Thursday, September 30, 2010

Habitable Planet in the 'Goldilocks Zone'

An artist rendering provided by Lynette Cook, National Science Foundation, shows a new planet. Astronomers have found a planet that is in the 'Goldilocks zone' - just right for life. Not too hot, not too cold. Not too far from its sun, not too close. And it is near Earth - relatively speaking, at 120 trillion miles. It also makes scientists think that these examples of habitable planets are far more common than they thought
An artist rendering provided by Lynette Cook, National Science Foundation, shows a new planet. Astronomers have found a planet that is in the "Goldilocks zone" - just right for life.

Not too hot, not too cold. Not too far from its sun, not too close and it is near Earth - relatively speaking, at 120 trillion miles.

It also makes scientists think that these examples of habitable planets are far more common than they thought

Picture: AP Photo/Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation

BBC sail Boat made of Ice - Pykrete

BBC presenters attempt to sail a five and a half ton boat made of ice. The project for science show Bang Goes The Theory was meant to test an extraordinary concept, put forward during World War II, that ships could be made from frozen water. In the event of steel stocks running out in the 1940s, inventor Geoffrey Pyke suggested it was possible to make an unsinkable aircraft carrier using a material called Pykrete, made of both ice and wood pulp. The mixture could be moulded into any shape and, with a slow melting rate, it was thought perfect for seafaring vessels. The BBC decided to put Pyke's theory to the test by mixing 5,000 litres of water with the hefty material hemp and freezing it in a 20 feet-long boat-shaped mould. It took three weeks to freeze it in one of the UK's largest ice warehouses, in Tilbury, Essex, before it was ready for launch in Gosport, Hants. The plan was to sail the boat, complete with outboard, to Cowes in the Isle of Wight with the show's presenters, Jem Stansfield, Liz Bonnin, Dallas Campbell and Dr Yan Wong, on board...
BBC presenters attempt to sail a five and a half ton boat made of ice. The project for science show Bang Goes The Theory was meant to test an extraordinary concept, put forward during World War II.

Ships could be made from frozen water, in the event of steel stocks running out. In the 1940s, inventor Geoffrey Pyke suggested it was possible to make an unsinkable aircraft carrier using a material called Pykrete, made of both ice and wood pulp.

The mixture could be moulded into any shape and, with a slow melting rate, it was thought perfect for seafaring vessels.

The BBC decided to put Pyke's theory to the test by mixing 5,000 litres of water with the hefty material hemp and freezing it in a 20 feet-long boat-shaped mould.

It took three weeks to freeze it in one of the UK's largest ice warehouses, in Tilbury, Essex, before it was ready for launch in Gosport, Hants.

The plan was to sail the boat, complete with outboard, to Cowes in the Isle of Wight with the show's presenters, Jem Stansfield, Liz Bonnin, Dallas Campbell and Dr Yan Wong, on board.

...The team made it in to Portsmouth Harbour where they were saluted by members of the navy stationed on destroyer HMS Diamond. But after just over an hour in the water, it began to take on water and capsized. All four presenters had to be rescued from the water and the boat, which seemed to melt beyond recognition in no time at all, had to be towed to shore
The team made it in to Portsmouth Harbour where they were saluted by members of the navy stationed on destroyer HMS Diamond.

But after just over an hour in the water, it began to take on water and capsized. All four presenters had to be rescued from the water and the boat, which seemed to melt beyond recognition in no time at all, had to be towed to shore

Zeppelin offers rare views of whales

Zeppelin offers rare views of whales

Pilot Katharine Board often sees pods of blue, gray and killer whales as she flies along the California coast.

Compared with other pilots, she has a unique vantage point — low and slow — from the only operational zeppelin in the United States.

Board's airship — Eureka — a modern model of an aircraft that is a throwback to the 1930s, gives her a clear and steady view of the sea giants.

"The great thing about moving slowly and low — we fly 1,000 feet above the ground and our cruising speed is 40 mph — is that you really get to see the world," Board said.

Many associate zeppelin flight with the tragedy of the German passenger airship Hindenburg, which exploded into flames May 6, 1937, at New Jersey's Lakehurst Naval Air Station, killing 36 people. Since then, there have been many safety improvements.

Recently, Farmers' Insurance, the company that sponsors the zeppelin, donated a day of flying to a group of scientists so they could film and photograph an orca pod in Washington's Puget Sound.

"It's a balance between business and doing things that are really special," said Brian Hall, owner of Airship Ventures, which owns the zeppelin. "There are so many cool things we've done before with this platform." 

Hall's airship has gone on research flights to examine biota in salt ponds and harmful algal blooms and to seek out pipeline gas leak evidence.

Hall purchased his airship in 2006 after flying in a zeppelin in Germany. Eureka began flying in 2008 after months of negotiating permits to allow a zeppelin to fly again in American airspace.

The 246-foot-long zeppelin took off recently from an airfield in Everett, Wash., and hovered to the U.S.-Canadian border — an hour's flight away.

Experimental drug helps kids with neuroblastoma

Two new studies offer hope for babies and toddlers suffering from neuroblastoma, a rare but often deadly cancer of the nervous system that strikes about 750 children a year.

Both therapies offer better, safer treatments for the disease, and belong to the emerging field of "personalized" cancer therapy, with medications tailored to the specific genetic profiles of a patient's tumor, says co-author John Maris of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Children diagnosed with neuroblastoma, which grows in nerve cells in the neck, chest and abdomen, are typically only about 17 months old, Maris says. About have an aggressive form of disease that relapses despite the best therapy.

A study of 226 children focused on an experimental, man-made antibody, called ch14.18, given as a cocktail with other immune stimulants. Doctors randomly assigned half of children to get standard care and half to receive the new antibody, according to the study in today's New England Journal of Medicine.

This type of antibody is the "holy grail" of cancer therapy, Maris says, because it targets a protein found only on cancer cells, but rarely on healthy ones. Scientists first identified this protein in the 1980s, he says.

The new therapy cut the risk of relapse from 66% to 46% after two years Because most relapses occur in the first two to three years, these children have likely been cured, Maris says. About 86% of those given the new therapy were alive after two years, compared to 75% of those given standard care.

"This is the biggest improvement we've ever seen in neuroblastoma," Maris says. "It's not a magic bullet, but it's the biggest result we've seen in a long time.. .. This is the culmination of 20 years of work."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Raytheon’s real-life Iron Man suit in action



It doesn’t have wrist cannons, and it will probably never fly. It isn’t quite ready for battle, nor will it make (most) ladies swoon. But Raytheon’s XOS 2 exoskeleton, the the next refinement of 2008’s XOS robo-suit, lets users easily lift hundreds of pounds with a single hand, and punch harder than a heavyweight boxer. The project, like seemingly every borderline sci-fi contraption in development today, has its roots in a DARPA request.

The agency solicited various designs for a powered exoskeleton all the way back in 2000, and has been funding this design ever since. The basis for the XOS suit was conceived by a company called Sarcos, which was later subsumed into the Raytheon empire.

The suit’s primary purpose is to make heaving lifting easier, which is accomplishes using a powerful hydraulic pumps connected to a sturdy, Mecha-like frame.

