon.

Friday, June 18, 2010

South Korea's Launch Failure - It's A Who Done It


South Korea's Launch Failure - It's A Who Done It

Last week, South Korea attempted a second launch of its new vehicle, the NARO-1. Unfortunately, this too failed to achieve orbit. To make a bad situation worse, the "blame game" has already started.

The Russians have apparently stated the explosion occurred in the Korean-made second stage, while the Koreans have indicated that this happened in the Russian-made first stage.

The reality of the situation is that no one yet knows what happened or why it happened. Every statement so far appears to be speculative and politically driven. This is not a good start to finding out what really went wrong.

Looking back into the long history of launch failures, one may expect the cause of this one to be the result of a combination of minor failures in the hardware, software, testing and management processes.

While it is true that a single hardware failure can cause a complete loss of the vehicle, a more common cause is a combination of things that were unforeseen, i. e., parts not performing as expected, management decision processes, software glitches, wiring mistakes, etc. One thing is almost certain, we will never be absolutely certain what actually occurred on NARO-1.

Debris are being collected and telemetry data are being reviewed. Every member of the vehicle development group and the launch team will likely be interviewed.

Experts will go over all of the available evidence. Panels will meet and discuss possible scenarios that fit the data and, in the final analysis one or more viable explanations will be presented.

Corrective measures will be recommended to avoid any of the possible failure scenarios identified. The results will be published in a NARO-1 Failure Analysis Report.

Assuming South Korea has the will to continue the development of its own launch vehicle, the next launch attempt will surely incorporate recommended fixes. Hopefully, these corrective actions will prove successful and South Korea will establish itself as a new spacefaring nation

ROK Agrees To India's ISRO Space Launch Use Suggestion


ROK Agrees To India's Space Launch Use Suggestion

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Thursday agreed to Indian External Affairs minister S.M.Krishna's suggestion to launch ROK satellites on Indian launch vehicles.

A statement issued on behalf of both leaders said: "Referring to the MOU of cooperation, signed last January between the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and Korean Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), Krishna suggested that ROK satellites could be launched on Indian launch vehicles. President Lee agreed with the suggestion and asked his officials to do the necessary follow-up."

On Thursday, Krishna called on the President Lee Myung-bak at the Blue House, the official residence of the President.

The two leaders had a constructive and fruitful 40-minute meeting in a warm and cordial atmosphere.

President Lee and Krishna underscored the importance of increasing people-to-people exchanges to bolster the Strategic Partnership between the two countries including in the fields of education, tourism and youth.

Krishna suggested that a bust of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore , who had described Korea as the 'Lamp of the East', be installed at a prominent location in Seoul.

Warming to the theme, President Lee said that he would make a strong recommendation to the concerned city authorities to identify a suitable location for installing the bust of Gurudev in 2011, the 150th birth anniversary of the Nobel laureate.

President Lee, during the meet, fondly recalled his landmark visit to India in January this year, as the chief guest at India's Republic Day celebrations.

He appreciated Krishna's visit to Seoul for the 6th Joint Commission meeting (JCM), soon after his own, which would give further impetus to bilateral relations and the initiatives announced during his visit to India.

Later in the evening, Krishna interacted with prominent members of the Indian community. He apprised them about the Strategic Partnership between the two countries.

Krishna observed that bilateral ties were on the cusp of a major take-off and exhorted the Indian community to assist the process, as well as, to make the best use of emerging opportunities for greater trade and investment.

Krishna will be co-chairing the 6th India-ROK JCM with his ROK counterpart on Friday. (ANI)

NASA WISE: Jumbo Jellyfish Or Massive Star


Jumbo Jellyfish Or Massive Star

Some might see a blood-red jellyfish in a forest of seaweed, while others might see a big, red eye or a pair of lips.

In fact, the red-colored object in this new infrared image from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) is a sphere of stellar innards, blown out from a humongous star.

The star (white dot in center of red ring) is one of the most massive stellar residents of our Milky Way galaxy. Objects like this are called Wolf-Rayet stars, after the astronomers who found the first few, and they make our sun look puny by comparison.

Called V385 Carinae, this star is 35 times as massive as our sun, with a diameter nearly 18 times as large. It's hotter, too, and shines with more than one million times the amount of light.

Fiery candles like this burn out quickly, leading short lives of only a few million years. As they age, they blow out more and more of the heavier atoms cooking inside them - atoms such as oxygen that are needed for life as we know it.

