Thursday, December 31, 2009

Russia 'plans to stop asteroid'

The head of Russia's federal space agency has said it will work to divert an asteroid which will make several passes near the Earth from 2029. Mr Perminov said Roscosmos' science council would hold a 'closed meeting'

Anatoly Perminov told the Voice of Russia radio service that the agency's science council would hold a closed meeting to discuss the issue.

Any eventual plan is likely to be an international collaboration, he said.

The US space agency said in October that there is a one-in-250,000 chance of Apophis hitting Earth in 2036.

That announcement was a significant reduction in the probability of an impact, based on previous calculations that put the chances at about one-in-45,000. The asteroid is estimated to pass within about 30,000 km of the Earth in 2029.

Mr Perminov, who is the chief of Roscosmos, gave little detail of any plans that the agency has, but was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying that the solution would not entail the use of nuclear weapons.

Other schemes that have been put forth in the past for diverting asteroids from collision courses include spacecraft that nudge the space rocks out of their trajectory through force, or diverting them with "solar sails" that use the wind of particles ejected from the Sun.

"People's lives are at stake," Mr Perminov reportedly told the radio service Golos Rossii (Voice of Russia).

"We should pay several hundred million dollars and build a system that would allow us to prevent a collision, rather than sit and wait for it to happen and kill hundreds of thousands of people."

NASA study: California Lakes warming quicker than expected

New U.S. scientific findings suggest that climate change may be affecting aquatic environments faster and sooner than the atmosphere.

Researchers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., came to conclusions after noticing that Lake Tahoe, Clear Lake and four other big lakes in Northern California and Nevada are heating up faster than the surrounding atmosphere, The Sacramento Bee reported Sunday.

The newspaper said the researchers tapped satellite sensor temperature data compiled over 18 years in what is believed to be the first time that long-range lake surface temperatures have been dissected. What the data reportedly showed is that the lakes' water temperature rose two times faster, on average, than the regional air temperatures.

"It was a big surprise to see that," Philipp Schneider, the study's lead author and a post-doctoral research scientist at the NASA lab, told the Bee. "If it turns out they're actually changing faster than the air temperature, then there's a whole new phenomenon going on here.

The lake ecosystems are going to be very much affected, especially because the trend we observed seems to be quite rapid."

Flourescein Dye used to study world's thinnest sheet

The world's thinnest material is being studied with a dye used to stain the Chicago River green on St. Patrick's Day, scientists in Illinois said.

The dye flourescein, also used to find old blood stains at crime scenes, is being used to examine graphene, a one-atom thick sheet, Northwestern University scientists said.

Graphene has the potential to be used to make low-cost carbon-based electronics that are transparent and flexible, researcher Jiaxing Huang said in a release Wednesday.

Using flourescein to examine graphene and its derivatives avoids the use of expensive and time-consuming techniques such as atomic force microscopy and scanning electron microscopy.

"It's a simple and dirt-cheap method that works surprisingly well in many situations," Huang said of the flourescein imaging. Huang and his team have named their technique "fluorescence quenching microscopy."

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Good Guys Bring Down the Mega-D Botnet

Chalk up one for the defenders. Here’s how a trio of security researchers used a three-step attack to defeat a 250,000-pronged botnet.

Ginko Biloba does not help Alzheimer's Disease

The popular botanical ginkgo biloba does not improve memory nor does it prevent cognitive decline in older people, according to the largest and longest scientific study ever undertaken to look at the supplement.

An extract derived from the ginkgo tree, ginkgo biloba has been touted since the 1970s by the supplement industry and others as an aid to improving memory, cognitive impairment, dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Gingko extract has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 500 years, according to the American Botanical Council.

The study finding is "disappointing news," says Steven DeKosky, dean of the University of Virginia School of Medicine and the study's senior author. The only positive thing the researchers found is that ginkgo appears to be safe, he says.

The results are from the Ginkgo Evaluation of Memory study, funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a center of the National Institutes of Health. The randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled study was conducted at six medical centers and involved more than 3,000 people between ages 72 and 96 for seven years. The report is in today's Journal of the American Medical Association.

The first set of results from the study, published last year, found that a twice-daily dose of 120 milligrams of ginkgo biloba extract was not effective in reducing the incidence of Alzheimer's dementia or dementia overall.

This new paper looked at the same results to see if ginkgo biloba extract had any effect on cognitive decline in older adults, specifically memory, visual-spatial construction, language, attention, psychomotor speed and executive function. It found no effect.

"It just continues to show that in properly designed, placebo-controlled studies, we can't seem to find an effect for ginkgo biloba," says Lon Schneider, an Alzheimer's and gerontology expert at the University of Southern California. The size of this study is larger than all previous ginkgo biloba studies combined, he says.

Douglas MacKay, vice president for scientific and regulatory affairs at the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a supplement industry trade group, disputes the study's findings.

"There is a large body of previously published evidence, as well as ongoing trials, which suggest that ginkgo biloba is effective for helping to improve cognitive impairment in older adults," he says.

U.S. sales for ginkgo biloba were $99 million in 2008, down 8% from 2007 but still placing it among the most popular supplements in the country, according to the Nutrition Business Journal

Weightless Wedding in Zero Gravity flight

Erin Finnegan and Noah Fulmor get married in zero gravity over Florida, USA.

Space tourist Richard Garriott officiated, and the bride found she could eat all the cake she wanted and still be weightless

Picture: WENN

Argentine firm eyes Falklands oil deal

The Argentine subsidiary of Spanish oil major Repsol is set to begin exploration for oil and gas in the Falkland Islands, business representatives said.

Argentina is not the Falklands' preferred partner for expanding oil exploration and development projects because of lingering distrust after the 1982 Falklands conflict between Argentina and Britain.

However, both the Falklands government and Britain have indicated they want the islands' oil and gas resources developed at a fast pace and are open to ideas for overseas investors.

Earlier this month Falklands-based British entrepreneurs tried to woo the Chilean oil industry and government to develop a partnership between the Falklands and Chile, which is best placed geographically to provide logistics support for exploration and development. Chilean and Argentine media said the overture received a cool response in Chile, because of Chilean concerns that approaches to Falklands might offend Argentina.

YPF's announcement took industry analysts by surprise, as there has been no indication from the British side if YPF's initiative will be welcome.

YPF says it plans to explore for oil and gas in Falklands as part of a five-year program. YPF will spend about $100 million on exploration work in the South Atlantic. YPF is also expected to lead a consortium that may include Argentina's Pan American Energy and Brazil's Petrobras, MercoPress reported.

"We will invest all the resources necessary to explore the whole of the country and find out its full potential in terms of oil and natural gas reserves," YPF Chief Executive Sebastian Eskenazi said. "We're going to define the map of remaining exploration opportunities in Argentina," he said, in a reference to Argentina's continued claim on the Falklands, a British overseas territory.

British and Falklands firms have already begun work on exploring the Falklands basin for oil. Independent estimates have put the potential reserves at tens of billions of barrels of oil.

Earlier this year Britain and Argentina lodged claims to a large area of the South Atlantic seabed around the Falklands. The rival claims have raised the prospect of renewed tensions between the two countries over the control of those oil and gas reserves.

YPF surveys are designed to map out about 250 exploration blocks in Argentina that have yet to be assigned. These include offshore blocks in the South Atlantic region.

YPF's involvement in the region's exploration is likely to hasten Britain's measures for developing some of the more lucrative oil fields identified in recent scientific surveys.

Sun, moon causing tremors deep in San Andreas fault

The faint tug of the sun and moon on the San Andreas Fault stimulates tremors deep underground, suggesting that the rock 15 miles below is lubricated with highly pressurized water that allows the rock to slip with little effort, according to a new study by University of California, Berkeley, seismologists.

"Tremors seem to be extremely sensitive to minute stress changes," said Roland Burgmann, UC Berkeley professor of earth and planetary science. "Seismic waves from the other side of the planet triggered tremors on the Cascadia subduction zone off the coast of Washington state after the Sumatra earthquake last year, while the Denali earthquake in 2002 triggered tremors on a number of faults in California. Now we also see that tides - the daily lunar and solar tides - very strongly modulate tremors."

In a paper appearing in the Dec. 24 issue of the journal Nature, UC Berkeley graduate student Amanda M. Thomas, seismologist Robert Nadeau of the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory and Burgmann argue that this extreme sensitivity to stress - and specifically to shearing stress along the fault - means that the water deep underground is under extreme pressure.

"The big finding is that there is very high fluid pressure down there, that is, lithostatic pressure, which means pressure equivalent to the load of all rock above it, 15 to 30 kilometers (10 to 20 miles) of rock," Nadeau said. "Water under very high pressure essentially lubricates the rock, making the fault very weak."