The XOS 2 bears a strong resemblance to its predecessor–a sign that the project is maturing, not stagnating. The latest upgrades, according to Dr Fraser Smith, VP of Operations for Raytheon Sarcos, are meant to be subtle:
The first exoskeleton was essentially a proof of concept. It shows that our vision could be translated into reality, that we could augment the wearer’s capabilities without impeding his or her natural range of motion or reflexes. XOS 2 is lighter, faster, and stronger, yet it uses 50% less power. And its enhanced design also means that it’s more resistant to environmental damage.
In real terms, the differences are actually kind of staggering: While the previous suit could make 60 pounds feel like ten; the new one can take that same amount of effort and lift 170. It manages this while using just half the power, though it’s still not truly autonomous, unable operate unless hooked by cable to an external power source.

The suit is evidently easy to use and more comfortable than you might expect of a 150-pound metal body suit. Its test engineer, Rex Jameson, says wearing it “doesn’t feel any different in terms of effort whether you throw a huge payload on the back of the suit or walk around with a single weight in each hand,” Essentially, “I feel like me, only a faster, stronger version of me.”

ESA - Hylas-1 heads for French Guiana launch


Following extensive testing in India, the Hylas-1 telecommunication satellite has been given the go-ahead for shipping to Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana for its November flight.

The Hylas-1 mission, a public-private partnership between ESA and Avanti Communications in the UK, will target the high demand for broadband services in Europe.

The Agency’s advanced communications payload will deliver broadband services to hundreds of thousands of European customers on a flexible basis, shifting bandwidth between regions in line with demand.

EADS Astrium is the mission prime contractor, with the satellite platform coming from Antrix Corporation, the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation. Satellite assembly and qualification testing were performed in Bangalore, India.

Other European and Canadian companies including TESAT, ComDev, and Casa Espacio provided essential equipment for the communication payload.

HYLASThe satellite’s readiness to begin its scheduled launch campaign was assessed in Bangalore on 18 September.

Senior officials from Avanti, ESA, Astrium and ISRO/Antrix studied the results of Hylas-1’s tests before giving the green light.

“There is a great sense of fulfilment today,” said Andrea Cotellessa, ESA’s project manager. “We have completed the work in less than four and a half years from contract signature.

Considering the advanced payload we have aboard Hylas-1 and the performances measured so far, everybody involved in this project should feel very proud.”

A Russian Antonov-124 aircraft will carry Hylas from Bangalore to Kourou in early October, along with all the support equipment.

Launch is planned for November on Europe’s Ariane 5 ECA, shared with another telecommunication satellite.

NASA - Shuttle Expedition 25 crew

NASA - Expedition 25

ISS025-S-002A -- Expedition 25 crew members
Pictured at centre right is NASA astronaut Doug Wheelock, Expedition 25 commander. Also pictured (from the left) are Russian cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka and Alexander Kaleri; NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Shannon Walker; along with Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, all flight engineers. Image credit: NASA

ESA's GOCE Operational again


Following recovery from a glitch that prevented ESA’s GOCE gravity mission from sending any scientific data to the ground, the satellite has been gently brought back down to its operational altitude and resumed normal service – delivering the most detailed gravity data to date.

Data from GOCE will result in a unique model of the ‘geoid’, which is the surface of an ideal global ocean at rest. It is a crucial reference for accurately measuring ocean circulation, sea-level change and ice dynamics – all affected by climate change. Volker Liebig,

Director of ESA’s Earth Observation Programmes, said," I am very happy that the scientific measurements now continue and we can profit from the current low solar activity and measure the best-ever geoid." 

To observe the strongest gravity signal possible, the Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Explorer (GOCE) orbits at an exceptionally low altitude: just 255 km above Earth, skimming the fringes of our atmosphere. However, when the telemetry problem was discovered in July, operators raised GOCE’s orbit to 263 km while experts set about fixing it.

The reason for this was to safeguard the sophisticated xenon ion engines, which gently compensate for atmospheric drag in the satellite’s normal low orbit. The thrusters help to keep the satellite stable in ‘free fall’ to prevent any buffeting from the residual air at this low altitude, which could drown out the gravity data.

The telemetry problem was resolved earlier this month and operators have spent the last three weeks gently bringing GOCE back down to the very precise altitude of 254.9 km – within 10 m!

The first global gravity model based on GOCE satellite data was presented at ESA’s Living Planet Symposium.

Based on only two months of data, from November and December 2009, it illustrates the excellent capability of GOCE to map tiny variations in Earth’s gravity field.

Credits: ESA – GOCE High Level Processing Facility

Now back in the correct orbit with all systems fully functional, GOCE is back to its job of mapping Earth’s gravity with unprecedented accuracy and resolution.

ESA’s GOCE Mission Manager, Rune Floberghagen said, "After working hard to resolve the problem we experienced with the telemetry transmission, it certainly feels good to have the satellite back doing its job of measuring of the gravity field."

Emission control: Turning carbon trash into treasure

Emission control: Turning carbon trash into treasure - New Scientist

IT'S LIKE standing at the edge of a giant patchwork quilt. Stretching into the distance are broad bands of bright yellow alternated with patches of delicate white, all beneath a vast glass roof. This greenhouse full of flowers is just one of hundreds that dot the Dutch coast, where row after row of chrysanthemums, orchids and roses are fed carbon dioxide-enriched air, helping them to grow up to 30 per cent faster than normal.

While plenty of commercial greenhouses top up their air with extra CO2, what is unusual about this one is where its CO2 comes from. Until a few years ago, the greenhouse's operators used to burn natural gas for the sole purpose of generating CO2. Today it is piped from a nearby oil refinery. Each year, 400,000 tonnes of CO2 are captured and then piped to around 500 greenhouses between Rotterdam and The Hague, where it is absorbed by the growing plants before they are shipped for sale around the world (see "Cash for carbon").

As governments ramp up their efforts to cut carbon emissions, carbon capture is moving closer to the top of the agenda. The current plan to deal with all of our excess CO2 is to just pump the stuff underground - a kind of landfill for gases. Looking at this carpet of flowers, it is hard not to think that we are going about this in the wrong way. Shouldn't we look to pioneering schemes like the Dutch greenhouses to find ways to recycle the captured CO2 instead?

It turns out that a growing number of researchers, start-ups and even industry giants are also beginning to think like this. And not just for growing flowers; they believe whole cities could one day be built and powered with the help of exhaust fumes.

"It's time we stopped thinking of CO2 solely as a pollutant and viewed it as a valuable resource," says Gabriele Centi, a chemist at the University of Messina, Italy. "With carbon capture and sequestration, we'll essentially have a zero-cost feedstock."

NASA - ChemCam Generating Sparks

This image from testing of ChemCam shows a ball of luminous plasma erupting from the surface of an iron pyrite crystal in the sample chamber approximately 10 feet from the instrument. The laser beam itself is invisible.

The ChemCam instrument, built for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission, uses a pulsed laser beam to vaporize a pinhead-size target, producing a flash of light from the ionized material -- plasma -- that can be analyzed to identify chemical elements in the target.

ChemCam was designed and built by a U.S.-French team led by Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, N. M.; NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.; the Centre National d'Études Spatiales (the French government space agency); and the Centre d'Étude Spatiale des Rayonnements at the Observatoire Midi-Pyrénées, Toulouse, France.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

NASA NPOESS: National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System


Ball Aerospace technicians perform a pop-and-catch partial deploy of the NASA National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) Preparatory Project (NPP) weather satellite's solar array during this week's successful pre-environmental review in advance of flight environmental testing.