The material is puffed out into clouds like the one that glows brightly in this WISE image. In this case, the hollow sphere showed up prominently only at the longest of four infrared wavelengths detected by WISE.

Astronomers speculate this infrared light comes from oxygen atoms, which have been stripped of some of their electrons by ultraviolet radiation from the star.

When the electrons join up again with the oxygen atoms, light is produced that WISE can detect with its 22-micron infrared light detector. The process is similar to what happens in fluorescent light bulbs.

Infrared light detected by WISE at 12 microns is colored green, while 3.4- and 4.6-micron light is blue. The green, kelp-looking material is warm dust, and the blue dots are stars in our Milky Way galaxy.

This image mosaic is made up of about 300 overlapping frames, taken as WISE continues its survey of the entire sky - an expansive search, sure to turn up more fascinating creatures swimming in our cosmic ocean.

V385 Carinae is located in the Carina constellation, about 16,000 light-years from Earth.

JPL manages the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The principal investigator, Edward Wright, is at UCLA.

Kuiper Belt Objects: Coordinated Stargazing


Coordinated Stargazing

The high albedo suggests that the KBO's surface is made of reflective water-ice particles, and that would support a theory about how the KBO formed.
Many researchers believe there was a collision that occurred one billion years ago between a dwarf planet in the Kuiper Belt known as Haumea and another object that caused Haumea's icy mantle to break into a dozen or so smaller bodies, including 55636.


Far beyond the orbit of Neptune in a region of the outer solar system known as the Kuiper Belt float thousands of icy, moon-sized bodies called Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs). Astronomers think they are the remnants of the bodies that slammed together to form the planets more than 4 billion years ago.

Unlike Earth, which has been continually eroded by wind and water since it was formed, KBOs haven't changed much over time and may hold clues about the early solar system and planet formation.

Until now, astronomers have used telescopes to find KBOs and obtain their spectra to determine what types of ices are on their surface. They have also used thermal-imaging techniques to get a rough idea of the size of KBOs, but other details have been difficult to glean.

While astronomers think there are about 70,000 KBOs that are larger than 100 kilometers in diameter, the objects' relatively small size and location make it hard to study them in detail.

One method that has been has been proposed for studying KBOs is to observe one as it passes briefly in front of a bright star; such events, known as stellar occultations, have yielded useful information about other planets in the solar system.

By monitoring the changes in starlight that occur during an occultation, astronomers can determine the object's size and temperature, whether it has any companion objects and if it has an atmosphere.

The trick is to know enough about the orbit of a KBO to be able to predict its path and observe it as it passes in front of a star.

This was done successfully for the first time last October when a team of 18 astronomy groups led by James Elliot, a professor of planetary astronomy in MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, observed an occultation by an object named "KBO 55636."

As Elliot and his colleagues report in a paper published in Nature, the occultation provided enough data to determine the KBO's size and albedo, or how strongly it reflects light.

The surface of 55636 turns out to be as reflective as snow and ice, which surprised the researchers because ancient objects in space usually have weathered, dull surfaces.

Beruli Ulcers: The WHO Needs to seriously re-think it's strategy

Buruli ulcers, one of the ‘neglected tropical diseases’ left aside by big pharma and governments alike, are reasonably well treatable, also in poor regions but then more attention has to be paid to early diagnosis and correct treatment.

This means the rules of the World Health Organization urgently need to be changed. So say scientists of the Antwerp Institute of Tropical Medicine (ITM), based on ten years of research in Congo.

The disease is caused by Mycobacterium ulcerans, a nephew of the infamous tuberculosis bacterium. It occurs in tropical and subtropical countries, mainly in Africa. It causes hideously ulcerating ‘holes’ in the skin, that can dig to the bone and can outgrow to diameters of more than 10 centimetres.

Much about the disease is unknown, for instance how exactly people get infected. It is assumed that water plays a role, but only in 2008 scientists — at ITM — succeeded in cultivating the bacterium from a water insect.

For a long time the only treatment consisted of caring for the wounds, and possibly a skin transplantation. Nowadays the WHO proposes a treatment analogous to tuberculosis, with two antibiotics, rifampicin and streptomycin. This works for light cases, but for lesions above 10 cm the effect was not documented.

ITM scientist Anatole Kibadi Kapay collected cases in DR Congo from the previous five years, when surgery combined with antibiotics was used, and from the five year before that, when only surgery was used. In the process he discovered a new focus close to the Angolan border; he assumes it to be correlated to the working conditions in the illegal diamond mines there.