Though tides raised in the Earth by the sun and moon are not known to trigger earthquakes directly, they can trigger swarms of deep tremors, which could increase the likelihood of quakes on the fault above the tremor zone, the researchers say. At other fault zones, such as at Cascadia, swarms of tremors in the ductile zone deep underground correlate with slip at depth as well as increased stress on the shallower "seismogenic zone," where earthquakes are generated. The situation on the San Andreas Fault is not so clear, however.

"These tremors represent slip along the fault 25 kilometers (15 miles) underground, and this slip should push the fault zone above in a similar pattern," Burgmann said. "But it seems like it must be very subtle, because we actually don't see a tidal signal in regular earthquakes. Even though the earthquake zone also sees the tidal stress and also feels the added periodic behavior of the tremor below, they don't seem to be very bothered."

Nevertheless, said Nadeau, "It is certainly in the realm of reasonable conjecture that tremors are stressing the fault zone above it. The deep San Andreas Fault is moving faster when tremors are more active, presumably stressing the seismogenic zone, loading the fault a little bit faster. And that may have a relationship to stimulating earthquake activity."

Seismologists were surprised when tremors were first discovered more than seven years ago, since the rock at that depth - for the San Andreas Fault, between 15 and 30 kilometers (10 to 20 miles) underground - is not brittle and subject to fracture, but deformable, like peanut butter. They called them non-volcanic tremors to distinguish them from tremors caused by fluid - water or magma - fracturing and flowing through rock under volcanoes. It was not clear, however, what caused the non-volcanic tremors, which are on the order of a magnitude 1 earthquake.

To learn more about the source of these tremors, UC Berkeley seismologists began looking for tremors five years ago in seismic recordings from the Parkfield segment of the San Andreas Fault obtained from sensitive bore-hole seismometers placed underground as part of the UC Berkeley's High-Resolution Seismic Network. Using eight years of tremor data, Thomas, Burgmann and Nadeau correlated tremor activity with the effects of the sun and moon on the crust and with the effects of ocean tides, which are driven by the moon.

They found the strongest effect when the pull on the Earth from the sun and moon sheared the fault in the direction it normally breaks. Because the San Andreas Fault is a right-lateral strike-slip fault, the west side of the fault tends to break north-northwestward, dragging Los Angeles closer to San Francisco.

Borneo mega-dams proposal raises fears for tribes, wildlife

A massive tract of Borneo jungle, an area the size of Singapore, will soon disappear under the waters of the Bakun dam, a multi-billion-dollar project nearing completion after years of controversy.

The dam, which forced thousands of indigenous people off their ancestral lands, has struggled through setbacks and delays since its approval in 1993, as well as fierce criticism over its environmental impact.

But even before the turbines of the 2.2 billion dollar hydro-electric facility begin to turn, activists have sounded the alarm over plans for 12 more mega-dams on Malaysia's half of Borneo which it shares with Indonesia.

Balan Balang, an elderly chief of the Penan tribe, sighs as he talks of the Murum dam, the first of the dozen dams envisioned for Sarawak state, which will drown the hunting grounds and burial sites of his people.

"This government is very bad. In the old days people would fight us using machetes or spears. But now they just sign away our lives on pieces of paper," said the headman, who sports the elongated earlobes distinctive to his tribe.

"My people never want to leave our place. We want to die in our place," he said, after a long journey from his rainforest home to seek help from indigenous lawyers in Miri, a coastal town in Malaysian Borneo.

Human rights activists are intent on avoiding a repeat of the botched relocation of some 15,000 indigenous people in the Bakun area who they say have made an unhappy transition to life in resettlement areas.

Balan Balang's village is outside the Murum resettlement area, but some 1,500 people -- mostly Penan but including another of Sarawak's tribes, the Kenyah -- will be forced to abandon their homes for an uncertain future.

The chief, who is not sure of his birth date but reckons he is "between 70 and 80 years old", has seen much hardship during his long life.

As a young boy he watched fearfully as Japanese warplanes flew overhead during the World War II occupation, while rampant logging later degraded the jungles where his people forage for food, wild game, and materials for shelter.

"Now the rivers are all polluted. The wildlife has slowly disappeared -- wild boar, deer, gibbons. Even the broad-leafed plants that we use for roofing, and rattan which we use to make mats and baskets, is gone," he said.

But what brought him to Miri are new threats to his way of life, the dam project as well as plantation firms who want to clear what is left of the jungle and grow palm oil and foreign timber species.

"Our people oppose our area being included for the dam because that's where we come from, our ancestors lived and died and were buried there. For us we have no other place, that is our only place," he said.

Egypt eyes U.S. missiles, equipment

The U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency has signaled its intent to consider a rash of foreign military sales to Egypt, including the transfer of anti-tank missiles.

The government of Egypt has also requested anti-ship missiles, engine upgrades for its fleet of F-16 jet fighters and Fast Missile Crafts worth an estimated $1.18 billion.

The proposed sale is expected to "contribute to the foreign police and national security objectives of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country which has been and continues to be an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East," the U.S. Defense agency said.

Among Egypt's grab-bag of requests: 450 AGM-114K3A Hellfire II air-to-surface anti-armor missiles, along with associated parts, equipment training and logistical support. This package alone is estimated at $51 million.

Experts say Egypt requires the particular missiles to defend its own borders and to remain militarily viable in the contentious region. Still, the experts maintain, the purchase will not adversely affect the military balance in the region.

Egypt also wants to procure 20 RGM-84L/3 Harpoon Block III anti-ship cruise missiles, 4 Harpoon shipboard command launch control systems, including all consoles, software and shipboard canister launcher units.

The potential sale would also feature support equipment, personnel training and training equipment -- all estimated at $145 million.

Should the deal go through, the principle contractor will be U.S-based Boeing company.

Another export opportunity includes Egypt's request for upgraded F-110-GE-100 engines that power its fleet of F-16 jet fighters. The proposed upgrades will be spread out over six or seven years, in increments of approximately 24 upgraded engines per year, local media reported.

This contract would amount to a value of approximately $750 million and would be carried out by General Electric Aviation, the Defense Professionals Web site reported.

The proposed sales, however, have triggered sharp criticism by Middle East experts who fear the fresh dispatch of arms to Egypt could end up in hostile hands.

"These U.S. arms are likely to fall into the hands of the Islamists, who would be more inclined to immediate aggression," wrote the Examiner. "Egypt needs means of neutralizing the Islamists within. It does not have enemies threatening assault on it with modern armies."

News of Egypt's arms requests follows similar bids from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Saudi Arabia recently disclosed that its intent to buy wire-guided radio frequency missiles was aimed at supporting the kingdom's efforts to modernize its national guard.

South Korea To Attempt Second Space Launch In 2010

South Korea will put together a plan to attempt the second firing of the Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1 (KSLV-1), its first locally developed space rocket, local media on Monday quoted a report to President Lee Myung-bak as saying.

Initially described as a "half success" by local officials and engineers, KSLV-1 is currently under examination by the South Korean government to find the cause behind its failure to launch properly in its first attempt on Aug. 25, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology said in the report.

The report also said its engineers are taking all possible measures to ascertain a successful second launch scheduled for the first half of 2010.

The two-stage rocket, also called Naro-1, is the country's first space vehicle to be launched from South Korean soil that could possibly place a 100 kg scientific satellite into Earth's orbit.

Following the successful launch of KSLV-1, developed in cooperation with Russia, South Korea will work on the construction of KSLV-2, a rocket developed without requiring any outside assistance, the report said.

KSLV-1 successfully launched itself from the Naro Space Center south of Seoul on Aug. 25, but the satellite failed to gain enough orbital velocity causing it to crash back to Earth shortly after take off.

GIOVE-A Marks Four Years In Orbit Testing Europe's GPS Galileo Platform

On the 2nd May 2007 GIOVE-A successfully transmitted the first Galileo navigation message from space, containing the information needed by users' receivers to calculate their position using the future Galileo satellite navigation service.

Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) is today celebrating the 4th anniversary of the launch of its historic GIOVE-A satellite - the first step in Europe's visionary Galileo satellite navigation programme - on December 28th 2005.

During the past 4 years, SSTL and GIOVE-A have contributed significantly to the testing and validation of technologies vital to the now imminent operational constellation of satellites. The 660 kg GIOVE-A satellite was built by SSTL for ESA in just 30 months at a cost of just 28m Euros.

SSTL CEO Dr. Matt Perkins commented, "SSTL is proud of its involvement with the Galileo programme and the continuing success of GIOVE-A. This mission has clearly demonstrated the effectiveness of SSTL's small satellite approach for the delivery of operational missions."