This is one of the final satellite activities being done prior to the Vibration testing, the first phase of environmental tests. Credit: Ball Aerospace.

A group of multi-disciplinary experts from NASA and NOAA, as well as a number of independent reviewers conducted the pre-environmental review of the five-instrument satellite.

The review team assessed the satellite test activities completed to-date, the completeness and adequacy of the environmental test plans, and determined the satellite is ready to proceed with its environmental test campaign.

"We are confident that the NPP satellite systems are robust and we are preparing the satellite to undergo rigorous environmental testing," stated Ken Schwer, NPP Project Manager, at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre. The launch is slated for October 2011.

The five-instrument suite includes: the Visible/Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS); the Cross-track Infrared Sounder (CrIS); the Clouds and the Earth Radiant Energy System (CERES); the Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (ATMS); and the Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite (OMPS).

NPP's advanced visible, infrared, and microwave imagers and sounders will improve the accuracy of climate observations and enhance capabilities to the nation's civil and military users of satellite data.

NPP is designed to provide continuity with NASA's Earth Observing System (EOS) satellites for climate observations and to provide the operational weather community with risk reduction for the next generation of weather satellites.

Pan-STARRS Discovers Potentially Hazardous Asteroid

The University of Hawaii's Pan-STARRS PS1 telescope on Haleakala has discovered an asteroid that will come within 4 million miles of Earth in mid-October. The object is about 150 feet in diameter and was discovered in images acquired on September 16, when it was about 20 million miles away.

It is the first "potentially hazardous object" (PHO) to be discovered by the Pan-STARRS survey and has been given the designation "2010 ST3."

"Although this particular object won't hit Earth in the immediate future, its discovery shows that Pan-STARRS is now the most sensitive system dedicated to discovering potentially dangerous asteroids," said Dr. Robert Jedicke, a University of Hawaii member of the PS1 Scientific Consortium (PS1SC), who is working on the asteroid data from the telescope.

"This object was discovered when it was too far away to be detected by other asteroid surveys," Jedicke noted.

Most of the largest PHOs have already been catalogued, but scientists suspect that there are many more under a mile across that have not yet been discovered. These could cause devastation on a regional scale if they ever hit our planet. Such impacts are estimated to occur once every few thousand years.

Monday, September 27, 2010

SBSS Satellite Sending Back Healthy Signals from Orbit


The U.S. Air Force’s first Space Based Space Surveillance (SBSS) satellite launched Sept. 25 and is transmitting signals that indicate it is functioning normally and ready to begin orbital maneuvers, prime contractor Boeing Space & Intelligence Systems announced Sept. 26.

The long-delayed SBSS spacecraft is designed to use a gimbaled optical telescope to keep tabs on objects in geostationary orbit from its vantage point in low Earth orbit.

The satellite was built by Seal Beach, Calif.-based Boeing and Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo.

The SBSS satellite was carried to orbit by an Orbital Sciences Corp.-assembled Minotaur 4 rocket that launched out of Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

Boeing operators at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., received the first signals from the spacecraft indicating it is healthy and ready to begin a two-week check-out phase, a company press release said. After that, payload testing will begin, and Boeing plans to hand the satellite over to the Air Force within 60 days.

This was the first orbital launch of the Minotaur 4, which uses refurbished U.S. strategic missile hardware for its first three stages with a commercial fourth-stage motor.

The Minotaur 4 was supposed to make its debut a year ago until the Air Force discovered a problem with the rocket’s third-stage motor. A gas generator continued to run after the motor shut off, creating residual thrust that is a problem for a rocket designed to put a satellite into a very precise orbit. New hardware had to be designed and built to correct the problem.

ESA Re-entry Vehicle (ARV) Tied to ISS extension

The European Space Agency (ESA) will be seeking the approval of is member states late this year to extend its participation in the international space station to 2020, a decision that will bind participating nations to preset budget contributions, ESA officials said Sept. 27.

ESA officials hope to use their member governments’ approval of a five-year extension to win endorsement for development of a reusable version of Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle, an unmanned freighter that delivers supplies to the station and reboosts the station’s orbit before being filled with garbage and burned up on a controlled re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

If the station’s service life is extended to 2020, the agency has a greater incentive to replace the Automated Transfer Vehicle with an Advanced Re-entry Vehicle (ARV) that would return cargo to Earth.

ESA’s space station director, Simonetta di Pippo, said none of the agency’s delegations has voiced opposition to the five-year extension and that she is confident it will be approved. If that is the case, she said, the agency will propose to its governments to spend some 150 million euros ($200 million) on preparations for an ARV. Full development, which would cost considerably more, would then be proposed to ESA government ministers scheduled to meet sometime in 2012.

Speaking to reporters here during the 61st International Astronautical Congress, di Pippo said a decision to develop ARV would be accompanied by the cancellation of the sixth and seventh Automated Transfer Vehicle. Money saved on building these vessels would offset some of the ARV development costs. A full ARV program approval in 2012 would permit the agency to begin flying the vehicle perhaps around 2017.

ESA has agreed to repay NASA, the space station’s general contractor, in services rather than cash in return for NASA’s provision of the station’s operating expenses, which among other things permits ESA’s Columbus habitable module to function. Automated Transfer Vehicle cargo-delivery and station-reboost flights are part of that payment. ARV would take over that role.

ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain said here Sept. 27 that while he is confident that the five-year extension has the approval of all European nations participating in the station, he does not want a general agreement without specific guarantees on which nation will pay how much of the associated costs.

For now, Germany, France and Italy pay the dominant share of ESA’s space station expenses. These nations presumably will be asked to continue financing the project through 2020.

“There is no objection to extending the station’s operations to 2020,” Dordain said. “What still needs to be decided is the cost, and the scale of contributions. I don’t want an approval now without deciding this aspect as well. I hate decisions that are ‘subject to availability of funds.’ What we need to agree to now is the distribution of costs. That is the difficult part.”

Leading cause of blindness identified - Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)

The mechanism behind a leading cause of blindness has been discovered, which could result in new treatments for a disease that causes 50 per cent of all blindness in the western world.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is caused by damage to the macula – part of the retina at the back of the eye – and is thought to be linked to alterations in the gene resonsible for CFH, a protein involved in the body's immune response.

To work out how this might cause AMD, Paul Bishop at the University of Manchester, UK, and colleagues applied normal and diseased forms of CFH to macula obtained from donated eyes. Abnormal CFH seemed unable to bind to the macula, probably as a result of not being able to bind to two specific carbohydrates.

If there is not enough functional CFH bound to the macula, the immune system does not recognise the tissue as its own and so will attack it, says Bishop. "Now that we know the mechanism, we can think about treatments, such as injecting CHF into the bloodstream."

Minotaur-4 SBSS Satellite launch

A Minotaur 4 rocket carrying the Space Based Space Surveillance satellite blasts off and heads toward orbit at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

The satellite is designed to detect and monitor debris, satellites and other space objects that could be a threat to US national security, communications and weather satellites

Picture: AP/US Air Force

Saturn's Moons Rhea and Dione - co-joined

Two of Saturn's moons - Rhea (bottom) and Dione (top) - appear conjoined in this Cassini spacecraft image.

Dione is actually closer to the spacecraft here, but the reflection of the sun and a large crater at its south pole appears to make it blend seamlessly with Rhea.