Kibadi Kapay noticed that the WHO guidelines for clinical diagnosis lead to a correct diagnosis in only 2 cases out of 3. As opposed to a Ziehl-Neelsen smear, a microscopic technique that is within reach of poor countries — and that, through a better diagnosis, prevents the needless use of antibiotics.

But when large wounds have to be treated, from a microscopically confirmed Buruli case, antibiotics indeed are of good use. With surgery only, 15% of patients relapse; with parallel use of antibiotics, less than 2% relapse. But antibiotics only, without surgery, make large wounds worse.

Kibadi Kapay — who today received a doctorate from Antwerp University for his work — and his ITM colleagues advocate faster surgery of large ulcerating lesions, without four weeks of waiting with antibiotics only.

The more because patients themselves already wait a long time before consulting a doctor — to them the ulcers are inflicted by witchcraft or fate.

The research by Kibadi Kapay demonstrates the need of a better education of the population, but more important, it shows that WHO guidelines for diagnosis and treatment of Buruli ulcers urgently need to be adapted.

Scottish Whisky in bright colours



The incredible shapes and colours of boozy artwork are highlighted by shining natural light on top and through the bottom of the slide.

The image above is of good Scottish Whisky, the water of life! Looks good enough to swallow, doesn't it?

Below you will see the darker colouring of Bourbon whiskey.


To see more of your favourite drinks in bright techno-coloured images click here

NASA SeaWiFS Image: Honduras from Space

Honduras: This SeaWiFS image of Central America shows what looks like smoke coming from Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras.
The smoke can be seen drifting over the Campeche Bank and over Belize's barrier reef

Picture: NASA / REX FEATURES

NASA Image: Slovakia from Space

Slovakia: Snow covers much of northern central Europe on December 9th, 2002.
The snow stretches, from top to bottom, through Latvia (top right), Lithuania, a small piece of the Russian Federation (between Poland and Lithuania), western Belarus, eastern Poland, and down into the Carpathian Mountains of western Ukraine and Romania.
A thinner line of snow and clouds also runs along the Poland and Czech Republic/Slovakia border.
In this false-colour image the bright turquoise and black colours correspond to ice- and snow-free land and water (respectively), while white corresponds to cloud cover, and red corresponds to snow

Picture: NASA / REX FEATURES

NASA ISS Image: Typhoon Nabi, South Korea

South Korea: Typhoon Nabi is featured in this image photographed by an Expedition 11 crewmember on the International Space Station, as it swirls in the Pacific Ocean, heading toward southern Korea and Japan on 3 September 2005

Picture: NASA / REX FEATURES

NASA SeaWiFS Image: Japan sea, spiral eddy

Japan: A very well-defined spiral eddy is visible through the haze off the east coast of Japan in this SeaWiFS image, acquired 22 May 1999

Picture: NASA / REX FEATURES

NASA Images: German Moselle river from space

Germany: The Moselle River Gorge, acquired February 17, 2008. The Moselle (Mosel in German) is the one of the best known of the 13 German wine-growing regions

Picture: NASA / REX FEATURES

NASA Aqua Images: Greece from space


Greece: This picture taken by Nasa-Satellite 'Aqua' shows the devastating forest fires on the Peloponnese peninsula, on 26 August 2007

Picture: EPA / NASA

NASA ALI Image: Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg


South Africa: Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg. The Advanced Land Imager (ALI) on NASA's Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite captured this natural-colour image of the stadium, Soweto, and the surrounding gold mine slag heaps on May 14, 2009

Picture: NASA / REX FEATURES

NASA MODIS Image: Australia's Great Barrier Reef


Colonies of coral appear vibrant blue green in this Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) image of Australia's Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral system on Earth

Picture: NASA

NASA ASTER Image: Argentine's Patagonia from space: NASA satellite pictures of the participating nations

Argentina: This image of a Patagonian glacier was aqcuired by the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on May 2, 2000.

Patagonia is a mountainous region spanning the border between Chile and Argentina near the southern tip of South America.

Vegetation appears red in the image, which is a false-colour composite of near-infrared, red, and green light displayed as red, green, and blue, respectively

Picture: NASA / REX FEATURES

NASA MODIS Image: Chaiten Volcano, Chile from space


Chile: An image taken on May 5 2008 by the NASA MODIS programme shows a cloud-like plume of ash and steam rising from the Chaiten volcano in Chile, drifting across Argentina and over the Atlantic Ocean

Picture: AFP/NASA