GIOVE-A was the first part of the in-orbit validation programme for Galileo, broadcasting the first signal to successfully secure the critical Galileo frequency filing with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) at 17:25 GMT on the 12th January 2006. This was a significant achievement for SSTL having commissioned the necessary systems to achieve this broadcast in just 3 weeks.

On the 2nd May 2007 GIOVE-A successfully transmitted the first Galileo navigation message from space, containing the information needed by users' receivers to calculate their position using the future Galileo satellite navigation service. These signals have since been used for signal quality testing and for equipment manufacturers and the scientific community to validate prototype Galileo receivers.

Throughout the past 4 years, the satellite has provided valuable data about the Medium Earth Orbit which the Galileo constellation will occupy, helping to characterise the radiation environment and validating subsystems such as an atomic clock and the Galileo signal broadcasting payload.

In July and August this year, GIOVE-A was gradually moved to a higher orbit to ensure that it does not cross the operational Galileo constellation's orbits when the first operation satellites are launched in 2012. The satellite has been in orbit for 21 months beyond its original 27 month mission design life and continues to provide critical data to all of the ground users experimenting with Galileo navigation signals

SSTL, together with its partner OHB-System of Bremen, Germany form the core team of one of the two consortia bidding for the operational satellites. The final proposal was delivered to ESA in November and the outcome of the evaluation process is awaited. To help improve the overall schedule the team was authorised by the EC and ESA to initiate the procurement of long lead items for the full system earlier this year.

The British space pioneer looks forward to continued success supporting the European Space Agency (ESA) and the EC with the expertise it has gained and its cost effective and reliable approach to satellite and subsystem design and manufacture.

Curtain falling on 'Digital Decade'

While it got off to a rocky start with the overhyped Y2K bug and dotcom bubble, the era dubbed the "Digital Decade" by Microsoft's Bill Gates has turned out to be a dizzying period of innovation.

"It's been an amazingly vibrant decade for the Internet and for digital things in general," said John Abell, New York bureau chief of Wired magazine, which has chronicled the technological leaps and bounds of the past 10 years.

"People simply don't exist in a non-digital world at all," Abell told AFP. "Even grandmothers and Luddites all have tools and devices -- even if they don't realize they're using them -- which connect them to a digital world."

David Pogue, personal technology columnist for The New York Times, points to Apple's iPod, introduced in 2001, as among the most influential devices of the decade.

"It really revolutionized the way music is distributed and marketed," said Pogue, who also casts a vote for the Flip pocket camcorder from Pure Digital Technologies.

"In two years it has taken over one-third of the camcorder market and has killed the sales of tape camcorders," Pogue told AFP.

Pogue also gives a nod to the GPS navigational unit "which changes the way we drive and also has environmental considerations because millions of people spend less time driving around lost."

Touchscreen smartphones such as Apple's iPhone featuring thousands of applications are also high on Pogue's list.

"It's become a tiny pocket computer in a size and shape that no computer's ever been before -- and mobile and connected to the Internet all the time," said Pogue. "That's a revolutionary set of circumstances."

What's more, he added, "It's only two years old. The iPhone came out two years ago.

"Imagine what the iPhone and the Android phones and the Palm phones are going to look like in five years? They're going to be smaller, thinner, much better battery life, many more features, much faster."

"Right now we're looking at the Stone Age of these phones," Pogue said. "We think they're modern but they're not."

Another groundbreaking device high on the lists of technology analysts is Amazon's Kindle electronic reader, which made its appearance in 2007 and has spawned a host of rivals jostling for a share of the digital book market.

The past decade has, of course, also seen seismic shifts in the Web with the explosive growth of social networking sites, wireless connectivity and the rise of Internet-based cloud computing.

Web search and advertising giant Google has become "central to our lives," said Wired's Abell, branching out into "everything you can think of, from mail to documents to the telephone."

In the late 1990s, Pogue said, "creating a webpage took skill, talent, special software -- it was still only for the geeks."

The Internet has become accessible to all in the years since, giving birth to sites such as Wikipedia in 2001, MySpace in 2003, Facebook in 2004, YouTube in 2005 and Twitter in 2006.

"The beauty of Web 2.0 websites is that it makes it very easy," said Pogue. "Anybody can immediately just type, just type to present their point of view without having any special talent except having an opinion.

"What it does that's really amazing is it connects people who have similar interests, even very narrow interests, who would never meet each other," he said. "They would never be able to connect any other way."

Much of what has come to pass over the past 10 years was presaged by Gates when he gazed into a crystal ball in an October 2001 essay titled "Moving Into the Digital Decade."

"Wherever you are, you'll have the power to control who can contact you or access your information to live your life as openly or as privately as you wish," Gates wrote.

As for what the next decade holds, Pogue is not going there. "Anyone who tries to predict the future of technology usually looks like an idiot," he said.

Unless you're Bill Gates.

Iran to unveil new home-built satellite

Iran will unveil a new home-built satellite in February, a newspaper reported Thursday, amid Western concerns that Tehran is using its nuclear and space industries to develop atomic and ballistic weapons.

"The new generation of Iran's national satellite called Toloo (Dawn) will be unveiled in February," Defence Minister Ahmad Vahidi was quoted as saying by the governmental Iran paper.

The satellite has been designed by Sa Iran, also known as Iran Electronics Industries, an affiliate company of the defence ministry, the report said.

"Needs of armed forces in operations are met with local and reliable equipment of the defence industries of this ministry," Vahidi added.

He gave no further details.

Iran's first home-built satellite, the Omid (Hope), was launched in February to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the Islamic revolution.

The launch sent alarm bells ringing in the international community, which voiced concern over Iran's development of technology that could be used for military purposes.

The West suspects Iran of secretly trying to build an atomic bomb and fears the technology used to launch space rockets could be diverted into developing long-range ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

Tehran denies having military goals for its space programme or its nuclear drive.

Iran had earlier announced it was building seven new satellites, including three for high orbit positions.

In mid-December, the Islamic republic test-fired its Sejil 2 (Lethal Stone), which it described as a faster version of a medium-range missile that could allow it to strike Israel.

The defiant missile test came as major powers are mulling fresh sanctions against Tehran over its disputed nuclear enrichment program.

NKorea built plant to make gas for uranium enrichment

North Korea may have constructed a plant to manufacture a gas needed for uranium enrichment in a development that would indicate that Pyongyang had opened a second way to build nuclear weapons as early as the 1990s, The Washington Post reported late Sunday.

Citing a previously unpublicized account by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan's atomic bomb program, the newspaper said North Korea may have been enriching uranium on a small scale by 2002, with maybe 3,000 or even more centrifuges.

Pakistan helped North Korea with vital machinery, drawings and technical advice for at least six years, the report said.

The Post said Khan's account could not be independently corroborated. But one US intelligence official and a US diplomat said his information adds to their suspicions that North Korea has long pursued the enrichment of uranium in addition to making plutonium for bombs.

It also may help explain Pyongyang's assertion in September that it is in the final stages of such enrichment, the paper noted.

Khan described his dealings with the country in official documents and in correspondence with a former British journalist, Simon Henderson, who said he thinks an accurate understanding of Pakistan's nuclear history is relevant for US policymaking, the report pointed out.

The Post independently verified that the documents were produced by Khan.

Khan's account of the pilot plant depicts relations between the two countries' scientists as exceptionally close for nearly a decade, the paper said.

Khan says, for example, that during a visit to North Korea in 1999, he toured a mountain tunnel, according to the report. There his hosts showed him boxes containing components of three finished nuclear warheads, which he was told could be assembled for use atop missiles within an hour.

His visit occurred seven years before the country's first detonation, prompting some current and former US officials to say that Khan's account, if correct, suggests North Korea's achievements were more advanced than previously known, and that the country may have more sophisticated weapons, or a larger number, than earlier estimated, The Post said.

But Siegfried Hecker, a former Los Alamos National Laboratory director who was allowed to see some North Korean plutonium during a visit to its nuclear facilities in January 2004, said after hearing Khan's description of the trip he remains unconvinced that the country in 1999 had enough fissile material on hand to make such weapons.

The Post quotes Hecker as saying that Khan may have tried to get himself "off the hook" by implying that his own illicit technical assistance to Pyongyang was irrelevant because "these guys already had nuclear weapons."

Russia tests 'Satan' class long-range missile ICBM

Russia has successfully test-launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), opting to extend the lifespan of its Soviet-era nuclear arsenal.

The 112-foot missile, capable of carrying 10 warheads, was fired from the Orenburg district on Russia's frontiers with Kazakhstan. It struck its target, 4,000 miles away, on the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Russian Far East, Russian news agencies reported.

"Pre-launch operations, the launch and flight went strictly according to plan," a spokesman for Russia's Strategic Missile Forces, Col. Vadim Koval, was quoted saying by the Interfax news agency.

"The test hit the intended target area on the Kamchatka peninsula with astounding accuracy."

The 22-ton RS-20V missile is known within NATO as the "Satan" and has a range of about 10,000 miles.

"The launch was carried out as part of experimental construction work aimed at confirming the flight characteristics of the RS-20V missile and to extend its life span to 23 years," Russia's Strategic Missile Forces said in a statement.

Military officials quoted by local media said the missile was not carrying a nuclear warhead and that the United States had been informed of the tests, in compliance with bilateral agreements requiring notification of the missile testing.

The RS-20V, which has been in operation for more than 21 years, is widely revered by experts as the world's most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile. Known as the Voyevoda, the missile was initially intended to be used for 15 years. By some accounts, Moscow wants to continue using the missiles until 2019.

"The extension of the lifespan of the Voyevoda to 25 years will allow us to extend its services by 10 years, Russia's Strategic Missile Forces said.

Senior military officials quoted by The Times of India said Russia was developing a new intercontinental ballistic missile and would gradually decommission older versions in order to ensure nuclear safety.

Earlier this month, Russia's new nuclear-capable missile test launch failed over the White Sea, creating an eerie blue swirl in the sky that provoked hundreds of UFO sightings over Norway.

The failed test was an embarrassment for the Russians, who are bent on bolstering their deterrent force.

The Bulava missile can carry up to 10 individually targeted nuclear warheads and has a range of 5,000 miles. It is a sea-based version of Russia's land-based ballistic missile, the Topol-M, which the military has been using since 2006.

Israel says Iran nuclear plant immune to conventional strike

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said on Monday that Iran's recently diclosed second uranium enrichment plant is "immune" to conventional bombing.

"The new site near Qom is meant for enrichment. What was revealed by the Iranians had been built over years and is located in bunkers that cannot be destroyed through a conventional attack," Barak told parliament's foreign affairs and defence committee.

Iran notified the UN nuclear watchdog in September that it was building a second enrichment plant near the central shrine city of Qom, after Washington accused it of covertly evading its notification responsibilities under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Confirmation of the construction work drew criticism not only from Western governments but also from the United Nations.

Enriched uranium can make the fuel for nuclear power plants but in highly extended form can also produce the fissile core of an atomic bomb.

Along with Western governments, Israel suspects Iran of seeking to develop a weapons capability under the guise of a civil nuclear programme, an accusation Tehran denies.

Along with its US ally, Israel, the region's sole if undeclared nuclear power, has refused to rule out a resort to military action to prevent Iran developing a bomb.

Barak said he feared Iran could develop a weapon by 2011.

"I believe that by early 2010 Iran will hold threshold technology (for building a bomb). That means that if it wanted, it could develop nuclear weapons within a year from obtaining threshold technology," a senior official quoted him as telling the parliamentary committee.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

How do I know China wrecked the Copenhagen deal? I was in the room | Mark Lynas | Environment | The Guardian

How do I know China wrecked the Copenhagen deal? I was in the room | Mark Lynas | Environment | The Guardian

Copenhagen was a disaster. That much is agreed. But the truth about what actually happened is in danger of being lost amid the spin and inevitable mutual recriminations. The truth is this: China wrecked the talks, intentionally humiliated Barack Obama, and insisted on an awful "deal" so western leaders would walk away carrying the blame. How do I know this? Because I was in the room and saw it happen.

China's strategy was simple: block the open negotiations for two weeks, and then ensure that the closed-door deal made it look as if the west had failed the world's poor once again. And sure enough, the aid agencies, civil society movements and environmental groups all took the bait. The failure was "the inevitable result of rich countries refusing adequately and fairly to shoulder their overwhelming responsibility", said Christian Aid. "Rich countries have bullied developing nations," fumed Friends of the Earth International.

All very predictable, but the complete opposite of the truth. Even George Monbiot, writing in yesterday's Guardian, made the mistake of singly blaming Obama. But I saw Obama fighting desperately to salvage a deal, and the Chinese delegate saying "no", over and over again. Monbiot even approvingly quoted the Sudanese delegate Lumumba Di-Aping, who denounced the Copenhagen accord as "a suicide pact, an incineration pact, in order to maintain the economic dominance of a few countries".

Sudan behaves at the talks as a puppet of China; one of a number of countries that relieves the Chinese delegation of having to fight its battles in open sessions. It was a perfect stitch-up. China gutted the deal behind the scenes, and then left its proxies to savage it in public.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Single light wave flashes out from fibre laser

A long-elusive goal of physics has been reached – producing a pulse of light so short that it contains just a single oscillation of a light wave.

The flashes are almost as short as a light pulse can be, according to the laws of physics. The new super-short pulses could used as flashguns to sense very small, very fast events such as a single photon interacting with a single electron, says Alfred Leitenstorfer of the University of Konstanz in Germany. A single-cycle pulse packs in energy more densely than a pulse containing more wave peaks and troughs.

They could also show the way to boosting data transmission through fibre-optic cables, by shrinking the minimum amount of light needed to encode a single digital 1 or 0.

Leitenstorfer's group shunned the crystalline lasers typically used by physicists looking to make super-short light pulses and used optical-fibre lasers and wavelengths of light like those standard in telecommunications.

Technology milestone
"Single-cycle pulse generation with an essentially all-fibre system clearly marks a milestone in optical technology," says Martin Fermann of laser manufacturer Imra America, who was not involved with the work. He expects "the single-cycle regime will become a new standard" with applications in advanced imaging, sensing and signal processing.

NASA Tests Jumbo Jet With Open Side For Airborne Telescope Observations

These flights will prepare the telescope assembly for the first flight with the telescope operating.

That first flight will be the initial opportunity scientists have to use the telescope and begin the process of quantifying its performance to prepare for SOFIA's planned 20-year science program.

A NASA jumbo jet that will help scientists unlock the origins of the universe with infrared observations reached a milestone Friday when doors covering the plane's telescope were fully opened in flight.

The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, a modified 747 jet known as SOFIA, flew for one hour and 19 minutes, which included two minutes with the telescope's doors fully opened.

The goal was to allow engineers to understand how air flows in and around the telescope. It was the first time outside air has interacted with the part of the plane that carries the 98-inch infrared telescope.

"We have opened the telescope cavity door, the first time we have fully exposed the telescope and the largest cavity ever flown while in flight," said Bob Meyer, SOFIA program manager at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif. "This is a significant step toward certifying NASA's next great observatory for future study of the universe."

Besides these test flights of the airplane, two flights to operate and verify the scientific capabilities of the telescope assembly are planned for spring 2010.

Telescope systems such as the vibration isolation system, the inertial stabilization system and the pointing control system will be tested during daytime flights.

These flights will prepare the telescope assembly for the first flight with the telescope operating. That first flight will be the initial opportunity scientists have to use the telescope and begin the process of quantifying its performance to prepare for SOFIA's planned 20-year science program.
SOFIA is a joint venture of NASA and the German Aerospace Center. NASA supplied the aircraft. The telescope was built in Germany.

Dryden manages the SOFIA program. The aircraft is based at NASA's Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif. NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., manages SOFIA's scientific program. The Universities Space Research Association, in Columbia, Md., and the German SOFIA Institute in Stuttgart, Germany, operate SOFIA's scientific program.

War-torn 'nursery' hopes to send monkeys to Mars

The monkeys at this run-down research centre which was once the pride of Soviet science have seen it all -- a brutal civil war, freezing winters and starvation.

Now, if the scientists at the Institute of Experimental Pathology and Therapy have their way, one of these furry apes could someday be plucked from its cage and sent on a pioneering mission to Mars.

"We have plans to return to space," declared Zurab Mikvabia, the director of this institute nestled in a lush forest on a hill overlooking the Black Sea coast of Abkhazia, a breakaway region of ex-Soviet Georgia.

Residents of the Abkhaz capital Sukhumi call this place the "monkey nursery" and proudly recall how it produced groundbreaking medical research and raised two rhesus monkeys, Yerosha and Dryoma, sent into space in 1987.

But the institute fell on hard times after the collapse of the Soviet Union as Abkhazia fought a war to break free of Georgian control and fell into a long period of economic isolation.

Hundreds of apes died or disappeared during the 1992-93 war as Abkhaz separatists and Georgian troops fought over Sukhumi, an elegant seaside town famed as a resort in Soviet times.

"Many monkeys were shot. They were let out of their cages and just ran around the city," said Aldona, an institute employee who doubles as a tour guide for visitors.

Hunger and illness killed many more. There are now 350 apes, mostly baboons and macaques, confined in grim outdoor cages. The pre-war population was about 1,000 in Sukhumi plus thousands more at other branches of the institute.

At least a few dozen more monkeys are believed to be living in the wooded mountains of Abkhazia, descendants of a 1970s experiment where scientists released apes into the wild.

Testifying to the institute's glory days, a Soviet-era statue of a baboon stands in the central courtyard amid weeds and dry fountains.

In recent years, conditions for the apes have improved somewhat as Abkhazia enjoyed an investment boom, largely due to Russia, which recognised the region as an independent state in 2008 after a brief war with Georgia.

Only Nicaragua, Venezuela and the Pacific island nation of Nauru have joined Russia in recognising Abkhazia's independence, while the rest of the world considers it part of Georgia.

Mikvabia said the institute had improved the monkeys' diet and would soon start moving them from cages to large open-air enclosures where they would be able to run more freely.

"It's not normal to keep monkeys in small cages," said Mikvabia, a respected Abkhaz doctor who was appointed director of the institute in July.

As he smoked a pipe in his office, Mikvabia expressed his determination to bring serious science back to the institute after years when it essentially became a zoo for gawking tourists.

The institute is in preliminary talks with Russia's Cosmonautics Academy about preparing monkeys for a simulated Mars mission that could lay the groundwork for sending an ape to the Red Planet, Mikvabia said.

Such an initiative would build on Mars-500, a joint Russian-European project that saw six human volunteers confined in a capsule in Moscow for 120 days earlier this year to simulate a Mars mission.

"Earlier this programme was aimed at sending cosomonauts, people (to Mars)," Mikvabia said.

"But given the length of the flight to Mars, and given the cosmic rays for which we don't have adequate protection over such a long trip, discussions have focused recently on sending an ape instead of a person."

Estimates for the length of the journey to Mars vary depending on the type of mission envisioned, but the European Space Agency says its proposal for a round-trip mission would take 520 days, or about a year and a half.

If Russia pursues the idea of sending monkeys to Mars, Mikvabia's institute could become the site of an enclosed "biosphere" where apes would be kept for long periods to simulate spaceflights.

In a twist reminiscent of science fiction, the project would also include a robot designed to take care of the imprisoned ape.

"The robot will feed the monkey, will clean up after it. Our task will be to teach the monkey to cooperate with the robot," Mikvabia said.

History shows, however, that monkeys and technology can be a volatile combination.

Yerosha, perhaps the institute's best-known ape, freed a paw on his 13-day spaceflight in 1987 and started fiddling with buttons and tearing sensors off his body, much to the consternation of scientists on the ground.

Today's mission planners are determined to prevent such monkey business on the much longer and costlier trip to Mars.

"Technicians have told us that it's not difficult to build such a robot," Mikvabia said. "The hard part is teaching the monkey to live with the robot."

UK Scientist have mapped Lung, skin cancer genetic codes

The genetic codes for lung and skin cancer have been mapped, an accomplishment that could lead to vastly improved treatments, scientists in Britain say.

The Wellcome Trust researchers told the BBC knowing the genetic code ultimately could mean better blood tests to spot tumors sooner and drugs that pinpoint cancer cells.

Scientists in 10 countries are moving on to catalog genes in other cancers, with Britain tackling breast cancer, Japan taking on liver cancer, India mouth cancer, China stomach cancer, and the United States cancers of the brain, ovary and pancreas, the British broadcaster reported Wednesday. It could take five years to complete the mapping.

"These catalogs are going to change the way we think about individual cancers," said Wellcome Trust scientist Professor Michael Stratton, the lead researcher in Britain. "By identifying all the cancer genes we will be able to develop new drugs that target the specific mutated genes and work out which patients will benefit from these novel treatments.

"We can envisage a time when following the removal of a cancer cataloging it will become routine."

Seismic Image of Yellowstone Hotspot Plume

Seismic imaging was used by University of Utah scientists to construct this picture of the Yellowstone hotspot plume of hot and molten rock that feeds the shallower magma chamber (not shown) beneath Yellowstone National Park, outlined in green at the surface, or top of the illustration.
The Yellowstone caldera, or giant volcanic crater, is outlined in red. State boundaries are shown in black.

The park, caldera and state boundaries also are projected to the bottom of the picture to better illustrate the plume's tilt.
Researchers believe "blobs" of hot rock float off the top of the plume, then rise to recharge the magma chamber located 3.7 miles to 10 miles beneath the surface at Yellowstone.

The illustration also shows a region of warm rock extending southwest from near the top of the plume. It represents the eastern Snake River Plain, where the Yellowstone hotspot triggered numerous cataclysmic caldera eruptions before the plume started feeding Yellowstone 2.05 million years ago.

Pet Pollution: The devastating impact of man's best friend

Man's best friend could be one of the environment's worst enemies, according to a new study which says the carbon pawprint of a pet dog is more than double that of a gas-guzzling sports utility vehicle.

But the revelation in the book "Time to Eat the Dog: The Real Guide to Sustainable Living" by New Zealanders Robert and Brenda Vale has angered pet owners who feel they are being singled out as troublemakers.

The Vales, specialists in sustainable living at Victoria University of Wellington, analysed popular brands of pet food and calculated that a medium-sized dog eats around 164 kilos (360 pounds) of meat and 95 kilos of cereal a year.

Combine the land required to generate its food and a "medium" sized dog has an annual footprint of 0.84 hectares (2.07 acres) -- around twice the 0.41 hectares required by a 4x4 driving 10,000 kilometres (6,200 miles) a year, including energy to build the car.

To confirm the results, the New Scientist magazine asked John Barrett at the Stockholm Environment Institute in York, Britain, to calculate eco-pawprints based on his own data. The results were essentially the same.

"Owning a dog really is quite an extravagance, mainly because of the carbon footprint of meat," Barrett said.

Other animals aren't much better for the environment, the Vales say.

Cats have an eco-footprint of about 0.15 hectares, slightly less than driving a Volkswagen Golf for a year, while two hamsters equates to a plasma television and even the humble goldfish burns energy equivalent to two mobile telephones.

But Reha Huttin, president of France's 30 Million Friends animal rights foundation says the human impact of eliminating pets would be equally devastating.

"Pets are anti-depressants, they help us cope with stress, they are good for the elderly," Huttin told AFP.

"Everyone should work out their own environmental impact. I should be allowed to say that I walk instead of using my car and that I don't eat meat, so why shouldn't I be allowed to have a little cat to alleviate my loneliness?"

-- 'Rabbits are good, provided you eat them' -- Which brings us back to the French!

LHC: Large Hadron Collider shut down until February 2010

Scientists have switched the world's most powerful atom-smasher to standby for two and a half months, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) said on Friday.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) ended the year "in style", CERN said, achieving more than a million particle collisions in the last two weeks and accelerating proton beams to energy levels never reached before.

CERN said the LHC would be restarted in February after a short technical stop to prepare it for collisions at even higher energy levels.

"Commissioning work for higher energies will be carried out in January, along with necessary adaptations to the hardware and software of the protections systems," CERN said in a statement.

The 3.9 billion-euro (5.6 billion dollar) collider was relaunched in November after 14 months out of action because of an electrical fault.

Scientists hope to use the collider -- inside a 27-kilometre (16.8-mile) tunnel straddling the Franco-Swiss border -- to understand the origins of the universe by recreating the conditions that followed the Big Bang.

So far, the LHC has achieved collisions at an energy level of 2.36 teraelectronvolts (TeV), and CERN wants to reach 7.0 TeV to try to recreate the conditions of the Big Bang.

Before the LHC experiment, no particle accelerator had exceeded 0.98 TeV. One TeV is the equivalent to the energy of a flying mosquito.

The LHC aims to resolve physics problems including "dark matter" and "dark energy", thought to account for 96 percent of the cosmos.

The scientists' Holy Grail is to find a theorised component called the Higgs Boson, which would explain how particles acquire mass.

Space - Expanding The Frontiers Of Risk

When an 84kg lump of metal was shot into space in 1957, few predicted how satellites would revolutionise our world. Since Sputnik entered orbit and its first crackly signal beeps were picked up back on earth, we have come to rely on satellites for what we see and how we communicate - and even for what the weather will be like.

Their ability to warn of impending disasters has saved countless lives. They may even be used to help save the planet. Satellites could be used to generate solar power that could reduce our reliance on harmful fossil fuels, a 2007 study commissioned by the US Department of Defense concluded.

Our insatiable appetite for new technology is driving demand for a new generation of bigger, more complex satellites. But even after 50 years' experience, launching and operating satellites remains a risky business and there are new perils on the horizon.

The new-generation satellites cost as much as $350m - two or three times as much as traditional satellites - and with the Ariane 5 rocket able to deliver two satellites into space in one mission, a problem during launch could be catastrophic and wipe out much of the available insurance capacity.

Once in orbit, if a new 'processed payload' satellite suffered even a relatively minor loss of power, a number of its transponders (which carry the communication signals) may have to be shut down to allow its power-thirsty digital processor to remain running.

This may reduce the satellite's capacity to such an extent that it is rendered largely ineffective, years before the end of its projected lifespan. It may take only a 30% loss in power for it to become an effective insurance write-off, says David Wade, space underwriter at the Atrium Space Insurance Consortium.

Heavy Solar Weather Ahead
Just as property underwriters fret about how changes in sea surface temperatures and wind shear can create more hurricanes, satellite underwriters worry about variations in the sun that can create catastrophic weather in space.

The Sun's intense atmosphere causes solar flares, proton flares and the solar wind, all of which can wreak immense damage on spacecraft and satellites.

Their impact and frequency increase as the sun reaches its peak during an 11-year solar cycle. The next 'solar maximum' is predicted to be in May 2013, according to a recent panel of experts.
Underwriters will consider whether to reduce their aggregate exposures as the solar maximum nears, bringing with it an increased threat of damage to satellites, says Simon Clapham, Head of the Marine Division at Liberty Syndicates.

Lloyd's insurers are prepared for a welter of claims resulting from a large proton flare from the sun that would affect every satellite in orbit, creating a loss of power that would lead to a 5% financial loss on each of the 160 or so insured satellites.

Closer To Home-Brewed Electricity With Personalised Solar Energy

A simple inexpensive rooftop solar panel can convert sunlight to electricity. In a new study, an expert describes progress toward an efficient and inexpensive method for storing and distributing solar energy in the home

New scientific discoveries are moving society toward the era of "personalized solar energy," in which the focus of electricity production shifts from huge central generating stations to individuals in their own homes and communities.

That's the topic of a report by an international expert on solar energy published in the ACS' Inorganic Chemistry, a bi-weekly journal.

It describes a long-awaited, inexpensive method for solar energy storage that could help power homes and plug-in cars in the future while helping keep the environment clean.

Daniel Nocera explains that the global energy need will double by mid-century and triple by 2100 due to rising standards of living world population growth. Personalised solar energy - the capture and storage of solar energy at the individual or home level - could meet that demand in a sustainable way, especially in poorer areas of the world.

The report describes development of a practical, inexpensive storage system for achieving personalized solar energy. At its heart is an innovative catalyst that splits water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen that become fuel for producing electricity in a fuel cell.

The new oxygen-evolving catalyst works like photosynthesis, the method plants use to make energy, producing clean energy from sunlight and water. "Because energy use scales with wealth, point-of-use solar energy will put individuals, in the smallest village in the nonlegacy world and in the largest city of the legacy world, on a more level playing field," the report states.

French 'green' gifting to save money and the planet

A used book or nearly-new kitchen gadget may not be at the top of every Christmas wish list, but hard economic times coupled with a new green awareness are changing attitudes about gift-giving in France.

French holiday shoppers are opting in larger numbers for "green" gifting this Christmas, studies show.

About 30 percent of French consumers will give second-hand items as gifts to stretch out their tight budgets but also to do their little bit for recycling, according to a study by international consulting firm Deloitte.

The survey of Christmas consumer behaviours in 18 European countries found the French were more than twice as likely as other Europeans to give second-hand items, making France a pioneer in the trend.

Paris office worker Flavi Verrey said she found holiday happiness online by buying second-hand gifts such as an old DVD of Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator" for her husband along with used copies of his favourite comic strips.

For her nieces, she chose old jewellery, spending a grand total of 20 euros.

"I like the idea that things that once belonged to someone can be of use to someone else," said Verrey.

The 32-year-old mother did not list budget concerns as a major reason for re-gifting but rather sees herself adopting a new consumer attitude that does not need to buy new and wants to reduce waste.

"I do feel that we are at a turning point. People are more aware about how they spend and the choices they make," said Verrey.

Websites promoting re-gifting and green gifting are flourishing in France, with many reporting a rise in business.

Engaging Maximum Thrust to Explore the Univers

The Apollo 10 moon probe is currently listed as the fastest manned vehicle in history, having reached a maximum speed of 39,895 kilometres per hour. At this speed, it would take 120,000 years to cover the 4 light years to Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system.

So if we want to explore the depths of deep space and journey to Alpha Centauri and beyond, we're going to need some new technologies. Here, we look at 10 of the most intriguing.

The technologies range widely in their plausibility. Some, we could more or less build tomorrow if we wanted to, while others may well be fundamentally impossible.

Ion thruster
Conventional rockets work by shooting gases out of their rear exhausts at high speeds, thus generating thrust. Ion thrusters use the same principle, but instead of blasting out hot gases, they shoot out a beam of electrically charged particles, or ions.

They provide quite a weak thrust, but crucially they use far less fuel than a rocket to get the same amount of thrust. Providing they can be made to keep working steadily for a long time, they could eventually accelerate a craft to high speeds.

They have already been used on several spacecraft, such as Japan's Hayabusa probe and Europe's SMART-1 lunar mission, and the technology has been improving steadily.

A particularly promising variant is the variable specific impulse magnetoplasma rocket (VASIMR). This works on a slightly different principle to other ion thrusters, which accelerate the ions using a strong electric field. Instead, VASIMR uses a radio-frequency generator, rather like the transmitters used to broadcast radio shows, to heat ions to 1 million °C.

It does this by taking advantage of the fact that in a strong magnetic field, like those produced by the superconducting magnets in the engine, ions spin at a fixed frequency. The radio-frequency generator is then tuned to that frequency, injecting extra energy into the ions and massively increasing the thrust.

Initial tests have been promising, and if all goes well, VASIMR could be used to take humans to Mars in 39 days

Dark Matter showing signs of making an appearance

Deep inside an abandoned iron mine in northern Minnesota, physicists may have spotted the clearest signal yet of dark matter, the mysterious stuff that is thought to make up 90 per cent of the mass of the universe.

The Cryogenic Dark Matter Search (CDMS) collaboration has announced that its experiment has seen tantalising glimpses of what could be dark matter.

The CDMS-II experiment operates nearly three-quarters of a kilometre underground in the Soudan mine. It is looking for so-called weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs), which are thought to make up dark matter.

The experiment consists of five stacks of detectors. Each stack contains six ultra-pure crystals of germanium or silicon at a temperature of 40 millikelvin, a touch above absolute zero. These are designed to detect dark matter particles by looking at the energy released when a particle smashes into a nucleus of germanium or silicon.

The problem is that many other particles – including cosmic rays and those emitted by the radioactivity of surrounding rock – can create signals in the detector that look like dark matter. So the experiment has been carefully designed to shield the crystals from such background "noise". The idea is that when the detector works for a long time without seeing any background particles, then if it does see something, it's most likely to be a dark matter particle.

Signal or noise?
When the CDMS-II team looked at the analysis of their latest run – after accounting for all possible background particles and any faulty detectors in their stacks – they were in for a surprise. Their statistical models predicted that they would see 0.8 events during a run between 2007 and 2008, but instead they saw two.

The team is not claiming discovery of dark matter, because the result is not statistically significant. There is a 1-in-4 chance that it is merely due to fluctuations in the background noise. Had the experiment seen five events above the expected background, the claim for having detected dark matter would have been a lot stronger.

Nonetheless, the team cannot dismiss the possibility that the two events are because of dark matter. The two events have characteristics consistent with those expected from WIMPs (PDF).

The CDMS-II team is planning to refine the analysis of their data in the next few months. In addition, they have begun building new detectors in the mine, which will be three times as sensitive as the existing setup. These "SuperCDMS" detectors are expected be in place by middle of next year.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

NASA: Soyuz TMA-17 rocket launches from Kazakhstan

The Soyuz TMA-17 rocket launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Monday, Dec. 21, 2009 carrying Expedition 22 NASA Flight Engineer Timothy J. Creamer of the U.S., Soyuz Commander Oleg Kotov of Russia and Flight Engineer Soichi Noguchi of Japan to the International Space Station.
(Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

HD Video of Undersea Volcano Erupting

Friday, December 18, 2009

H1N1: WHO uncertain whether the Pandemic is over of just Beginning

Senior World Health Organisation official Keiji Fukuda said Thursday that it was too early to declare the swine flu pandemic over, as it continues at "high levels" in parts of Europe and central Asia.

Although the A(H1N1) flu virus is peaking and even declining in parts of the northern hemisphere, and is hardly present in the south, Fukuda said there was an unproven possibility that there could be another wave later in the winter.

"It really probably remains too early to call the pandemic over," Fukuda said in a weekly telephone news conference.

Fukuda, Special Adviser to the WHO Director-General on Pandemic Influenza, said flu "activity continues at quite high levels in several different countries" notably the Czech Republic, France, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Switzerland.

Fukuda also noted that the signs of a peak and a decline in the caseload in North America and parts of Europe had occurred "extraordinarily early for influenza," with several months of the winter left.

As a result, the WHO could not rule out the possibility of another wave of illness in late winter or early spring.

"We simply are unable to answer this question right now. We continue to assess, right now we cannot predict whether we will see another upsurge in activity in the earlier parts of 2010," Fukuda said.

H1N1: Thailand Reports First Human-to-Pigs Transmission of Swine Flu

Thailand confirmed Thursday its first case of a pig infected with swine flu spread from humans, senior officials said.

Agriculture minister Thira Wongsamut said that one of 80 pigs in a sample group tested for the virus at Kasertsart University farm in the central province of Sara Buri had contracted A(H1N1) influenza.

"It was only in one sample that we found the A(H1N1)," Thira said.

The ministry has quarantined a five kilometre-radius around the farm, where university research is carried out, as a precautionary measure, he said, adding that new helth checks would be conducted at the farm every three days.

The ministry's permanent secretary Yukol Limlamthong said that none of the 132 workers at the university farm had contracted swine flu. He could not confirm if a research student had brought the virus in.

"We can not prove that, but the test results show the pigs contracted the virus from a human," Yukol said.

Thira said that eating pork did not pose a danger.

"The virus spread from human to pigs, as in several countries. We've had no case of it spreading from pigs to humans," he said.

Since the swine flu outbreak began in April, the ministry said it has tested more than 26,000 pigs for the virus.

It has confirmed 29,741 human cases of the flu and 190 of those were fatal.

The Thai government has a one-million dollar fund set aside to combat swine flu.

Natural human protein could prevent H1N1: study

Natural human protein could prevent H1N1: study

A strain of natural human proteins have been found to help ward off swine flu and other viruses including West Nile and dengue, in a discovery that could spur more effective treatments, US researchers said Thursday.

In cultured human cells, researchers lead by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) found that these certain proteins have powerful antiviral effects by blocking the replication of viruses.

The findings, reported Thursday in an online article from the journal Cell, "could lead to the development of more effective antiviral drugs, including prophylactic drugs that could be used to slow influenza transmission," the team said.

The influenza virus, along with the other viruses, must take over proteins in cells to sustain itself. In their study, researchers found some 120 genes that are needed by H1N1 -- commonly known as swine flu.

"But in the process of figuring that out, we found this other class of genes that actually have the opposite effect, so that if you get rid of them, influenza replicates much better," according to HHMI team leader Stephen Elledge at the Harvard Medical School.

Dark Matter - The first glimpses?

BBC News - The first glimpse of dark matter?

Computer generated image of the Universe, in which dark matter is shown in pink

US scientists have reported the detection of signals that could indicate the presence of dark matter.

A team announced on Thursday detecting two events with characteristics "consistent with" what physicists believe make up the elusive matter.

The main announcement came from the Department of Energy's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory near Chicago.

The scientists were keen to stress that they could not confirm that what they had seen was definitely dark matter.

"While this result is consistent with dark matter, it is also consistent with backgrounds," said Fermilab's director, Pier Oddone.

Several US universities and institutes have contributed to the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search (CDMS), an experiment designed to detect the dark matter particles.

Cosmic Treasure Trove of Heavy Metals Found

Cosmic Treasure Trove of Heavy Metals Found

An orbiting X-ray observatory has found the largest known reservoir of rare heavy metals in the universe.

The lightweights of the periodic table, hydrogen and helium, are the most abundant elements in the cosmos — they're the key fuels of stellar engines.

But more familiar to us Earthlings are the heavier elements that make up the rest of the table, though these heftier elements are rare in the universe at large.

Recently, astronomers used the Suzaku orbiting X-ray observatory, operated jointly by NASA and the Japanese space agency, to discover the largest known cache of rare metals in the universe to date.

Suzaku detected the elements chromium and manganese while observing the central region of the Perseus galaxy cluster, which lies 225 million light-years from Earth. The metallic atoms are part of the hot gas, or intergalactic medium, that lies between 190 galaxies within the cluster.

"This is the first detection of chromium and manganese from a cluster," says Takayuki Tamura, an astrophysicist at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency who led the Perseus study. "Previously, these metals were detected only from stars in the Milky Way or from other galaxies. This is the first detection in intergalactic space."

Closest Black Hole is Closer to Earth Than Thought

Wow! Closest Black Hole is Closer to Earth Than Thought

Astronomers have accurately measured the distance between Earth and a particular black hole for the first time. And wow, is it close.

The researchers determined that the black hole V404 Cygni is located 7,800 light-years from Earth — or just slightly more than half the distance that was previously assumed.

That puts it relatively nearby to Earth, where the distance to the center of the galaxy is about 26,000 light-years, and the nearest star beyond the sun is a mere 4.2 light-years away.

The more accurate distance measurement will enable scientists to paint a better picture of how black holes evolve, the team says.

"For example, we hope to be able to answer the question as to whether there is a difference between black holes that evolve directly from the collapse of a star without a supernova and black holes that evolve via a supernova and a temporary intermediate star," said study team member Peter Jonker of SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research.

"We expect that the black holes in the last group can get a kick. Black holes formed in this way could then move through space faster."

NASA: Launches WISE - InfraRed Sky-mapping Telescope

NASA Launches WISE - The InfraRed Sky-mapping Telescope

NASA launched a new space observatory Monday to scan the skies for new celestial objects in infrared light.

The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) lifted off atop a Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 9:09 a.m. EDT (1409 GMT) on Monday.

The launch was originally scheduled for Friday, but NASA delayed it to allow engineers to fix a glitch on the rocket's booster steering engine. The issue was resolved and the launch went off seemingly without a hitch.

NASA's new telescope will view the heavens with infrared eyes, which see long-wavelength light that is shrouded from optical lenses. The $320 million spacecraft is designed to survey the entire heavens in about six months, creating an all-sky map of the universe in infrared light.

"The infrared is important to us in astronomy because it shows us where the cool things are in the universe, things much cooler than the sun," said Jon Morse, director of astrophysics at NASA, during a Wednesday briefing. "The universe looks much different in infrared."

Cosmic Christmas Spotted in Space

This Hubble photo of 30 Doradus was taken Oct. 20-27, 2009. The blue color is light from the hottest, most massive stars; the green from the glow of oxygen; and the red from fluorescing hydrogen. Credit: NASA, ESA, and F. Paresce (INAF-IASF, Bologna, Italy), R. O'Connell (University of Virginia, Charlottesville), and the Wide Field Camera 3 -- Cosmic Christmas Spotted in Space

The Hubble Space Telescope has captured a festive view of the cosmos in time for the holiday season, with some saying the picture of a star nursery looks like a wreath, maybe a Christmas tree, or even Santa.

The spacecraft observed a group of young stars called R136, which is only a few million years old and inhabits the 30 Doradus Nebula, part of a relatively nearby satellite galaxy of our Milky Way called the Large Magellanic Cloud.

In the photograph, hundreds of brilliant blue stars are surrounded by a ring of warm, glowing orange clouds of dust. The colorful portrait evokes a giant wreath of pine boughs studded with glowing jewels — sort of. And in the hollow center, the dark shadow has the distinct silhouette of a Christmas tree. Really!

Finally, if flipped 90 degrees clockwise, the image even resembles the face and beard of Santa Claus himself. Somewhat.

Well, whether or not this heavenly view actually has anything to do with the season on Earth, it does teach scientists about what's happening up above.

Dark Heart of a Nebula Finally Photographed -- Dark Heart of a Nebula Finally Photographed

A dark cloud at the heart of the Eagle Nebula had gone unseen until the Herschel Space Observatory peered inside for a new look, released today.

The nebula is a star-forming region about 1,000 light-years away in the constellation Aquila, the Eagle. A light-year is the distance light will travel in a year, or about 6 trillion miles (10 trillion km).

Telescopes had not been able to penetrate the thick dark clouds at the very center of this stellar nursery. Herschel used its strong sensitivity at the longest wavelengths of infrared light to probe into this shrouded region.

The resulting photograph reveals roughly 700 newly-forming stars stretched along filaments of dust spanning the 65 light-year-wide image. The dust and gas in the filaments are at various stages of condensing to become stars someday. Once they become dense enough to ignite nuclear fusion in their cores, the objects are considered true stars.

Three Russian Navigation Satellites Launch From Kazakhstan -- Three Russian Navigation Satellites Launch From Kazakhstan

Flying for the 350th time, a Proton rocket launched three new satellites for Russia's space navigation network Monday to ensure the system continues providing coverage of its home territory.

The Glonass spacecraft launched at 1038 GMT (5:38 a.m. EST) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in central Kazakhstan. The silver and white launcher, propelled by hydrazine fuel, ignited and quickly roared away from the space center on the power of six main engines.

The Proton's three core stages placed the Block DM upper stage and three Glonass satellites in a temporary parking orbit less than 10 minutes after liftoff.

Two burns of the Block DM upper stage were planned to put the satellites in a circular orbit 12,000 miles high with an inclination of 64.8 degrees. The Glonass payloads were deployed shortly after 1400 GMT (9 a.m. EST).

The Russian Space Agency said the upper stage released the satellites into the expected orbit.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

ESA Casini: Reflection of Sunlight off Titan Lake

This image shows the first flash of sunlight reflected off a lake on Saturn’s moon Titan.

The glint off a mirror-like surface is known as a specular reflection. This kind of glint was detected by the visual and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIMS) on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on July 8, 2009.

It confirmed the presence of liquid in the moon’s northern hemisphere, where lakes are more numerous and larger than those in the southern hemisphere.

Scientists using VIMS had confirmed the presence of liquid in Ontario Lacus, the largest lake in the southern hemisphere, in 2008.

The northern hemisphere was shrouded in darkness for nearly 15 years, but the sun began to illuminate the area again as it approached its spring equinox in August 2009. VIMS was able to detect the glint as the viewing geometry changed.

Titan’s hazy atmosphere also scatters and absorbs many wavelengths of light, including most of the visible light spectrum. But the VIMS instrument enabled scientists to look for the glint in infrared wavelengths that were able to penetrate through the moon’s atmosphere. This image was created using wavelengths of light in the 5 micron range.

By comparing the new image to radar and near-infrared light images acquired from 2006 to 2008, Cassini scientists were able to correlate the reflection to the southern shoreline of a Titan lake called Kraken Mare.

The sprawling Kraken Mare covers about 400,000 square kilometers (150,000 square miles). The reflection appeared to come from a part of the lake around 71 degrees north latitude and 337 degrees west latitude.

It was taken on Cassini’s 59th flyby of Titan on July 8, 2009, at a distance of about 200,000 kilometers (120,000 miles). The image resolution was about 100 kilometers (60 miles) per pixel. Image processing was done at the German Aerospace Center in Berlin and the University of Arizona in Tucson.

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 The visual and infrared mapping spectrometer team homepage is at

NASA: Scientists very excited by Earth-like Planet Discovery

Meet GJ 1214b, the most Earth-like planet ever found outside our solar system.

It’s not exactly Earth’s twin: It’s about six times bigger, a whole lot hotter and made mostly of water.
But compared to the giant gas balls that account for nearly every other extrasolar planet ever found, it’s pretty darn close.
And through a fortunate happenstance of cosmic geometry, astronomers will be able to study GJ 1214b in great detail.

“If you want to describe in one sentence what this planet is, it’s a big, hot ocean,” said Harvard University astronomer David Charbonneau. “We can even study its atmosphere. This planet will occupy us for years. That’s part of what’s so exciting about it.”

Described by Charbonneau and 17 other astronomers in a paper published Wednesday in Nature, GJ 1214b is the latest of roughly 400 planets detected by earthly telescopes. Of these, 28 are considered “super-Earths” — planets with a mass roughly comparable to our own.

The super-Earths themselves are too distant to be seen. Instead, astronomers infer their presence from subtle distortions in starlight, caused when photons travel through the super-Earths’ gravitational fields. Depending on the degree of distortion, astronomers can even calculate a planet’s mass.

That’s how Corot-7b, a rocky planet with roughly twice the heft of Earth, was spotted in February. Ditto Gliese 581c, identified two months later, and orbiting its star at a distance consistent with human notions of habitability.

Unfortunately, not much more will ever be known about those planets. Corot-7b is 500 light-years away, too distant for our telescopes to discern more detail. And from our viewing angle, Gliese 581c never quite crosses directly in front of its sun, causing photons to warp in ways that would reveal its atmospheric character.

GJ 1214b does pass in front of its sun. Separated from Earth by a distance of just 42 light years, it’s close enough to be studied. Scientists will finally get to look at another Earth-like world.

“Only rarely does a long-sought scientific frontier loom so prominently just beyond the horizon, that the next generation of instruments seems sure to reach it,” wrote Geoffrey Marcey, a University of California, Berkeley astronomer, in a commentary accompanying the findings. “They provide the most-watertight evidence so far for a planet that is something like our own Earth, outside our solar system.”

Based on its radius and mass — about 2.7 and 6.6 times that of Earth’s — Charbonneau and the other astronomers have calculated GJ 1214b’s density. It appears to be composed of extraordinarily deep oceans, surrounding a rocky core.

The planet’s atmosphere and precise composition remain a mystery, but it’s likely composed of many of the same elements found elsewhere at sites of planetary formation, in swirling disks of dust and gas that have yet to accrete: hydrogen, helium, nitrogen, magnesium, oxygen, carbon.

That list of ingredients raises at least the possibility of life. With an estimated temperature of 370 degrees Fahrenheit, GJ 1214b is an unlikely incubator (Earth’s toughest extremophile, a microbe that lives in deep-sea volcanic vents, maxes out at 284 degrees) but it’s not impossible.

“I don’t want to imply that there’s any indication of life as we know it. It might have life, but it would have to be a strange kind of life,” said Charbonneau.

The telescopes sure to be trained on GJ 1214b in the near future will try to answer that question. But even if it proves barren, other planets await. The telescopes that spotted GJ 1214b were custom designed to find Earth-like planets around nearby stars, and had only operated for a few months before striking water.

“We only look at a handful of stars before finding this planet, said Charbonneau. “Either we got lucky, or the planets are very common.”

Irag and Afghan Insurgents Hacking into Drones' Video footage

The remotely piloted aircraft has become a key weapon in the fights in Afghanistan and Iraq. It costs millions of dollars apiece, and with the help of cheap software, insurgents can intercept the live video feeds from the drones.

Using software programs such as Skygrabber, which costs $26 and copies are widely available for free online, insurgents can exploit a security hole in the system to get a look at exactly what U.S. personnel are seeing.

Most of the hacking discoveries have been in Iraq, but officials have found evidence that it is going on in Afghanistan as well. Although it doesn't seem like militants can actually take control of the drones, just being able to take a look at what they are recording could be of tremendous help to escape the watchful eye of the United States.

American officials have known about this vulnerability for years, but they didn't think enemies would know how to take advantage of it. There's been some attempt at encryption, but it's no easy proposition and could hurt the ability to act on the information quickly.

Now the United States is getting ready to spend as much as $4.5 billion to buy new-generation drones that have the same vulnerability.

Brazilian boy turtured wit 50 metal sewing needles stuck in him

BRASILIA, Brazil — A 2-year-old Brazilian boy has as many as 50 metal sewing needles inside his body and a doctor treating the boy said Wednesday they were apparently stuck there one by one.

Dr. Luiz Cesar Soltoski told The Associated Press that surgeons hope to remove most of the needles — some as long as 2 inches (5 centimeters) — but because some are stuck in his lungs, they have to wait until the child's breathing improves.

Some cannot be removed; they are too close to vital organs or actually inside them, Soltoski said.

The boy's mother, a maid, brought him to a hospital in the small northeastern city of Ibotirama on Thursday, saying he was complaining of pain. Three days later, after X-rays revealed some of the needles, doctors had him shifted to a larger hospital in Barreiras.

The mother told police she doesn't know how the needles got inside her son, but police have opened an investigation. The boy's name was withheld because of his age.

Soltoski said he believes the needles were stuck into his body one by one because it would have been impossible for him to swallow them.

"We think it could have only been by penetration because we found needles in the lung, the left leg and in different parts of the thorax. It couldn't have been by ingestion," Soltoski said.

Doctors found no signs of outside wounds the boy, but X-ray images carried by Brazilian Web sites clearly showed some of the needles inside his body.

The boy is in intensive care, but Soltoski said his condition has improved since he was admitted