The newly-released image was taken July 27, 2010 at a distance of approximately 1.1 million kilometres (688,000 miles) from Dione and 1.6 million kilometres (994,000 miles) from Rhea

Picture: NASA/JPL/SSI / Rex Features

Magnetic Anomalies Shield The Moon

Scientists have discovered a new type of solar wind interaction with airless bodies in our solar system.

Magnetised regions called magnetic anomalies, mostly on the far side of the Moon, were found to strongly deflect the solar wind, shielding the Moon's surface.

This will help understand the solar wind behaviour near the lunar surface and how water may be generated in its upper layer.

Observational evidence for these findings will be presented by Dr. Yoshifumi Futaana and Dr. Martin Wieser at the European Planetary Science Congress in Rome, on Friday 24th September.

Atmosphere-less bodies interact with the solar wind quite differently than the Earth. Their surfaces are exposed without any shielding by a dense atmosphere or magnetosphere. This causes them to be heavily weathered by meteoroids or the solar wind, forming a very rough and chaotic surface called regolith.

Previously, the solar wind was thought to be completely absorbed by the regolith. However, recent explorations of the Earth's moon by the Chang'E-1, Kaguya and Chandrayaan-1 spacecrafts have revealed that this interaction is not that simple.

A significant flux of high energy particles was found to originate from the lunar surface, most probably due to the solar wind directly reflected off the Moon's regolith.

"These results may change dramatically the way we understood the solar wind-regolith interaction so far," says Dr. Futaana of the Swedish Institute of Space Physics.

Artificial Limb misses the mark - Too easy!

An artificial arm programmed to work automatically disappointed some users in a study -- they said it was "too easy" -- U.S. researchers report.

University of Central Florida researchers thought the ease of using the program's automatic mode would be a huge hit, but they were surprised when most test participants preferred the manual mode-- which requires them to think several steps ahead and either physically type in instructions or verbally direct the arm with a series of precise commands -- a university release said.

"We focused so much on getting the technology right," Assistant Professor Aman Behal said. "We didn't expect this."

John Bricout, Behal's collaborator and associate dean at the University of Texas School of Social Work, said the study demonstrates how people want to be engaged -- but not overwhelmed -- by technology.

"If we're too challenged, we get angry and frustrated. But if we aren't challenged enough, we get bored," said Bricout, who has conducted extensive research on adapting technology for users with disabilities. "We all experience that. People with disabilities are no different."

The key is to design technology that can be individualized with ease, Behal said. Some patients will have more mobility than others, and they may prefer a design closer to the manual mode.

Though the automatic mode wasn't popular in the pilot study, it may be the best option for patients with more advanced disease and less mobility, he said.

Dancing Robot Swan Triggers Emotional response

The Dying Swan is sometimes moving smoothly and gently, sometimes in a dramatic and fiery manner, as Tchaikovsky's majestic music from the ballet Swan Lake is playing.

Yet this is no ordinary ballet , but a robot in the form of a swan, created at Malardalen University and choreographed by professional dancer Asa Unander-Scharin.

The swan robot's just over four-minute-long dance has so far been seen only by a select few. Nonetheless, it has already made a big impression. Tearful eyes and words like "touching", "fascinating" and "beautiful" are some of the reactions.

- We want to explore the limits of what a robot can do, what human expressions it can mimic, and how it affects people's perception of the robot when it makes an appearance in art and dance, says Lars Asplund, Professor of Computer Science at Malardalen University in Vasteras, Sweden.

His research field is robotics and he has designed the approximately one-metre-tall dancing swan on the basis of a robot that was previously a student's degree project. The robot was built by a modular system and in the white wings, neck, beak and feet there are a total of 19 different joints, which makes it very flexible.

The idea for the dancing robot was hatched jointly by Lars Asplund and his colleague Kerstin Gauffin, who works with theatre at Malardalen University.

- With our swan we are showing that we can use robots in new ways - simply because they are beautiful and give the audience new experiences, says Kerstin Gauffin, who wants to see robots appear on stages along with "ordinary" actors.

Hot Atmosphere Of Venus May Cool Planet's Interior - Maat Mons

Maat Mons is displayed in this computer generated three-dimensional perspective of the surface of Venus. 

The viewpoint is located 634 kilometers (393 miles) north of Maat Mons at an elevation of 3 kilometers (2 miles) above the terrain. Lava flows extend for hundreds of kilometers across the fractured plains shown in the foreground, to the base of Maat Mons.


The view is to the south with the volcano Maat Mons appearing at the center of the image on the horizon and rising to almost 5 kilometers (3 miles) above the surrounding terrain. Maat Mons is located at approximately 0.9 degrees north latitude, 194.5 degrees east longitude with a peak that ascends to 8 kilometers (5 miles) above the mean surface. 

Maat Mons is named for an Egyptian Goddess of truth and justice. Magellan synthetic aperture radar data is combined with radar altimetry to develop a three-dimensional map of the surface. The vertical scale in this perspective has been exaggerated 10 times.


Rays cast in a computer intersect the surface to crate a three-dimensional perspective view. Simulated color and a digital elevation map developed by the U.S. Geological Survey are used to enhance small-scale structure. 

The simulated hues are based on color images recorded by the Soviet Venera 13 and 14 spacecraft. 

The image was produced by the Solar System Visualization project and the Magellan Science team at the JPL Multimission Image Processing Laboratory and is a single frame from a video released at the April 22, 1992 news conference. Image Credit: NASA/JPL

Cassini dives into Saturn's radio aurora


Image of Saturn's aurora seen at ultraviolet wavelengths. The spiral shape seen here is similar to the distorted radio aurora visualised by the team and also indicates enhanced auroral activity. Credit: ESA/NASA/Hubble

The Cassini spacecraft has made the first observations from within the radio aurora of another planet than Earth. The measurements, which were taken when the spacecraft flew through an active auroral region in 2008, show some similarities and some contrasts between the radio auroral emissions generated at Saturn and those at Earth.

Results were presented by Dr. Laurent Lamy at the European Planetary Science Congress in Rome, and recently published in Geophysical Research Letters.

"So far, this is a unique event," said Lamy (Observatoire de Paris, France).

"Whereas the source region of Earth's radio aurora has been studied by many missions, this is our first opportunity to observe the equivalent region at Saturn from the inside. From this single encounter, we have been able to build up a detailed snapshot of auroral activity using three of Cassini's instruments. This gives us a fascinating insight into the processes that are generating Saturn's radio aurora."

Cassini encountered the auroral region at a distance of 247 million kilometers from Saturn's cloud tops (about 4 times Saturn's radius). High above the spectacular visible-light displays of Saturn's Northern and Southern Lights, auroral emissions occur this far from the planet at radio wavelengths.

The emissions are generated by fast moving electrons spiraling along Saturn's magnetic field lines, which are threaded through the auroral region.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Aliens and Interstellar Archaeology on the Kardashev Galactic Scale

Kardashev Type III and Its Traces
What would happen if a true galaxy-spanning civilisation went to work on astro-engineering?

We call this a Kardashev Type III civilisation, one that could exploit the power resources of an entire galaxy, and the assumption made has always been that such a culture would be very high profile, if not, blindingly obvious. It's projects would be so vast that our astronomers would be able to detect them by noting anomalies, outside of natural occurences.

