Tuesday, November 30, 2010

NASA MARS MAHLI Camera Image: Grains of Sand

This view of grains from a sand dune near Christmas Lake, Ore., was taken by a test version of the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera on Curiosity, NASA's Mars Science Laboratory, which is slated to launch in fall 2011.

The image includes three manufactured spheres; each is a 2-millimeter-diameter (0.08-inch-diameter) ball bearing, placed to provide an independent measure of the image scale. Reflected in each sphere is the glow from the camera's four white LEDs (light-emitting diodes).

This image has a resolution of 15.4 microns per pixel, which is about twice as high as the camera resolution on Mars Rovers Spirit and Opportunity. The view covers an area about 1 inch, or 2.5 centimeters, across.

Geologists can examine an image like this for information about the composition of the sand. In this case, the largest white grains are pumice fragments and the dark black and gray grains are fragments of basalt.

Nearly transparent, slightly yellow crystals are feldspars. The crystals and pumice were erupted by Mount Mazama in its terminal explosion about 7,700 years ago; the volcano is known today as Crater Lake.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems

NASA AMES Ice Bridge Programme

Monitoring the state of the ice caps is particularly important.

That’s why NASA is keeping a close eye on the ice caps. But this time, the agency is doing so right here from earth. SmartPlanet interviewed Steve Hipskind, division chief of NASA’s Earth Sciences Division, about NASA’s Operation Ice Bridge mission.

Tungurahua volcano in Ecuador

The Tungurahua volcano in Cotalo, in the Andean Ecuador, erupts.

New De Lorean model released

Looking for a Christmas present for the geek who has everything?

How about this - a detailed 1:18 scale model of the Delorean from the Back to the Future movies, which is also a 500GB hard drive?

The $250 cars-shaped hard drive features gull wing doors an opening bonnet and even a replica of the reactor needed for time travel. It simply plugs into your PC's USB socket and you can utilise the Seagate storage hidden within.

Dave Hersch of US company Flash Rods says: "After four years of engineering, it's finally out and worth the wait. This is one of the coolest hard drive cars we have ever made.

It would be hard to have more fun than this rolling around your desk top."

Picture: Flash Rods / Rex Features

Monday, November 29, 2010

Photographic Evidence Proves That Squid Can Fly

Once, while boating off the coast of Jamaica in 2001, marine biologist Silvia Maciá and her husband caught a glimpse of an oddly familiar creature leaping from the waves, soaring with ease over the surface of the ocean.

As the animal propelled itself for some 30 feet, Maciá realised she was witnessing the most unusual sight -- a flying squid.

So intrigued by what she saw that day, Maciá would go on to co-author a paper examining similar observations, though essential photographic evidence of the incredible phenomenon remained elusive, until now.

Maciá's study, featured in a 2004 issue of the Journal of Molluscan Studies, found that the gliding behavior of her squid wasn't entirely uncommon, noting around six species known to leap from the water -- occasionally winding up on the decks of boats. But from she witnessed that day near Jamaica, squids weren't just exiting the water aimlessly. Rather, they appeared to be flying.

"From our observations it seemed like squid engaged in behaviors to prolong their flight," she said. "One of our co-authors saw them actually flapping their fins. Some people have seen them jetting water while in flight. We felt that 'flight' is more appropriate because it implies something active."

But unfortunately such eyewitness accounts were all that the scientific community had to go on. Soon, however, that would change.

According to Ferris Jabr, who wrote of the mystery surrounding flying squid in a piece for Scientific American, undeniable proof of the cephalopod's airborne antics surfaced just recently.

From the deck of a cruise ship along the coast of Brazil, a retiree named Bob Hulse snapped some high-resolution photographs of something unusual leaping from the sea: what appears to be dozens of squid propelling themselves through the air -- quite possibly the first time the impressive display has been caught on film.

More here Photographic Evidence Proves That Squid Can Fly : TreeHugger

ESA Observing the Earth: UN Climate Change Conference 2010

The Climate Change Initiative (COP16) will combine data from satellites going back three decades with observations from new missions to produce consistent, long-term records for a wide range of essential climate variables such as sea level rise, ice extent and thickness, sea-surface temperature, and vegetation cover.
Climate research and modelling communities worldwide will have free access to these data.
The information is required by the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) to support the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the scientific work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

ESA will maintain an exhibit throughout COP16 (the 16th Conference of the Parties) and host a special side event on the Climate Change Initiative on 2 December, where top climate scientists will show examples of essential climate variables – such as sea level trends and forest fires) explaining how they are used to develop and validate climate models.

The coordinated efforts of space agencies worldwide to provide climate data will also be outlined.

The event will highlight the contribution of ESA’s Living Planet Programme, including two decades of observations from ERS and Enivsat, the recent Earth Explorer scientific missions and the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) operational programme, which will maintain a constellation of satellites continuously monitoring 24 of the 44 essential climate variables for the next three decades.

New Research: Prostrate Cancer Tumour Imaging

More than 200,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year and 28,000 die from it, making it one of the most common cancer in men nationwide and also one of the leading causes of cancer death in men, according to the Centres for Disease Control.

Yet the disease ranges widely in its rate of growth and aggressiveness, according to John Kurhanewicz, PhD, a UCSF expert in prostate cancer imaging. As a result, there is great debate over the ideal strategy for treating the disease, he said, leaving patients with a difficult and potentially life-changing decision over how aggressively to respond to the disease.

“This test could give both physicians and patients the information they need to make that decision,” said Kurhanewicz, whose work with Dan Vigneron, PhD, and their colleagues from the UCSF Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging first linked a prostate tumour’s production of lactate to tumour aggressiveness. Other researchers also have linked that lactate production to tumour aggressiveness and response to therapy in other cancers.

The method uses compounds involved in normal tissue function — in this case, pyruvate, which is a naturally occurring by-product of glucose, and lactate, also known as lactic acid — and uses newly developed equipment to increase the visibility of those compounds by a factor of 50,000 in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner.