Imagine, for example, a galactic culture that encloses each individual star in a Dyson sphere.

Image: M81, a spiral galaxy in Ursa Major. A ‘wavefront’ Dyson sphere culture might spread across such a galaxy, causing stars to drop out of visible light spectrum entirely, and then one by one, to be detected in the infrared. Credit and copyright: Giovanni Benintende.

A Dyson sphere or ‘shell’ would absorb all of the visible light from a star, re-radiating stellar energy at infrared wavelengths. A Dyson ‘ring’ would use planetary materials that would mask only part of the star’s light.

Scientists have used a list of very interesting infrared sources from the Infrared Astronomy Satellite (IRAS) in their searches, but have come up with no strong Dyson sphere candidates. Nonetheless, Dyson spheres remain interesting, if only because they vastly increase the habitable area around a star.

What would a Type III civilisation do with technologies that could create Dyson spheres not only in one place but across the galaxy?

Whatever the answer, you would think it would be clearly noticeable. Freeman Dyson himself has said that “…a type III (Kardashev civilisation) in our own galaxy would change the appearance of the sky so drastically that it could hardly have escaped our attention.”

James Annis, who has studied anomalous galaxies in a quest for signs of a Type III civilisation, reports: “It is quite clear that the Galaxy itself has not transformed into a type III civilisation based on starlight, nor have M31 or M33, our two large neighbours.” Nonetheless, we wonder whether we should take these statements as conclusive or definitive:
…what would happen for a civilisation that was on its way to becoming a type III civilisation, i.e. a type II.5 civilisation that is developing?
If it was busily turning stars into Dyson spheres the civilisation could create a “Fermi bubble” or void in the visible light from a patch of the galaxy with a corresponding upturn in the emission of infrared light.
This bubble would grow following the lines of a suggestion attributed to Fermi… that patient space travellers moving at 1/1000 to 1/100 of the speed of light could span a galaxy in one to ten million years.

To read more on Interstellar Archaeology ......

NASA - Multimedia Video of Soyuz TMA-18 lands in Kazakhstan



The Soyuz TMA-18 spacecraft is seen as it lands with Expedition 24 Commander Alexander Skvortsov and Flight Engineers Tracy Caldwell Dyson and Mikhail Kornienko near the town of Arkalyk, Kazakhstan on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2010.

Russian Cosmonauts Skvortsov and Kornienko and NASA Astronaut Caldwell Dyson, are returning from six months onboard the International Space Station where they served as members of the Expedition 23 and 24 crews.

Friday, September 24, 2010

On Reflection, A Bigger Brain



“We introspect when we think about our own thoughts, feelings, or the decisions we have made,” says Steve Fleming, joint first author of the study and a researcher at University College London. “It’s something we do all the time, but some people are better at it than others. Even if we don’t get feedback when we make a choice, we often know intuitively if it’s a good or a bad decision.”

Full story at Futurity.

SBSS: Air Force satellite monitoring space junk

Clumsily orbiting near, alongside and occasionally straight into some of the world’s most valuable communications and research equipment, space junk is, without a doubt, a serious problem.

To make matters worse, so much of it is literal junk, from decommissioned satellites to unidentifiable metal debris, which is extremely difficult to track–at least, until now.

The Air Force’s awkwardly named Space-Based Space Surveillance satellite (SBSS), due to launch this weekend after nearly a year of delay, isn’t meant to be a cleanup tool. Instead, its primarily goal is to simply find out where the junk is: to track it, to measure it, and to provide scientists enough data to calculate its location.

Space junk has been a creeping concern for years, but it’s quickly becoming urgent. Current estimates place the number of significant man-made objects orbiting around the Earth near 500,000, less than 5% of which is in any way tracked.

It’s difficult to convey what that number means in terms of risk. Graphics like the one above make it seem like an orbiting shuttle would be viciously perforated in the course of a single orbit, while simple mathematical representations border on meaningless.

(500,000 pieces of space junk spread evenly along a typical orbital path of the ISS would come out to one piece every 282 feet. Add two more dimensions to this calculation and it loses force; leave them out and it doesn’t bear much resemblance to reality.)

In any case, minor collisions have been documented during shuttle missions, and the ISS has taken evasive action against incoming debris on at least eight occasions in the last 10 years.

The SBSS will use its orbital vantage point, and specifically designed instruments, to track debris with an acuity that ground-based equipment lacks, due to lack of mobility, lack of visibility and general unwieldiness. Among the gear on the satellite,
The SBSS spacecraft will be equipped with a visible sensor mounted on an agile, two-axis gimbal. This device will give ground controllers the flexibility to quickly move the camera between targets without needing to reposition the satellite itself or expend additional fuel.
The data collected by the SBSS should help keep orbiting equipment and crews safer in the short term, and eventually, or rather hopefully, contribute to future efforts to reduce space junk, none of which have, for lack of a better phrase, made it off the ground.

Image courtesy of the ESA

NASA HST Image: The heart of the Lagoon Nebula (Messier 8)

The heart of the Lagoon Nebula (Messier 8). Seen as a massive cloud of glowing dust and gas, bombarded by the energetic radiation of new stars, this placid name hides a dramatic reality. Located 4,000 to 5,000 light-years away, in the constellation of Sagittarius (the Archer), Messier 8 is a huge region of star birth that stretches across 100 light-years. Clouds of hydrogen gas are slowly collapsing to form new stars, whose bright ultraviolet rays then light up the surrounding gas in a distinctive shade of red
The heart of the Lagoon Nebula (Messier 8) is pictured in this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image. Seen as a massive cloud of glowing dust and gas, bombarded by the energetic radiation of new stars, this placid name hides a dramatic reality.

Located 4,000 to 5,000 light-years away, in the constellation of Sagittarius (the Archer), Messier 8 is a huge region of star birth that stretches across 100 light-years. Clouds of hydrogen gas are slowly collapsing to form new stars, whose bright ultraviolet rays then light up the surrounding gas in a distinctive shade of red
Picture: NASA / ESA / AFP

Aurora Borealis over Norway

Looking like a massive firework display, this spectacular northern lights photo shows green and purple colours rippling across the Arctic sky. The picture was taken on Spetember 16 2010, near Skittenelv in the Tromsø area, in northern Norway, by photographer Ole Christian Salomonsen. The aurora borealis is a reflection of recent solar activity which has caused some amazing light shows. The light is caused by explosions on the surface of the sun which throw out electrically charged particles towards the earth. When the solar wind carrying the particles hits our atmosphere it is swept towards the poles by our magnetic field where the particles react with ions in the atmosphere, causing nature's greatest light show
Looking like a massive firework display, this spectacular northern lights photo shows green and purple colours rippling across the Arctic sky. The picture was taken on September 16 2010, near Skittenelv in the Tromsø area, in northern Norway, by photographer Ole Christian Salomonsen.


The aurora borealis is a reflection of recent solar activity which has caused some amazing light shows. The light is caused by explosions on the surface of the sun which throw out electrically charged particles towards the earth.


When the solar wind carrying the particles hits our atmosphere it is swept towards the poles by our magnetic field where the particles react with ions in the atmosphere, causing nature's greatest light show. See the next photo for another amazing display..

...This picture of the northern lights - taken by Thilo Bubek - was also shot near Tromso in northern Norway earlier this month
...This picture of the northern lights - taken by Thilo Bubek - was also shot near Tromso in northern Norway earlier this month

Surface tension and the Ant - Leon and Peter Baas

An ant tries to find its way to dry ground after the rain in this picture taken by Dutch photographer Leon Baas.  Leon has developed his own style of brightly coloured macro photography over eight years.  He has snapped ants, snails, water beetles, crickets and damselflies - all lit beautifully. We will have a gallery of his photos on the site later today
The beautiful macro photography of Leon and Peter Baas.

NASA - Soyuz Module Fails to undock from International Space Station

ISS024-S-002A -- Expedition 24 crew Expedition 24 crew members clockwise from the bottom are Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov, commander; NASA astronauts Tracy Caldwell Dyson and Doug Wheelock; Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Fyodor Yurchikhin; along with NASA astronaut Shannon Walker, all flight engineers. Image credit: NASA

Three departing Expedition 24 crew members will spend at least another day on the International Space Station following an unsuccessful attempt to undock their Soyuz spacecraft overnight.

At 12:12 a.m. EDT Friday, the Mission Control Centers in Houston and Moscow concurred on a plan to reopen the Soyuz hatches and allow Alexander Skvortsov, Tracy Caldwell Dyson and Mikhail Kornienko to reenter the station. The planned undocking was prevented when commands being sent to disengage the hooks and latches holding the Soyuz TMA-18 spacecraft failed. The spacecraft remains securely docked to the Poisk module.

Engineers are continuing to troubleshoot the problem. Expedition 25 Commander Doug Wheelock and Flight Engineers Shannon Walker and Fyodor Yurchikhin sent down video and still photos of a small star-shaped gear with two broken teeth, and experts are evaluating whether the part is related to the commanding problem.

Flight controllers are aiming for an undocking at 10:02 p.m. Friday, which would result in a landing at 1:21 a.m. Saturday, or 11:21 a.m. Kazakhstan time, near Arkalyk. The six-person station crew is scheduled to awaken about 10:30 a.m. Friday to begin preparations for the second undocking attempt.

NASA Television coverage of the Soyuz hatch closing activities will begin at 6:15 p.m. Friday, and landing coverage will begin at midnight.

ESA First Results From Herschel (HSO) Mars Observations

 

The Herschel Space Observatory is providing its first results on Mars. An accurate globally-averaged temperature profile of the Martian atmosphere may cause scientists to revise their models about atmospheric circulation on Mars.

The first sub-millimeter observation of molecular oxygen on the planet may lead to a completely new picture of the oxygen distribution in the Martian atmosphere.

These are only a few of the new discoveries presented by Dr. Paul Hartogh at the European Planetary Science Congress in Rome.

The Herschel Space Observatory (HSO) is a space-borne far-infrared observation facility of the European Space Agency, launched on 14 May 2009. The 'Water and related chemistry in the Solar System' project, was conceived with the sole aim to determine the origin, evolution, and distribution of water in Mars, the outer planets, Titan, Enceladus and the comets.

"Water vapor plays a key role in the Martian atmospheric chemistry and physics," says Dr. Hartogh of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany. Herschel has observed Mars with its three instruments, the Heterodyne Instrument for the Far Infrared (HIFI), the Photodetector Array Camera and Spectrometer, and the Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver (SPIRE).

SPIRE has provided the first continuous spectrum of the Martian atmosphere in the spectral range in the far-IR/sub-mm, as well as, the first complete set of water vapor and carbon monoxide (CO) content in this range.

"SPIRE was designed for very faint sources, however unexpectedly it could even provide high quality data from the brightest far infrared object Herschel observed in the solar system," says Dr. Hartogh.

NASA Shuttle Discovery - Lighting Up the Night

Lights and space shuttle Discovery are reflected in the water as it rolls to the pad on its final planned mission to the International Space Station.


Image Credit: NASA

Rosetta Should Look South For Safe Landing Site

ESA's Rosetta mission needs to deliver its lander, Philae, to a site in the southern hemisphere of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, according to a new study of the comet's nucleus.

"Southern sites appear to be both the safest and the most scientifically interesting," said Jeremie Lasue, who will be presenting the findings at the European Planetary Science Congress in Rome on Thursday 23rd September.

"Churyumov-Gerasimenko is a time capsule holding material from the birth of the Solar System. The nucleus's southern hemisphere has been heavily eroded, so Philae will not have to drill down far to find those pristine samples. At the time of Rosetta's rendezvous, gas will be escaping mainly from the northern hemisphere, so it will be safer for Philae to touch down in the south.

In addition due to the orientation of the comet
, the southern hemisphere will be protected from extreme temperature variations at the time of delivery," said Lasue.

After a ten-year chase, Rosetta is due to begin maneuvers to rendezvous with comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko in May 2014 and go into orbit around the nucleus in August. Philae is scheduled to drop down onto the surface of the nucleus in November. The orbiter and lander will then monitor the comet's evolution over the next 13 months as it approaches the Sun and then travels away again.

NASA - Aurora Dancing Southern Lights of Saturn

Saturn's southern aurora shimmering over approximately 20 hours as the planet rotates.

Image credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/University of Leicester

› Click on the picture to Play the video

This movie, made from data obtained by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, shows Saturn's southern aurora shimmering over approximately 20 hours as the planet rotates. This video is among the first videos released from a study that extracts auroral emissions out of the entire catalogue of images taken by Cassini's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer.

In this movie constructed from data collected in the near-infrared wavelengths of light, the auroral emission is shown in green. The data represents emissions from hydrogen ions in of light between 3 and 4 microns in wavelength. In general, scientists designated blue to indicate sunlight reflected at a wavelength of 2 microns, green to indicate sunlight reflected at 3 microns and red to indicate thermal emission at 5 microns. Saturn's rings reflect sunlight at 2 microns, but not at 3 and 5 microns, so they appear deep blue.

Saturn's high altitude haze reflects sunlight at both 2 and 3 microns, but not at 5 microns, and so it appears green to blue-green. The heat emission from the interior of Saturn is only seen at 5 microns wavelength in the spectrometer data, and thus appears red. The dark spots and banded features in the image are clouds and small storms that outline the deeper weather systems and circulation patterns of the planet. They are illuminated from underneath by Saturn's thermal emission, and thus appear in silhouette.

The movie covers just under two Saturnian days, from 2:15 p.m. UTC on Sept. 22, 2007 to 10:53 a.m. on Sept. 23, 2007. The spacecraft viewing angle stays the same, so that throughout the video. The aurora can clearly be seen to vary significantly over the period of the observation. On the noon and midnight sides (left and right, respectively), the aurora brightens significantly for extended periods of several hours, suggesting the brightening is connected with the direction of the sun. Other features appear to rotate with the underlying planet, suggesting that these are directly controlled by the direction of Saturn's magnetic field.

Scientists processed the auroral emissions to the fullest extent allowed by the spectrometer data.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The visual and infrared mapping spectrometer team is based at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/home/index.cfm . The visual and infrared mapping spectrometer team homepage is at http://wwwvims.lpl.arizona.edu .

Shining Starlight On The Dark Cocoons Of Star Birth


This series of images from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows a dark mass of gas and dust, called a core, where new stars and planets will likely spring up.