That process requires pyruvate to be prepared in a strong magnetic field at a temperature of minus 272O C, then rapidly warmed to body temperature and transferred to the patient in an MRI scanner before the polarisation decays back to its native state.

The result is a highly defined and clear image of the tumour’s outline, as well as a graph of the amount of pyruvate in the tumour and the rate at which the tumour converts the pyruvate into lactate.

The sterile production process requires a dedicated clinical pharmacist with the knowledge of both quality control and of clinical practice.

The procedure must take place within minutes, which meant integrating a clean room into the scanning facility. QB3 also worked with GE Healthcare in designing Byers Hall, in which the Surbeck Laboratory of Advanced Imaging is housed, to accommodate the extremely strong magnetic field of the MRI scanner and enable time-sensitive experiments.

“All of that insight is why we moved this technology to Northern California,” said Jonathan Murray, general manager, Metabolic Imaging at GE Healthcare. “This is a huge accomplishment UCSF and QB3 have achieved.

They brought together the best engineering from UC Berkeley and the best bioscience and pharmacy knowledge from UCSF, and are now demonstrating the technology in a world-renowned academic medical centre.

We are delighted with the speed of progress of this collaboration. The science is very exciting.”

Exotic Jellyfish Feeding flow

Exotic Jellyfish Feeding flow

Telomerase: The enzyme of DNA life and death

Weihang Chai of Washington State University, found a way to kill cancer cells by deactivating the enzyme telomerase, and thus causing them to age and die like normal cells.

Telomerase acts on the ends of DNA strands, which are called telomeres. The 2009 Nobel Prize in Medicine was given for research showing how this works, the telomerase building the equivalent of caps at the end of DNA shoelaces.

If the enzyme keeps building new caps, a DNA strand can replicate indefinitely. It’s immortal. But that’s what differentiates cancer cells from “normal” ones — they have the enzyme, they have the secret to immortality. An immortality which kills its host, namely you.

Now Harvard scientists have opened this door, using telomerase to reverse the aging process in mice. Writing in the journal Nature, a group under Ronald DePinho (above, from Harvard) say they “engineered a knock-in allele” that turned the cap-making process back on, making old mice young again.

Here’s the problem. Mice make telomerase throughout their lives. People stop making it once we’re grown.
It may be possible to add telomerase to the human body and halt the aging process, in other words. But the word for that may well be cancer.

This may be the most bittersweet irony I have ever covered for SmartPlanet. Cancer is caused by the same chemical that can make cells immortal.

Physiotherapy, Exoskeletons and Robocop

Mercy Retriever removes dangerous blood clots from patients' brains

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

NASA JPL LISA Team: Listening for Gravitational Waves

The JPL team is one of many groups working on LISA, a joint European Space Agency and NASA mission proposal, which, if selected, would launch in 2020 or later.

In August of this year, LISA was given a high recommendation by the 2010 U.S. National Research Council decadal report on astronomy and astrophysics.

One of LISA's primary goals is to detect gravitational waves directly. Studies of these cosmic waves began in earnest decades ago when, in 1974, researchers discovered a pair of orbiting dead stars -- a type called pulsars -- that were spiraling closer and closer together due to an unexplainable loss of energy.

That energy was later shown to be in the form of gravitational waves. This was the first indirect proof of the waves, and ultimately earned the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physics.

LISA is expected to not only "hear" the waves, but also learn more about their sources -- massive objects such as black holes and dead stars, which sing the waves like melodies out to the universe as the objects accelerate through space and time.

The mission would be able to detect gravitational waves from massive objects in our Milky Way galaxy as well as distant galaxies, allowing scientists to tune into an entirely new language of our universe.

The proposed mission would amount to a giant triangle of three distinct spacecraft, each connected by laser beams. These spacecraft would fly in formation around the sun, about 20 degrees behind Earth. Each one would hold a cube made of platinum and gold that floats freely in space.

As gravitational waves pass by the spacecraft, they would cause the distance between the cubes, or test masses, to change by almost imperceptible amounts -- but enough for LISA's extremely sensitive instruments to be able to detect corresponding changes in the connecting laser beams.

"The gravitational waves will cause the 'corks' to bob around, but just by a tiny bit," said Glenn de Vine, a research scientist and co-author of the recent study at JPL. "My friend once said it's sort of like rubber duckies bouncing around in a bathtub."

The JPL team has spent the last six years working on aspects of this LISA technology, including instruments called phase meters, which are sophisticated laser beam detectors.

The latest research accomplishes one of their main goals -- to reduce the laser noise detected by the phase meters by one billion times, or enough to detect the signal of gravitational waves.

NASA ISS Expedition 25 Crew returns safely

Expedition 25 Commander Doug Wheelock and Flight Engineers Shannon Walker and Fyodor Yurchikhin safely landed their Soyuz spacecraft on the Kazakhstan steppe Thursday, wrapping up a five-month stay aboard the International Space Station.

Russian cosmonaut Yurchikhin, the Soyuz commander, was at the controls of the spacecraft as it undocked at 8:23 p.m. EST from the station's Rassvet module. The trio landed at 11:46 p.m. (10:46 a.m. on Nov. 26 local time) at a site northeast of the town of Arkalyk.

Working in frigid temperatures, Russian recovery teams were on hand within minutes to help the crew exit the Soyuz vehicle and re-adjust to gravity.

› View video of Soyuz landing

The trio launched aboard the Soyuz TMA-19 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on June 15. As members of the Expedition 24 and 25 crews, they spent 163 days in space, 161 of them aboard the station, and celebrated the 10th anniversary of continuous human life, work and research by international crews aboard the station on Nov. 2.

During their mission, the Expedition 24 and 25 crew members worked on more than 120 microgravity experiments in human research; biology and biotechnology; physical and materials sciences; technology development; and Earth and space sciences.

NASA Cassini Image: Ethereal Atmosphere of Rhea

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has detected a very tenuous atmosphere known as an exosphere, infused with oxygen and carbon dioxide around Saturn's icy moon Rhea.

This is the first time a spacecraft has directly captured molecules of an oxygen atmosphere – albeit a very thin one -- at a world other than Earth.

The oxygen appears to arise when Saturn's magnetic field rotates over Rhea.

Energetic particles trapped in the planet's magnetic field pepper the moon’s water-ice surface. They cause chemical reactions that decompose the surface and release oxygen. The source of the carbon dioxide is less certain.

Oxygen at Rhea's surface is estimated to be about 5 trillion times less dense than what we have at Earth. But the new results show that surface decomposition could contribute abundant molecules of oxygen, leading to surface densities roughly 100 times greater than the exospheres of either Earth's moon or Mercury.

The formation of oxygen and carbon dioxide could possibly drive complex chemistry on the surfaces of many icy bodies in the universe.

"The new results suggest that active, complex chemistry involving oxygen may be quite common throughout the solar system and even our universe," said lead author Ben Teolis, a Cassini team scientist based at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.

"Such chemistry could be a prerequisite for life. All evidence from Cassini indicates that Rhea is too cold and devoid of the liquid water necessary for life as we know it."

Releasing oxygen through surface irradiation could help generate conditions favorable for life at an icy body other than Rhea that has liquid water under the surface, Teolis said.

If the oxygen and carbon dioxide from the surface could somehow get transported down to a sub-surface ocean, that would provide a much more hospitable environment for more complex compounds and life to form.

Scientists are keen to investigate whether life on icy moons with an ocean is possible, though they have not yet detected it.

The tenuous atmosphere with oxygen and carbon dioxide makes Rhea, Saturn's second largest moon, unique in the Saturnian system. Titan has a thick nitrogen-methane atmosphere, but very little carbon dioxide and oxygen.

"Rhea is turning out to be much more interesting than we had imagined," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

"The Cassini finding highlights the rich diversity of Saturn’s moons and gives us clues on how they formed and evolved."

NASA Cassini Image: Trailing Hemisphere of Rhea

The Cassini spacecraft looks toward the cratered plains of the trailing hemisphere of Rhea.

Some of the moon's fractures, appearing like wispy bright lines, can be seen on the left of the image. Rhea's north pole is up and rotated 3 degrees to the right. The moon is 1,528 kilometers (949 miles) across.

The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Nov. 21, 2009.

The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 30,000 kilometers (19,000 miles) from Rhea and at a Sun-Rhea-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 27 degrees. Image scale is 2 kilometers (1 mile) per pixel.

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 and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.

Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Extraverts Are Not Always the Most Successful Leaders

You may find it difficult to accept but Introverted leaders can be more effective than Extraverts in certain circumstances.

It all depends on who the leaders are managing, according to Grant and co-authors Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School and David Hofmann of the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School.

Their paper, forthcoming in the Academy of Management Journal, is titled "Reversing the Extraverted Leadership Advantage: The Role of Employee Proactivity."

Extraverted leadership involves commanding the center of attention: being outgoing, assertive, bold, talkative and dominant. This offers the advantages of providing a clear authority structure and direction.

However, pairing extraverted leaders with employees who take initiative and speak out can lead to friction, while pairing the same group of employees with an introverted leader can be a pathway to success, the researchers note.

This has implications for leaders and managers at all levels who want to improve their own leadership styles.

"If you look at existing leadership research, extraversion stands out as the most consistent and robust predictor of who becomes a leader and who is rated as an effective leader," Grant says. "But I thought this was simplistic and incomplete. It tells us very little about the situations in which introverted leaders can be more effective than extraverted leaders."

Read more at www.knowledge.wharton

Vaccine to kill Tumour Cells

This study examines patients with colorectal cancer. Dr. Richard Barth, a Dartmouth surgeon and the author of the study, operated on 26 patients whose colorectal cancer had metastasised to the liver.

In such a situation, patients are expected to die from tiny undetectable metastases that escape the surgeon's scalpel.

But here's where Dr Barth and his colleagues tried something different. They took proteins from the patient's tumor and mixed them with a certain kind of cell grown from the patient's blood.

The personalised vaccines were injected into each patient a month after surgery. Barth was able to determine that about 60% of the patients developed an immune response from the vaccine.

About five years later, he was able to compare the clinical outcomes between those who had had an immune response, and those who had not. Of the group who did not have an immune response from the vaccine, only 18% were alive and tumor-free.

Of the group who did have an immune response from the vaccine, 63% were alive and tumor-free--a remarkable result indeed. (The vaccine approach has the added benefit of being non-toxic, in contrast to chemo.)

The results were published this week in the journal Clinical Cancer Research. This is not the first time doctors have tried to fight fire with fire (or rather, tumor with tumor).

Dr Barth has been trying it on mice and humans for over a decade. And other clinical researchers had tried it as well--but without much success. Researchers were hoping that tumor-derived vaccines could actually attack and kill fully-grown tumors, rather than the microscopic metastases.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Nasa ISS crew return: Soyuz TMA-19 Landing

The Soyuz TMA-19 spacecraft lands near the town of Arkalyk in northern Kazakhstan.

The spacecraft manned by commander Fyodor Yurichikhin and NASA's Douglas Wheelock and Shannon Walker landed safely.

Picture: REUTERS

Thursday, November 25, 2010

ESA Ariena-5 Mission: IntelSat-17 and HYLAS-1 satellites

The fifth Ariane 5 mission of 2010 was given the go-ahead today for its November 26 liftoff with Arianespace’s dual payload of the Intelsat 17 and HYLAS 1 satellites.

This authorisation followed the completion of today’s launch readiness review, which validates to “go” status of the heavy-lift Ariane 5, its two spacecraft passengers, the launch infrastructure at the Spaceport in French Guiana, and the network of down-range tracking stations.

With the successful review, Ariane 5 is cleared for tomorrow’s rollout from the Spaceport’s Final Assembly Building to the ELA-3 launch zone, where it will be readied for liftoff on Friday during an early launch window that opens at 3:39 p.m. local time in French Guiana and continues to 6:54 p.m.

For this 198th mission of an Ariane family launcher – and the 54th flight for Ariane 5 – the launch vehicle will deliver an estimated 8,870 kg. total payload, of which approximately 8,070 kg. is the combined mass of Intelsat 17 and HYLAS 1, with the remaining weight represented by the SYLDA dispenser system and integration hardware.

During the 49 min. flight, Intelsat 17 will be released first, followed by HYLAS 1. 

Intelsat 17 will provide telecommunications coverage over Europe, Africa, the Middle East and India for Intelsat – the leading provider of fixed satellite services worldwide. HYLAS 1 is the first broadband services platform for Avanti Communications, and will offer two-way data services across Europe.

NASA Landsat-7 Image: Great Barrier Reef

What might be mistaken for dinosaur bones being unearthed at a paleontological dig are some of the individual reefs that make up the Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest tropical coral reef system.

The reef stretches more than 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) along the coast of Queensland, Australia.

It supports astoundingly complex and diverse communities of marine life and is the largest structure on the planet built by living organisms.

Credit: USGS/NASA/Landsat 7

To learn more about the Landsat satellite go to: landsat.gsfc.nasa.gov/

NASA Landsat-7 Image: Saudi Arabia and Yemen

Description: White pinpricks of cloud cast ebony shadows on the Rub' al Khali, or Empty Quarter, near the border between Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

The lines of wind-sculpted sand are characteristic of immense sand deserts, or sand seas, and the Rub' al Khali is the largest desert of this type in the world.

A highland ridge is just high enough to disturb the flow of the lines. In the center of that interruption lies the Saudi Arabian town of Sharurah.

Credit: USGS/NASA/Landsat 7

To learn more about the Landsat satellite go to: landsat.gsfc.nasa.gov/

NASA Landsat-7 Image: Mighty Mississippi

Description: Small, blocky shapes of towns, fields, and pastures surround the graceful swirls and whorls of the Mississippi River.

Countless oxbow lakes and cutoffs accompany the meandering river south of Memphis, Tennessee, on the border between Arkansas and Mississippi, USA.

The "mighty Mississippi" is the largest river system in North America.

Credit: USGS/NASA/Landsat 7

To learn more about the Landsat satellite go to: landsat.gsfc.nasa.gov/

NASA Landsat-5 Image: Siberia, Chaunskaya Bay

Vivid colors and bizarre shapes come together in an image that could be an imaginative illustration for a fantasy story.

This labyrinth of exotic features is present along the edge of Russia's Chaunskaya Bay (vivid blue half circle) in northeastern Siberia.

Two major rivers, the Chaun and Palyavaam, flow into the bay, which in turn opens into the Arctic Ocean. Ribbon lakes and bogs are present throughout the area, created by depressions left by receding glaciers.

Credit: USGS/NASA/Landsat 5

To learn more about the Landsat satellite go to: landsat.gsfc.nasa.gov/

Green Phytoplankton Image

Description: In the style of Van Gogh's painting "Starry Night," massive congregations of greenish phytoplankton swirl in the dark water around Gotland, a Swedish island in the Baltic Sea.

Phytoplankton are microscopic marine plants that form the first link in nearly all ocean food chains.

Population explosions, or blooms, of phytoplankton, like the one shown here, occur when deep currents bring nutrients up to sunlit surface waters, fueling the growth and reproduction of these tiny plants.

Credit: USGS/NASA/Landsat 7

To learn more about the Landsat satellite go to: landsat.gsfc.nasa.gov/

ESA Bulletin: November

Set for launch next month and codenamed ‘MagISStra’, the next ESA astronaut flight will see Italian Paolo Nespoli fly to the International Space Station for a six-month stay in space.

Read the ESA Bulletin and other publications online, with their visualiser tool Read online

Cassini Image: Saturn's Rings and Prometheus

A crescent Saturn appears nestled within encircling rings in this Cassini spacecraft image.

Clouds swirl through the atmosphere of the planet and a barely visible Prometheus orbits between the planet's main rings and its the thin F ring.

Saturn's moon Prometheus appears as a speck above the rings near the middle of the image.

This view looks toward the southern, unilluminated side of the rings from about 3 degrees below the ringplane.

The image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft's wide-angle camera on Sept. 14, 2010, and was obtained at a distance of approximately 1.6 million miles, or 2.6 million kilometers, from Saturn and at a sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 100 degrees.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

NASA ISS Image: Harrat Khaybar, Saudi Arabia

Harrat Khaybar, Saudi Arabia lies in the western half of the Arabian peninsula and contains not only large expanses of sand and gravel, but also extensive lava fields known as haraat (harrat for a named field).

According to scientists, the volcanic field was formed by eruptions along a long north-south linear vent system over the past 5 million years; the most recent recorded eruption took place between 600-700 A.D.

The presence of tuff cones -- formed by eruption of lava in the presence of water together with other volcanic features indicative of water -- in the Harrat Khaybar suggest that the local climate was much wetter during some periods of volcanic activity.

Today, however, the regional climate is hyperarid -- little to no yearly precipitation -- leading to an almost total lack of vegetation.

The image was taken by the Expedition 16 crew aboard the Inernational Space Station in March 2008.

Image Credit: NASA

NASA ISS Expedition 25 Return

Expedition 25 Commander Doug Wheelock ceremonially handed over command of the International Space Station to Flight Engineer and Expedition 26 Commander Scott Kelly Wednesday.

Wheelock and Flight Engineers Shannon Walker and Fyodor Yurchikhin are scheduled to land in Kazakhstan Thursday at 11:46 p.m. EST (Friday 10:46 a.m. Kazakhstan time).

When they undock in the Soyuz TMA-19 spacecraft at 8:23 p.m. Thursday Expedition 26 will officially begin. Remaining onboard the station will be Kelly and Flight Engineers Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka.

Yurchikhin spent time packing the Soyuz spacecraft for the trio’s departure.

Skripochka and Kaleri worked with the Russian SONOCARD experiment. SONOCARD collects physiological data during sleep to study the feasibility of obtaining real-time health data that could serve as a basis for evaluating and predicting the human body’s ability to adapt during long-duration spaceflight.

Walker collected samples for the Japanese experiment Mycological Evaluation of Crew Exposure to ISS Ambient Air, or MYCO.

The experiment determines which fungi act as allergens aboard the station by evaluating the risk of microorganisms via inhalation and adhesion to the skin of crew members.

Walker also aided Kelly as he collected blood samples for use in the station’s Human Research Facilities, or HRFs, and stored them in the Minus Eighty-Degree Laboratory Freezer for ISS.

The HRFs provide on-orbit laboratories that enable scientists conducting human life science research to evaluate the physiological, behavioral and chemical changes induced by spaceflight.

Wheelock participated in the Integrated Immune experiment, which assesses the clinical risks resulting from the adverse effects of spaceflight on the human immune system.

These assessments are used to develop a flight-compatible immune monitoring strategy.

Astronomers Probe 'Sandbar' Between Islands Of Galaxies

This diagram shows an unusual galaxy with bent jets.

The galaxy was found with the help of NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope in a filament (purple area) connecting two massive islands of galaxies.

The little dots in the diagram are other galaxies.

The twin jets of material are bending backwards as they sweep through the hot gas in the filament. Image credit:


Astronomers have caught sight of an unusual galaxy that has illuminated new details about a celestial "sandbar" connecting two massive islands of galaxies.

The research was conducted in part with NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope.

NASA Gemini North Telescope Image: Jupiter's Ring Re-appears

This image is a composite of three color images taken on Nov. 18, 2010, by the Gemini North telescope in Hawaii.

The composite image shows a belt that had previously vanished in Jupiter's atmosphere is now reappearing.

The three images used to make the composite were taken at three different parts of the infrared spectrum - 2.12 microns (blue), 1.69 microns (yellow) and 4.68 microns (red).

At 1.69 microns, scientists see sunlight reflected from Jupiter's main cloud deck - the same clouds they see in visible light.

At 2.12 microns, scientists see sunlight reflected from higher-altitude particles well above the main deck.

At 4.68 microns, scientists see thermal emission arising from the tops of Jupiter's clouds, with the hottest emissions coming from the deepest atmosphere and signifying regions with minimal overlying cloud cover.

The region just to the left of the center, inside the white box, shows the region of the South Equatorial Belt with an unusually bright spot, or outbreak.

One thing scientists were looking for in infrared was evidence that the darker material emerging to the west of the bright spot was the start of the clearing of the cloud deck.

The particles lofted by the initial outbreak are easily identified in yellow as high-altitude particles at the upper right, with a second outbreak to the lower left.

In the coming weeks, further outbreaks are expected to take place to the west (left) of those seen in this image, and the clear atmospheric regions will begin to fill this latitude band at the same time as the dark brown color typical of this region returns. Image credit:

NASA/JPL/UH/NIRI/Gemini/UC Berkeley

Iron man Suit: Image

XOS-2 test engineer Rex Jameson does push-ups during a demonstration at the Raytheon Sarcos research facility in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The Raytheon second generation Exoskeleton (XOS 2) makes any wearer a real life 'Iron Man'.

Developed by Salt Lake City based Raytheon Sarcos, the suit was designed to be used by the US military to allow one soldier to do the work of two or three, lifting heavy munitions, with an eye one day on bringing a field version for infantry into action.


Researchers Create a new light source

Scientists have created a completely new light source by getting light particles to act like atoms.

By cooling photons, the light particles condensed so they could behave like a single entity.

Researchers at the University of Bonn have shown that super particles can be made with light.

Albert Einstein and Satyendra Nath Bose thought this was possible back in 1925.

The Bonn researchers proved Einstein and Bose had the right instincts all along.

Why should you care? Well, the discovery could one day shrink electronic devices.

Until now, this behavior has only been seen in atoms. The applications of this physics breakthrough could one day be used to build more powerful computer chips and make lasers that work in the X-ray range.

Nobody has ever created a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC) with photons before. BECs are usually made with cold atoms of gas.

In the 1920s, it was thought this strange quantum phase of matter existed. If the atoms were cooled to close to absolute zero, then the atoms would be pushed into the same quantum state and they’d act as one.

Zeeya Merali wrote in Nature:
In 1995, two experimental groups independently produced the first examples of BECs with rubidium and sodium atoms. In theory, physicists knew that it should also be possible to form a BEC using particles of light, or photons. But in practice it seemed near impossible because, unlike atoms, the number of photons in an experiment is not conserved.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

ESA's Heart of Glass: Trackinside

What’s the best way to keep track of medicines or luxury goods? Just give them a number, of course. But what if the item you want to keep your eye on is made of glass?

Thanks to a new laser technology developed for space, a Belgian start-up company called Trackinside is now able to inscribe numbers in glass without cracking, heating or leaving any external marks on the glass.

“It’s the only technology that can mark glass without damaging it,” said Jean Michel Mestrez, Trackinside Managing Director.

The low-impact laser inscribes serial numbers inside, rather than on the surface, of the glass used in medical syringes, perfume vials or drinks bottles.

Herschel telescope at ESTEC, the Netherlands

The laser technology was initially developed in Belgium at the Centre Spatial de Liège (CSL), working with the LASEA CSL-spinoff group, which was initially devoted to developing cleaning processes using lasers.

CSL is a partner of the Belgian Space Technology Platform, ESA’s national technology transfer broker.

There, it was created for things like etching the surfaces of lenses and mirrors that would then be used in space telescopes and measuring equipment.

The ‘femtosecond laser’ works much like the laser used in eye surgery, where it beams energy through the surface of the eye to make incisions deep below.

Demo of Sunshine melting rock

ESA & NASA ExoMars contract proposal: Mission Rover

The industrial team leading Europe’s two-part ExoMars mission with NASA will submit a contract proposal in January valued at around 550 million euros ($753 million) for approval by the European Space Agency (ESA), the program manager for prime contractor Thales Alenia Space Italy said Nov. 24.

The 18-nation ESA has already spent nearly 200 million euros on the design and early development phases for ExoMars, which is a deep collaboration with NASA on missions set for launch in 2016 and 2018.

Both will be launched by NASA-provided Atlas 5 rockets as part of the division of roles agreed to between the two agencies.

NASA and ESA officials have said the missions, whose work shares took months to sort out, could serve as a model for a future global space-exploration strategy being developed by the world’s principal spacefaring nations.

The 2016 mission, to be led by ESA, will include a Mars telecommunications orbiter that will also examine the Mars atmosphere, and in particularl take a further look at still-unexplained methane concentrations that have given some hope that it might be a sign of biological life. It could also be geological activity on the planet.

This mission will also include an entry, descent and landing system, a 600-kilogram module that will land on the martian surface in the middle of the seasonal dust storm. It is designed to operate on the surface for less than two days.

The NASA-led 2018 mission will include NASA- and ESA-provided rovers to be lowered to the surface attached by tether to NASA’s sky crane, to be first used on the U.S. space agency’s Mars Science Laboratory mission.

The Mars Science Laboratory, a small-truck-sized rover, is scheduled for launch in late 2011. ExoMars program officials say the entry, descent and landing maneuver of the two rovers will be one of the mission’s most stressful moments.

NASA MODIS Image: Plankton Bloom off Namibia

A plankton bloom is pictured off the coast of The Republic of Namibia.

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Terra satellite captured this natural-colour image of ocean waters glowing a bright peacock green off the northern Namibian coast.


NASA Thematic Mapper on Landsat-5: Sivash Lagoons

A picture released by the Nasa Earth Observatory shows a natural-colour image captured by the Thematic Mapper on NASA's Landsat 5 satellite.

The shallow waters of a network of lagoons known as Sivash appear in shades of peach, mustard, lime green, brilliant blue, muted blue-green, beige, and brown.

From mainland Ukraine, the Crimean Peninsula extends southward into the Black Sea. The peninsula is bordered on the west by the Black Sea, and on the east by the Sea of Azov.

Stretching across the peninsula is a network of shallow, marshy inlets sprawling over roughly 1,000 square miles (2,600 square kilometres).

During the summer months, warmed marsh waters give off unpleasant odours, lending the region nicknames of Rotten Sea or Putrid Sea.

Picture: AFP/NASA

Fried Egg Jellyfish: Phacellophora camtschatica

This may look like a fried or poached egg floating in water, but it is in fact a fried egg jellyfish (Phacellophora camtschatica).

A batch of the unusual creatures - which are normally found in the Mediterranean - have been born at the Basel Zoo in Switzerland

London, Brussels and Amsterdam from Space

London – Brussels – Antwerp – Rotterdam – Amsterdam and seemingly countless towns and villages sing out on this peaceful night.

A nightscape that reveals familiar coastlines, prominent ports, and metropolitan areas.

The UK can see how much of the population is congregated around London and the South of UK.

They can also see the high energy useage in these areas.

NASA ISS Mission: Soyuz Transport Olympus

This is the 'Descent Module' of the Soyuz spacecraft, 'Olympus'.

Soyuz Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin is in the centre seat, Shannon to his left and to his right Astronaut Wheels.

Here the crew are getting ready for their departure and return to the Earth on Thursday evening.

That shiny silver dome in front of Fyodor is the hatch. Not long now before the hatch will open and they’ll get their first breath of fresh air in nearly 6 months!

Fast Spinning Asteroid skims Earth atmosphere

This photo taken on Nov. 16, 2010 shows the asteroid 2010 WA as it passes within 24,000 miles (38,000 kilometers) as seen by astronomers using a telescope at the Magdalena Ridge Observatory in New Mexico.

It is about 10 feet (3 meters) wide. Credit: Dr. William Ryan/Magdalena Ridge Observatory/2.4-meter Telescope/New Mexico Tech

United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy launcher carries NROL-32

A United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy launches with a National Reconnaissance Office payload NROL-32 from Space Launch Complex-37 at 5:58 p.m. EST (2258 GMT). Credit: Pat Corkery/United Launch Alliance

The launch came after the first attempt was scrubbed for 48 hours due to issues suffered during fuelling - relating to anomalous temperature data signatures detected on the port and starboard strap-on common core boosters during cryogenic fueling.

Delta IV-H Preview:
The Delta IV which will perform the launch is Delta 351, a Delta IV Heavy with three Common Booster Cores and an upper stage with a diameter of five metres.

The first stage of the Delta IV is a Common Booster Core or CBC, powered by a single RS-68 engine. This will be augmented early in the flight by two additional CBCs attached to it on either side.

The second stage is the five metre Delta Cryogenic Second Stage or DCSS, which is powered by one RL10-B-2 engine.

More about NRO at NASA Spaceflight

Star Trek style: Home Electronics Control Centre

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

NASA Earth Observatory: Krakatau latest eruption

The thick brown plume of ash, steam and volcanic gas rising from Anak Krakatau in this true-color image is a common sight at the volcano.

Responsible for one of the largest and most destructive eruptions in Indonesia’s history, Krakatau still erupts frequently.

For this reason, the volcano is one of 100 that NASA automatically monitors with the Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite, as detailed in the Earth Observatory’s new feature article, Earth Observing-1: Ten years of innovation.

Throughout the summer and fall of 2010, Krakatau erupted hundreds of times a day, but by November 17, when the Advanced Land Imager (ALI) on NASA’s Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite took this image, activity at the volcano had started to slow.

The image was taken as part of Volcano SensorWeb, a program that automatically schedules the ALI and Hyperion sensors on EO-1 to image volcanoes when other satellites detect signs of activity. ALI provides a detailed, photo-like view useful for tracking ash, while Hyperion records the temperature and position of lava flows.

SensorWeb was not a part of EO-1’s original mission. The Earth Observatory’s feature article explains:
“EO-1 has two separate computer processors with 256 megabytes of extra memory each,” says mission manager Dan Mandl. That may seem paltry compared to a modern desktop computer, but it was enough to reshape a spacecraft’s mission. “It meant we had excess capacity to try new things.”

The first new software loaded onto EO-1 was the Autonomous Science Experiment, an onboard intelligent scheduling tool that allows the satellite to decide for itself which images Hyperion and ALI should take.

Because the satellite can think for itself, the system can accept a target request as late as five hours before the satellite flies over the target compared to 2-3 days required for most other sensors. The on-board scheduler prioritizes requests based on what they are for (ranked by theme) and the weather.

“It’s a customer-driven method of running a mission,” says Mandl. Anyone from an archeologist to a disaster response agency can request images....

Scheduled to fly for a year, designed to last a year and a half, EO-1 celebrated its tenth anniversary on November 21, 2010. During its decade in space, the satellite has accomplished far more than anyone dreamed.

To read more about EO-1’s primary mission, and its other achievements during the past decade, see Earth Observing-1: Ten years of innovation.

NASA JPL Spitzer: Shrouded Star Bursts

NASA JPL Spitzer
A brilliant burst of star formation is revealed in this image combining observations from NASA's Spitzer and Hubble Space Telescopes.

The collision of two spiral galaxies, has triggered this luminous starburst, the brightest ever seen taking place far away from the centers, or nuclei, of merging galaxies.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/STScI/H. Inami (SSC/Caltech)

NASA Mars: Volcanic Cone with Hydrothermal Deposits

This volcanic cone in the Nili Patera caldera on Mars has hydrothermal mineral deposits on the southern flanks and nearby terrains.

Light-toned patches on the closest flank of the cone, and the entire field of light-toned material on the left of the cone (see annotated image) are hydrothermal deposits.

The cone is about 5 kilometers (3 miles) in diameter at the base.

The deposits are evidence for a past local environment that was warm and wet or steamy, possibly hospitable to microbial life, as reported in a November 2010 Nature Geoscience paper by J.R. Skok, of Brown University, Providence, R.I., and co-authors.

This image is in false color derived from observation in infrared wavebands with the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The CRISM spectral data is overlaid on imagery from the Context Camera on that orbiter.

A stereo pair of Context Camera images provided topographic information for a digital terrain model produced with NASA Ames Stereo Pipeline software. The image uses no vertical exaggeration.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the spacecraft.

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory led the effort to build the CRISM instrument and operates CRISM in coordination with an international team of researchers from universities, government and the private sector.

Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, built and operates the Context Camera.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/JHU-APL/Brown Univ.

› See annotated image

NASA MARS: Sand Dunes of Proctor Crater

Large sand dunes on the floor of Proctor Crater on Mars.

The above picture was taken by HiRISE camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), a robot spacecraft currently in orbit around Mars.

The dark rippled dunes likely formed more recently than the lighter rock forms they appear to cover, and are thought to slowly shift in response to pervasive winds.

The dunes arise from a complex relationship between the sandy surface and high winds on Mars. Similar dunes were first seen in Proctor Crater by Mariner 9 more than 35 years ago.

NASA ISS EVA: Mission STS-129

Participating in the STS-129 mission's first spacewalk in November 2009, astronauts Mike Foreman and Robert L. Satcher Jr. (out of frame) installed a spare S-band antenna structural assembly to the Z1 segment of the station's truss, or backbone.

During the six-hour, 37-minute spacewalk, Foreman and Satcher also installed a set of cables for a future space-to-ground antenna on the Destiny laboratory.

The two spacewalkers also repositioned a cable connector on Unity, checked S0 truss cable connections and lubricated latching snares on the Kibo robotic arm and the station's mobile base system.

Image Credit: NASA

Robotic Arm

ESA GlobCorine map

This GlobCorine map is a pan-European land cover and use map, providing a resolution of 300 m.

The map, based on ESA’s Envisat satellite data from 1 January to 31 December 2009, is the first of its kind to be produced in such a short time – nine months as opposed to years.

ESA’s GlobCorine shows how an automated service can generate and regularly update such maps, which are essential for environmental agencies.

Credits: ESA 2010 & Université Catholique de Louvain

Monday, November 22, 2010

Nasa deal for UK defence firm Qinetiq

UK defence technology firm Qinetiq has won a contract to provide engineering services for US Space Agency Nasa's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The deal is for at least five years, with options for a further three, and is worth up to $2bn (£1.25bn).

Under the terms of the deal, Qinetiq will provide mainly ground operations and engineering support.

Qinetiq's North American arm will provide the services, and is expected to start in March 2011.

Qinetiq was formed from the previously state-owned Defence Evaluation and Research Agency and was floated on the London stock market in February 2006.

Defence firms in the UK - where Qinetiq employs about 6,000 people - have been facing tougher times given recent cuts to defence spending.

The company also has a large operation in the US, and this is not the first co-operation between Qinetiq and the American space agency. As a private contractor, Qinetiq focuses on support functions to NASA's wider operations.

However, NASA has also been affected by government cutbacks. A programme to send astronauts to the Moon and even Mars has been cancelled, while the agency's fleet of Space Shuttles has been retired.

ESA Cryosat-2 Handover to Mission Controller

CryoSat-2 is Europe's first mission dedicated to monitoring Earth's ice fields.

The satellite carries a sophisticated radar altimeter that can measure the thickness of sea ice down to centimetres and also monitor changes in ice sheets, particularly around the edges where icebergs are calved from the vast ice sheets that cover Greenland and Antarctica.

This milestone is not only achievement for the CryoSat mission, but also for ESA's programme for Earth observation. After the GOCE gravity mission and the SMOS water mission, CryoSat is the third Earth Explorer mission to begin operational life in orbit.

Looking to the future, a host of missions, including the Swarm magnetic field Earth Explorer and the family of Sentinel satellites for the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security programme are in various stages of development and will be launched over the next few years.

These satellite missions will significantly contribute to advancing our understanding of how Earth works as a system and provide much-needed information to assess how climate change is affecting our environment.

NASA TRL: Technology Readiness Levels De-mystified

Click on the picture to see the Flash version.

In the research and development world, ideas are like schoolchildren.

All new technologies must pass through a number of grades before they are declared ready for graduation.
At NASA, as in the rest of the research community, these grades are called technology readiness levels, or TRLs.

Each TRL represents the evolution of an idea from a thought, perhaps written on a cocktail napkin or the back of an envelope, to the full deployment of a product in the marketplace.

"NASA acknowledges the system as a useful, commonly understood method for explaining to collaborators and stakeholders just how mature a particular technology is," said Tony Strazisar, senior technologist for NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate in Washington.

In fact, NASA invented the system and many of it's space partners follow, with similar systems.

A NASA researcher, Stan Sadin, conceived the first scale in 1974. It had seven levels which were not formally defined until 1989. In the 1990s NASA adopted a scale with nine levels which gained widespread acceptance across industry and remains in use today.

NASA Dryden: X-48B Resumes Flight Tests

After undergoing a major overhaul and upgrades, the Boeing / NASA X-48B Blended Wing Body research aircraft resumed flight tests with a checkout flight Sept. 21 from NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

The subscale, manta ray-shaped, remotely piloted airplane, also called a hybrid wing body, is a tool of NASA's new Environmentally Responsible Aviation, or ERA, project. ERA aims to develop the technology needed to create quieter, cleaner, and more fuel-efficient airplanes for the future.
After completion of its first phase of flight testing, the airplane was disassembled for a complete inspection and refurbishment.

This new series of flight tests will focus on additional parameter identification investigations following installation and checkout of a new flight computer.

The parameter identification work will evaluate the new computer’s control of the aircraft’s flight control surfaces and the airplane's performance.

NASA Aeronautics at Balloon Fiesta

Rising Expectations: NASA Aeronautics Showcased at Balloon Fiesta

Visitors at the 2010 International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., not only get the visual stimulation of hundreds of colorful hot-air balloons soaring skyward, but can learn about NASA efforts toward improving aviation via an exhibit focusing on the agency's aeronautics research efforts.

NASA Aeronautics exhibit this year is focusing on its "green aviation" initiative, which seeks to test and integrate technologies for reducing aircraft noise and emissions, maximizing fuel usage and improving air-traffic management.

It also features displays on the history of NASA aeronautics research, including a timeline of aviation achievements, a space shuttle tire flown on the shuttle Discovery, cockpit simulators, wind tunnels and even a "virtual airport" where visitors can zoom in to see how NASA’s technology has found its way to use on military, commercial and general aviation aircraft and helicopters.

A display about the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, which incorporates the world's largest airborne infrared telescope installed in the rear fuselage of a NASA 747SP aircraft, introduces visitors to the infrared spectrum by allowing them to see themselves on a monitor through the lens of an infrared camera.

Parrot AR drone video: Quadricopter controlled by an iPhone

They’re here and have been for some time. Smaller, commercialised versions of the pilotless drones that US forces and agencies deploy over world hot spots can now be purchased and used by used by consumers for £200 and up.

There are a lot of positives. Deliveries is one potential use of private drones. Equipped with cameras, they may help engineers scope sites, police fight crime, or firefighters save lives. Maybe they could be instrumental in keeping an eye on children or locating those that are lost, or finding lost hikers in the wilderness.

Unfortunately, some people are worried about the privacy and security implications. Celebrities are a prime target using paparazzi drones, but there may be all kinds of issues for the rest of us, privacy and otherwise.

The idea of citizens having their own ‘personal drone’ to ‘keep an eye on things’ may be a worrying sign for some.

The Wall Street Journal’s Siobhan Gorman reports commercial or personal drones will soon be flooding the market. “Several efforts to develop personal drones are scheduled for completion in the next year.” Gorman observes that “an unmanned aircraft that can fly a predetermined route costs a few hundred bucks to build and can be operated by iPhone.”

Consider such offerings as the Parrot AR drone, a quadricopter that can be controlled by an iPhone, iPod or iPad, or the swinglet Cam, a “flying camera” developed and marketed by senseFly in Switzerland.

The swinglet can fly for about 30 minutes up to 12 miles, providing capabilities such as aerial imagery, crop monitoring, land management, environmental monitoring, real estate, traffic monitoring, mapping, archeology, and wildlife monitoring.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

NASA Image: Phytoplankton

In the style of Van Gogh’s painting “Starry Night,” massive congregations of greenish phytoplankton swirl in the dark water around Gotland, a Swedish island in the Baltic Sea.

Phytoplankton are microscopic marine plants that form the first link in nearly all ocean food chains. Population explosions, or blooms, of phytoplankton, like the one shown here, occur when deep currents bring nutrients up to sunlit surface waters, fueling the growth and reproduction of these tiny plants.

More out of this world pics from Flickr