The image on the far right shows the core as seen at longer wavelengths of infrared light (8 microns); when viewed at this wavelength, the core appears dark. The middle image shows the core as seen at a shorter infrared wavelength (3.6 microns).


In this view, the core lights up because it is deflecting starlight from nearby stars. This unexpected light, called coreshine, tells astronomers that the dust making up the core must be bigger than previously thought - smaller particles would not have been big enough to scatter the light. The image on the left is a combination of the other two images.


This particular core lies deep within a larger dark cloud called L183. Spitzer's infrared vision allows it to peer into the dark cloud to see the even darker cores buried inside. The observations were made with Spitzer's infrared array camera. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Observatoire de Paris/CNRS

Earth from Space: Russia’s '24-hour-bite'


Credits: ESA

This radar Envisat image features Russia’s Volga Delta and the Caspian Sea. The Volga River (dark) rises northwest of Moscow and extends southward some 3700 km through the whole central part of the country where it pours into the Caspian, forming a delta of about 800 smaller waterways.

The Volga Delta is considered one of the world’s most dynamic deltas because of its remarkably complicated hydrographic network. Its winding channels, marshes and wetlands provide a comfortable home to a rich variety of fauna and flora species.

More than 70 000 fish species inhabit its waters, making it one of the best places to fish in Russia and earning it the nickname 'the 24-hour bite' among locals. Since the area provides habitat for many migrating birds, it is designated as a Wetland of International Importance.

Among the flora species, its most renowned is the lotus, or Caspian rose. They usually bloom in July and last through September. In mid-July this year, tourists flocked to the delta to see the flowers blossom in what is believed to be the largest field of lotus on the planet: 3 km by 15 km.

Covering an area more than 380 000 sq km, the Caspian Sea is larger than Japan. The northern part of the sea (seen here) is the most shallow, averaging about 10 m deep. Vast oil and gas reserves are located here, making it the subject of major exploration and exploitation efforts.

Since the sea has no outlet, many unique animals and plants have been preserved; it is home to 85% of the world’s stock of sturgeon and is the source of 90% of all black caviar.

The Russian city of Astrakhan, on the Volga Delta about 100 km from the sea (visible in white just above the triangular delta), remains at the centre of the caviar trade.

Dutch Superbus: IAA Commercial Vehicles

Visitors examine a super bus concept project by Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, at the IAA Commercial Vehicles expo in Hanover, Germany
Visitors examine a super bus concept project by Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, at the IAA Commercial Vehicles expo in Hanover, Germany

Chandra X-ray Image: Cannibal star Devours it's companion

Data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory show new evidence of a "cannibal" star that recently devoured its companion star or planet, possibly also spawning a second generation of exoplanets in the process.

The composite image on the left shows X-ray and optical data for BP Piscium (BP Psc), a more evolved version of our sun, located about 1,000 light-years from Earth. Credit: X-ray (NASA/CXC/RIT/J.Kastner et al), Optical (UCO/Lick/STScI/M.Perrin et al); Illustration: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss

 Data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory showed that the star, called BP Piscium (BP Psc), is a more-evolved version of our sun, but with a surrounding disk of dust and gas usually associated with young stars.

Optical data also revealed a pair of jets, several light-years long, extending from the poles of the star and shooting material at high velocities out of the system in opposite directions. These jets, too, are typical of a very young star. 

Normally, a young star grows bigger as debris from the surrounding disk falls onto it. The star incorporates about 90 percent of the dusty, gaseous material and recycles the remainder through its jets.

Venus Temperature distribution

Temperature distribution within Venus and local mobilisation at the surface. Credit: DLR

It may seem downright bizarre, but a new model of Venus' super-hot atmosphere suggests its greenhouse gases may actually be cooling the planet's interior. 

These gases initially cause Venus' temperature to rise, but at a certain threshold, they can trigger dynamic processes – which researchers call "mobilization" – in the planet's crust that cool the mantle and overall surface temperature, researchers found.

Venus surface temperature, on average, is a scorching 860 degrees Fahrenheit (460 degrees Celsius).
3-D perspective of the Venusian volcano, Maat Mons generated from radar data from NASA’s Magellan mission. Credit: NASA/JPL

Earth's Seasonal Change: Not-So-Equal Equinox

The seasons on Earth will officially change Wednesday, heralding their shifting nature with an astronomical feat: the autumnal equinox.


On Sept. 22, at 11:09 p.m. EDT (8:09 p.m. PDT), the fall season will begin in the Northern Hemisphere while the Earth's Southern Hemisphere residents ring in their spring. This date – one of two each year – is called an equinox, from the Latin for "equal night," alluding to the fact that day and night are then of equal length worldwide but this is not necessarily so.

The not-so-equal equinox



The definition of the equinox as being a time of equal day and night is a convenient oversimplification.


For one thing, it treats night as simply the time the sun is beneath the horizon, and completely ignores twilight. If the sun were nothing more than a point of light in the sky and if Earth lacked an atmosphere, then at the time of an equinox the sun would indeed spend one half of its path above the horizon and one half below.


But in reality, atmospheric refraction raises the sun's disk by more than its own apparent diameter while it is rising or setting. Thus, when we see the sun as a reddish-orange ball just sitting on the horizon, we're looking at an optical illusion. [Top 10 Extreme Planet Facts]


It is actually completely below the horizon. So from our point of view, the day on an equinox appears longer than it actually is. This illusion means that the appearance of equal day and night, from a skywatcher's view, will come several days later.


In addition to refraction hastening sunrise and delaying sunset, there is another factor that makes daylight longer than night at an equinox: Sunrise and sunset are defined as the times when the first or last speck of the sun's upper limb is visible above the horizon – not the center of the disk.


This is why, when you check your newspaper's almanac or weather page on Wednesday of this week to look up the times of local sunrise and sunset, you'll notice that the duration of daylight from sunrise to sunset still lasts a bit more than 12 hours – not exactly 12 as the term "equinox" suggests.

ESO VLT Image: Barred Spiral galaxy


Credit: ESO/P. Grosbøl

This striking new image, taken with the powerful HAWK-I infrared camera on ESO’s Very Large Telescope at Paranal Observatory in Chile, shows NGC 1365. 

This beautiful barred spiral galaxy is part of the Fornax cluster of galaxies, and lies about 60 million light-years from Earth.

A beautiful spiral galaxy 60 million light-years from Earth could help astronomers better understand our own Milky Way because of a trademark central bar-like structure.

The galaxy, NGC 1365, is one of the most-studied barred spiral galaxies. It is sometimes called the Great Barred Spiral Galaxy because of its strikingly perfect form.  

Now, a new photo released by the European Southern Observatory today (Sept. 22) shows the galaxy in exacting detail, and may help astronomers who are trying to determine if our own Milky Way contains a central bar.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

False-colour composite image of the glow of Saturn's Southern auroras

False-color composite image of the glow of auroras streaking out from Saturn's south polar region
Glowing Southern Lights

This false-color composite image, constructed from data obtained by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, shows the glow of auroras streaking out about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) from the cloud tops of Saturn's south polar region.

It is among the first images released from a study that identifies images showing auroral emissions out of the entire catalogue of images taken by Cassini's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer.

In this image constructed from data collected in the near-infrared wavelengths of light, the auroral emission is shown in green. The data represents emissions from hydrogen ions in of light between 3 and 4 microns in wavelength.

In general, scientists designated blue to indicate sunlight reflected at a wavelength of 2 microns, green to indicate sunlight reflected at 3 microns and red to indicate thermal emission at 5 microns.

Saturn's rings reflect sunlight at 2 microns, but not at 3 and 5 microns, so they appear deep blue.

Saturn's high altitude haze reflects sunlight at both 2 and 3 microns, but not at 5 microns, and so it appears green to blue-green. The heat emission from the interior of Saturn is only seen at 5 microns wavelength in the spectrometer data, and thus appears red.


The dark spots and banded features in the image are clouds and small storms that outline the deeper weather systems and circulation patterns of the planet. They are illuminated from underneath by Saturn's thermal emission, and thus appear in silhouette.

The composite image was made from 65 individual observations by Cassini's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer on Nov. 1, 2008. The observations were each six minutes long.

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/ . The visual and infrared mapping spectrometer team homepage is at http://wwwvims.lpl.arizona.edu.


Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/University of Leicester

NASA - Global Hawk Aircraft and Instruments

Global Hawk Instruments

Global Hawk with instruments labeled

Global Hawk, with instruments labeled.

Global Hawk Dropsonde
The Global Hawk dropsonde is a miniaturized version of standard RD-93 dropsondes based largely on recent MIST driftsondes deployed from balloons.

The dropsonde provides vertical profiles of pressure, temperature, humidity, and winds. Data from these sondes are transmitted in near real-time via Iridium or Ku-band satellite to the ground-station, where additional processing will be performed for transmission of the data via the Global Telecommunications System (GTS) for research and operational use.
For more information

HAMSR (High Altitude MMIC Sounding Radiometer)
The High Altitude monolithic microwave integrated Circuit (MMIC) Sounding Radiometer (HAMSR) is a microwave atmospheric sounder developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. under the NASA Instrument Incubator Program.

Operating with 25 spectral channels in 3 bands ( 50-60Ghz, 118 Ghz 183 HGz region), features it provides measurements that can be used to infer the 3-D distribution of temperature, water vapor, and cloud liquid water in the atmosphere, even in the presence of clouds.

The new unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV-)HAMSR with 183GHz LNA receiver reduces noise to less than a 0.1K level improving observations of small-scale water vapor. HAMSR is mounted in payload zone 3 near the nose of the Global Hawk.
For more information

HIWRAP (High-Altitude Imaging Wind and Rain Airborne Profiler)
HIWRAP (High-Altitude Imaging Wind and Rain Airborne Profiler) is a dual-frequency radar (Ka- and Ku-band), dual-beam (300 and 400 incidence angle), conical scan, solid-state transmitter-based system, designed for operation on the high-altitude (20 km) Global Hawk UAV.

HIWRAP characteristics: Conically scanning; Simultaneous Ku/Ka-band & two beams @30 and 40 deg; Winds using precipitation & clouds as tracers; Ocean vector wind scatterometry; Map the 3-dimensional winds and precipitation within hurricanes and other severe weather events; Map ocean surface winds in clear to light rain regions using scatterometry.
For more information

LIP (Lightning Instrument Package)
The LIP (Lightning Instrument Package) measures lightning, electric fields, electric field changes, air conductivity. LIP provides real time electric field data for science and operations support.

The LIP is comprised of a set of optical and electrical sensors with a wide range of temporal, spatial, and spectral resolution to observe lightning and investigate electrical environments within and above thunderstorms.

The instruments provide measurements of the air conductivity and vertical electric field above thunderstorms and provide estimates of the storm electric currents. In addition, LIP will detect total storm lightning and differentiate between intracloud and cloud-to-ground discharges.This data is used in studies of lightning/storm structure and lightning precipitation relationships.
For more information

Long Range WiFi Edges Nearer With FCC Decision

Technology Review: Blogs: TR Editors' blog: Long Range WiFi Edges Nearer With FCC Decision

A new class of devices able to create WiFi-like connections that span miles rather than meters just jumped significantly closer to market. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has made a crucial decision on the rules that will regulate such devices, which will use the "white spaces" between TV channels that were freed up by the analogue switch off.

Although the FCC voted in November 2008 to open up these white spaces, the exact rules governing how they could be used were not decided. Companies of all sizes, ranging from Google to startups, with plans for gadgets and services using white spaces have been waiting since then. Some have spent money lobbying for rules favorable to rapid development of a whole new sector.

A key concern was whether the FCC would stick with a previous suggestion that white spaces devices must constantly listen out for broadcasts from TV stations and also wireless microphones to ensure they wouldn't cause interference. Today the commission decided that this isn't necessary. Instead, the rules will require devices to be capable of knowing their location and using an online database to find out which channels are active in their area.

"The ruling is in the right direction to help us quickly get white spaces devices onto the market, Ranveer Chandra of Microsoft Research who built the world's first white spaces network on the company's Redmond campus, told me. "Making hardware able to get sensing right is very difficult, particularly for wireless microphones which all have different signals." False positives are a problem when listening for wireless mics, says Chandra, because their signals are so low powered. Being able to use the software-centric database approach will allow much speedier development compared to the alternative, which would me coming up with new chip designs, he says.

Although Chandra and colleagues experimented with sensing too, the Microsoft network also demonstrates how a database could be used. They developed a cloud-based service to which a device can supply its location and receive back an accurate description of the whitespaces available, based on the position, power and height of nearby transmitters. They also built a website where you can check the white spaces in your area.

The FCC is yet to release the full technical details of the rules, which are expected late today. When these details are released, the real work will start, says Chandra. "Over the next couple of weeks we and others will need to look at that very closely," he says, to work out just what the rules allow for.

What's not to love about baby seahorses?



Let's face it, we can never see too many stories about male animals that gestate their young and give birth. And when the babies are as insanely supercute as this, so much the better. But - there's always a but - seahorses in the wild aren't doing so well.

A record-breaking 918 baby short-snouted seahorses were born at London Zoo's aquarium on Monday and caught on camera.

Famed for their unusual gestation process - whereby the male is equipped with a 'brood pouch' and goes through pregnancy and birth - seahorses are notoriously hard to breed:

"Last year we managed to breed a batch of fry, but sadly none of them made it through to adulthood. This year marks the very first time we've managed to rear short-snouted seahorses to a stage where they're eating live food," said Sam Guillaume who led the breeding team.

Such large numbers of offspring are a survival adaptation in the wild, according to Brian Zimmerman, the aquarium's Assistant Curator. In the wild, only one or two would make it to adulthood, he says, and they are especially susceptible to fishing practices and pollution.

A clear example is in the Gulf of Mexico, where the dwarf seahorse - the smallest seahorse in the world - is facing extinction following the BP oil spill. Amanda Vincent, director of the Project Seahorse conservation group told CBC News this week that the animals were in the height of their breeding season when the rig blew up in April.

"We have very high levels of concern for this particular species because they have a narrower range," Heather Masonjones, a seahorse biologist at the University of Tampa, Florida, told The Guardian newspaper. They are poor swimmers and produce relatively few offspring, so would find it harder to recover from this event, she said. Better news for British seahorses, however. Off the Dorset coast, baby sea horses were recently seen for the first time in UK waters. According to Wired the Seahorse Trust have been scouring the coastline for years but have only ever found adults and juveniles - never a baby. But a Seahorse Trust spokesperson told the BBC that the news isn't as good as it first sounds: