Monday, January 31, 2011

ESA Data Relay Satellite System gets funding approval

After more than two years of negotiations, European Space Agency (ESA) governments have secured the full funding package to build a data-relay satellite system whose initial customer will be the European Commission’s Earth observation program, ESA’s director of telecommunications said Jan. 28.

In an interview, Magali Vaissiere said the agency’s Industrial Policy Committee, which clears funds for release, has approved 280 million euros ($380 million) for the European Data Relay Satellite (EDRS) system.

EDRS will include two laser-optical terminals, one installed as a hosted payload aboard a still-unselected commercial telecommunications satellite to be launched in 2013 or 2014, and one aboard a dedicated data-relay satellite to be ready for launch in 2014 or 2015.

Vaissiere said Germany, which has led the program since it was first proposed in November 2008, retains a 50 percent share of EDRS. Last-minute support from the Netherlands and Norway helped push EDRS over the financial hurdle that had prevented its go-ahead in the past two years.

Vaissiere said Astrium Services, which won the competition to operate the EDRS service as a profit-making business, is expected to invest about 100 million euros to round out the capital expenditure needed to build and launch the two payloads.

In return, Astrium Services will contract with the European Commission to provide EDRS service to relay data from the Sentinel series of Earth observation satellites being built as part of Europe’s Global Monitoring for Environment and Security, or GMES, program.

The European Commission will be Astrium Services’ anchor tenant, but the company will be free to seek other customers as well. Vaissiere said “several million euros” in additional funds are expected to be found by hosting one or more payloads aboard the dedicated EDRS satellite, to be built by OHB Technology of Bremen, Germany.

It remains unclear when the European Commission, which has had trouble financing its existing GMES commitments, will be able to contract with Astrium Services. Vaissiere said that while the contract to build EDRS will be signed by March, the services contract is likely to take months longer to prepare given the budget cycle of the European Commission.

NASA: Mars Science Lab Mission needs cash

NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission needs an $82 million cash infusion to maintain its late November launch date after development of the $2.47 billion rover exhausted program funding reserves last year, according to agency officials.

Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Sciences Division in the U.S. space agency’s Science Mission Directorate here, attributed the 3 percent cost increase to problems developing the truck-sized rover’s mobility systems, avionics, radar and drill, as well as delays in completing the rover’s Sample Analysis at Mars instrument suite, which is designed to sniff the surrounding air for carbon-containing compounds. 

“Our problem right now is MSL,” Green told members of the NASA Advisory Council’s planetary sciences subcommittee during a public meeting here Jan. 26. “It has virtually no unencumbered reserves left.” 

With MSL slated for delivery to Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in June, Green said it is imperative that the program’s funding reserves be restored in order to gird against any further development or test problems that could cause the rover to miss an unforgiving three-week launch window that opens Nov. 25.

ESA ISS News: France Ready To Back ISS Extension

The French government stands ready to endorse extending the operational life of the international space station to 2020 and beyond but is insisting on new ways of financing the work with its European partners, the head of the French space agency, CNES reported.

In a briefing on CNES priorities for the coming year, CNES President Yannick d’Escatha did not spell out the mechanism France would like to see adopted to determine how much of the station’s annual operating charges each European nation would pay.

Among the members of the European Space Agency (ESA), France has been second only to Germany in its financing of the station’s assembly and initial operations. Germany, which remains committed to using the station as fully as possible now that it is built, had proposed spending 3.8 billion euros ($5.2 billion) between 2011 and 2020 for station work.

That figure would include Europe’s obligatory contribution to the station’s annual maintenance, as well as the cost of building and operating experiments at the station.

France rejected that figure as too high, and the two nations, along with Italy and the other ESA governments taking part in the station, are now negotiating both a figure and a formula for payment.

2011 ESA Video: Year of the launchers

Click on the picture to link to the ESA video page

Better satellite antennas come from Metamaterials

Cheaper, lighter and more energy-efficient broadband devices on communications satellites may be possible using metamaterials to modify horn antennas, according to engineers from Penn State and Lockheed Martin Corp.

“Existing horn antennas have adequate performance, but have undergone little change over several decades except for advances in more accurate modeling techniques,” said Erik Lier, technical Fellow, Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. “Modifications enabled by metamaterials can either enhance performance, or they can lower the mass and thus lower the cost of putting the antenna in space.”

Lighter antennas cost less to boost into space and more energy-efficient antennas can reduce the size of storage batteries and solar cells, which also reduces the mass.

Metamaterials derive their unusual properties from structure rather than composition and possess exotic properties not usually found in nature.

“Working with Penn State, we decided that the first year we were going focus on applications for radio frequency antennas, where we thought we had a reasonable chance to succeed,” said Lier.

According to Douglas H. Werner, professor of electrical engineering, Penn State, this is one of the first practical implementations of electromagnetic metamaterials that makes a real world device better.

Academic Curiosity
“These results also help lay to rest the widely held viewpoint that metamaterials are primarily an academic curiosity and, due to their narrow bandwidth and relatively high loss, will never find their way into real-world devices,” the researchers report in the current issue of Nature Materials.

They specifically designed their electromagnetic metamaterials to avoid previous limitations of narrow bandwidth and high intrinsic material loss, which results in signal loss. Their aim was not to design theoretical metamaterial-enhanced antennas, but to build a working prototype.

“We have developed design optimization tools that can be employed to meet real device requirements,” said Werner. “We can optimize the metamaterial to get the best device performance by tailoring its properties across a desired bandwidth to meet the specific needs of the horn antenna.”

The researchers wanted an antenna that could work over a broad band of frequencies — at least an octave — and improve upon existing antennas. An octave in the radio frequency spectrum is a stretch of bandwidth where the upper frequency is twice the lower frequency — 3.5 to 7 gigahertz for example, which is wider than the standard C-band.

Horn antennas are part of communications satellites that relay television and radio signals, telephone calls and data around the world. Two commonly used microwave bands on satellites are C-band — used for long-distance radio and telecommunications — and Ku-band — used for broadcast television and remote television uplinks.

The researchers, who also included Qi Wu and Jeremy A. Bossard, postdoctoral fellows in electrical engineering, and Clinton P. Scarborough, graduate student, electrical engineering, all from Penn State, designed horn antenna liners from metamaterials with special low-index electromagnetic properties — effective refractive index between zero and one — which do not physically exist in natural materials. To increase bandwidth and decrease loss, the antenna liners needed to have repetitive structure considerably smaller than the wavelengths the antenna is designed to transmit.

Ku-band — 12 to 18 gigahertz — antennas require small structural intervals that are easily fabricated using conventional printed circuit board manufacturing techniques, while super extended C-band — 3.4 to 6.725 gigahertz — could be achieved with a simple wire grid structure that is easily manufactured with an interval of about a quarter of an inch between wires. The researchers chose to convert the C-band application into a prototype.

“This is just an example of what we can do,” said Lier. “It opens up the way for a broader range of other applications and is proof of the new metamaterial technology and an example of how it can be used.”

Friday, January 28, 2011

Russian's Reusable Robotic Spacecraft looks likely

Russian researchers are working on an unmanned spacecraft similar to the U.S. Boeing X-37 Orbital Test Vehicle, Space Troops chief Oleg Ostapenko said on Thursday.

He said, however, it was not clear as yet how it would be used.

"Something has been done along these lines, but as to whether we will use it, only time will tell," Ostapenko said.

The Boeing X-37, used for orbital spaceflight missions, has a length of over 29 ft (8.9 m) and features two angled tail fins.

The X-37 spaceplane's first orbital mission was launched on April 22, 2010 with an Atlas V rocket.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

NASA Infra-red Image: Jupiter's Atmosphere

Particle debris in Jupiter's atmosphere is seen after an object hurtled into the atmosphere on July 19, 2009, in these infrared images obtained from NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility in Mauna Kea, Hawaii.

The image on the left was taken July 20, 2009 and the image on the right was taken August 16, 2009. The impact and its after-effects can be seen as the bright spot on the lower left of the July 20 image and as the bright smudge on the lower left of the August 16 image.

By August 16, the debris had been sheared apart to a larger extent by Jupiter's winds. A hurtling asteroid about the size of the Titanic caused the scar that appeared in Jupiter's atmosphere on July 19, 2009, according to two papers published recently in the journal Icarus.


NASA Cassini: Enceladus fizzy ocean

A Cassini image of vaporous, icy jets emerging from fissures on Enceladus

For years researchers have been debating whether Enceladus, a tiny moon floating just outside Saturn's rings, is home to a vast underground ocean.

Is it wet--or not? Now, new evidence is tipping the scales. Not only does Enceladus likely have an ocean, that ocean is probably fizzy like a soft drink and could be friendly to microbial life.

The story begins in 2005 when NASA's Cassini probe flew past Enceladus for a close encounter.

"Geophysicists expected this little world to be a lump of ice, cold, dead, and uninteresting," says Dennis Matson of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Boy, were we surprised!"

Cassini found the little moon busily puffing plumes of water vapor, icy particles, and organic compounds out through fissures (now known as "tiger stripes") in its frozen carapace. Mimas, a nearby moon about the same size, was as dead as researchers expected, but Enceladus was precociously active.

Many researchers viewed the icy jets as proof of a large subterranean body of water. Near-surface pockets of liquid water with temperatures near 32o F could explain the watery plumes. But there were problems with this theory. For one thing, where was the salt?

In initial flybys, Cassini's instruments detected carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and various hydrocarbons in the plume gasses. But there were none of the elements of salt that ocean water should contain.

In 2009 Cassini's cosmic dust analyzer located the missing salt - in a surprising place.

"It wasn't in the plume gasses where we'd been looking for it," says Matson. "Instead, sodium and potassium salts and carbonates were locked up in the plumes' icy particles.* And the source of these substances has to be an ocean. Stuff dissolved in an ocean is similar to the contents of these grains."

The latest Cassini observations presented another intriguing discovery: thermal measurements revealed fissures with temperatures as high as -120o Fahrenheit (190 Kelvin).

"This discovery resets our clocks!" says Matson. "Temperatures this high have to be volcanic in origin. Heat must be flowing from the interior, enough to melt some of the underground ice, creating an underground waterworks."

The finding has led the scientists to ponder how contents of an ocean capped by a crust of ice as much as tens of miles thick could reach the surface.

Russian astronomers predict asteroid Apophis collision with Earth

Russian astronomers have predicted that asteroid Apophis may strike Earth on April 13, 2036.

"Apophis will approach Earth at a distance of 37,000-38,000 kilometers on April 13, 2029. Its likely collision with Earth may occur on April 13, 2036," Professor Leonid Sokolov of the St. Petersburg State University said.

The scientist said, however, the chance of a collision in 2036 was extremely slim saying that the asteroid would likely disintegrate into smaller parts and smaller collisions with Earth could occur in the following years.

"Our task is to consider various alternatives and develop scenarios and plans of action depending on the results of further observations of Apophis," Sokolov said.

The asteroid, discovered in 2004, is considered the largest threat to our planet, although NASA scientists reduced the likelihood of a hazardous strike with Earth in 2036.

Russia's space agency announced its plans earlier to consider a project to prevent the large asteroid from colliding with Earth.

Russian Space Program is grossly underfunded

Russia is not in a position to carry out global space programs single-handedly and should team up with India and Kazakhstan, veteran rocket scientist Boris Chertok said on Tuesday.

He said Russian space programs are grossly underfunded compared to similar projects in the United States and China.

"The United States spends about 10 times as much on space programs as Russia," he said. "At present there are three [space] poles - Russia, the United States and China."

To preserve its positions in space research Russia needs to pool efforts with India and Kazakhstan, he added.

"As for China, it has sufficient resources to undertake space programs on its own," Chertok also said.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

CSBE Circadian Rhythms

Professor Andrew Millar, Chair of Systems Biology in the School of Biological Sciences and Director of the Centre for Systems Biology at Edinburgh, combines molecular, physiological, and mathematical approaches in his research on the circadian clock in Arabidopsis thaliana.

Plant Image The circadian clock lends itself ideally to systems-level research, and is becoming a paradigm for systems biology. The 24h rhythms in model vertebrate, invertebrate, fungal and plant species emerge from the interactions of a tractable number (10-20) of clock genes and proteins. These form a network of interlocking, positive- and negative-feedback loops. Light- and temperature-signalling pathways also regulate some clock genes or proteins, on a timescale of minutes, in order to synchronise the molecular rhythms with the external, day/night cycle. The interaction of environmental and endogenous rhythms, fast and slow timescales creates complex dynamics.

Professor Andrew Millar’s group was the first to model the plant clock mechanism based on data from reporter genes, microarrays, RNA and protein expression profiles, from multiply-mutant plants and environmental perturbations. This analysis invalidated a single-loop network proposed earlier, led to the prediction of hypothetical components in a multi-loop structure, and allowed us to identify one of the new components in experiments. CSBE is refining these mechanistic models using a range of dynamic perturbations and direct measurements of kinetic parameters.

Systems Image
Comparative analysis of clock models from several species suggests the principles that underlie their shared properties, for example giving multiple-loop clock circuits an evolutionary advantage. The circadian system has major effects on the whole organism, because it drives the rhythmic expression of over 10% of all genes in most eukaryotes, thereby controlling pervasive rhythms in metabolism, physiology and behaviour. Correct circadian timing substantially increases plant growth rates, with potential applications in crop improvement, and can affect human health by increasing the effectiveness of cancer chemotherapy, or contributing to relieve jet lag, for example.

CSBE Circadian Rhythms

NASA Hubble Space Telescope - The Universe's Most Ancient Object

The farthest and one of the very earliest galaxies ever seen in the universe appears as a faint red blob in this ultra-deep–field exposure taken with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.

This is the deepest infrared image taken of the universe. Based on the object's color, astronomers believe it is 13.2 billion light-years away.

The most distant objects in the universe appear extremely red because their light is stretched to longer, redder wavelengths by the expansion of the universe.

This object is at an extremely faint magnitude of 29, which is 500 million times fainter that the faintest stars seen by the human eye.

The dim object is a compact galaxy of blue stars that existed 480 million years after the Big Bang, only four percent of the universe's current age. It is tiny and considered a building block of today's giant galaxies. Over one hundred such mini-galaxies would be needed to make up our Milky Way galaxy.

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field infrared exposures were taken in 2009 and 2010, and required a total of 111 orbits or 8 days of observing. The new Wide Field Camera 3 has the sharpness and near-infrared light sensitivity that matches the Advanced Camera for Surveys' optical images and allows for such a faint object to be selected from the thousands of other galaxies in the incredibly deep images of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field.

Credit: NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth (University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (University of California, Santa Cruz and Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team

NASA ISS Image: Meteor Crater, Arizona

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

UCLA researchers eliminate major roadblock in regenerative medicine

In regenerative medicine, large supplies of safe and reliable human embryonic stem (hES) cells are needed for implantation into patients, but the field has faced challenges in developing cultures that can consistently grow and maintain clinical-grade stem cells.

Standard culture systems use mouse “feeder” cells and media containing bovine sera to cultivate and maintain hES cells, but such animal product — based media can contaminate the cells. And because of difficulties in precise quality control, each batch of the medium can introduce new and unwanted variations.

Now, a team of stem cell biologists and engineers from UCLA has identified an optimal combination and concentration of small-molecule inhibitors to support the long-term quality and maintenance of hES cells in feeder-free and serum-free conditions. The researchers used a feedback system control (FSC) scheme to innovatively and efficiently select the small-molecule inhibitors from a very large pool of possibilities.

The research findings, published today in the journal Nature Communications, represent a major advance in the quest to broadly transition regenerative medicine from the benchtop to the clinic.

“What is significant about this work is that we’ve been able to very rapidly develop a chemically defined culture medium to replace serum and feeders for cultivating clinical-grade hES cells, thereby removing a major roadblock in the area of regenerative medicine,” said Chih-Ming Ho, the Ben Rich — Lockheed Martin Professor at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science and a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

Unlike current animal product — based media, the new medium is a “defined” culture medium — one in which every component is known and traceable. This is important for clinical applications and as drugs or cells enter the world of regulatory affairs, including good manufacturing practice compliance and Food and Drug Administration supervision.

NASA ISS Image: Landslides in Brazil

At least 809 people have now died in what some news outlets and government agencies are calling the worst natural disaster in Brazil’s history.

Following unusually persistent rain in early January and an extreme rainfall event on January 11-12, large swaths of the Brazilian states of Sao Paolo, Rio de Janeiro, and Santa Catarina were devastated by mud sliding off the soaked hills and by rivers overflowing or carving up their soft banks.

After weeks of cloud cover, the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA’s Terra satellite finally collected the top image of the mountainous region northeast of Rio de Janeiro on January 18, 2011. The lower image was taken by the same instrument on February 13, 2003.

In this near-infrared image, vegetation-covered land appears red, concrete and building materials appear gray, clouds are white, and bare land tends to be sandy brown (though some exposed rock surfaces appear much darker).

A comparison of the 2011 and 2003 images, combined with news and scientific accounts, reveals the likely tracks of light-brown mudslides marked in the image above.

Onekotan Island, Kuril Islands, Russia

Snow cover highlights the calderas and volcanic cones that form the northern and southern ends of Onekotan Island, part of the Russian Federation in the western Pacific Ocean.

Calderas are depressions formed when a volcano empties its magma chamber in an explosive eruption and then the overlaying material collapses into the evacuated space.

In this astronaut photograph from the International Space Station, the northern end of the island (image right) is dominated by the Nemo Peak volcano, which began forming within an older caldera approximately 9,500 years ago. The last recorded eruption at Nemo Peak occurred in the early 18th century.

The southern end of the island was formed by the 7.5 kilometer (4.6 mile) wide Tao-Rusyr Caldera. The caldera is filled by Kal’tsevoe Lake and Krenitzyn Peak, a volcano that has only erupted once in recorded history (in 1952).

Extending between northeastern Japan and the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia, the Kurils are an island arc located along the Pacific “Ring of Fire.” Island arcs form along an active boundary between two tectonic plates, where one plate is being driven beneath the other (subduction).

Magma generated by the subduction process feeds volcanoes—which eventually form volcanic islands over the subduction boundary.

First Aid | Epilepsy Scotland

Simple Partial Seizures

A simple partial seizure could affect the person's movement, smell, taste, hearing, sight, breathing, heart beat, digestion or any mixture of these. They may experience, for example, twitching of an arm and nausea. The person does not lose consciousness and is fully aware of, but cannot control, what is happening.

What to do

  • Stay with the person and offer reassurance until the seizure has passed
  • Sometimes a simple partial seizure can act as a warning or 'aura' that a second seizure (usually a tonic-clonic or a complex partial seizure) will soon start.
  • If this is the case, the person may need help in getting to a quiet and safe place.

Complex Partial Seizures

The person may experience strange or unusual feelings, lose their sense of time and appear distant from who and what is happening around them. This type of seizure can make someone behave in an odd, random or inappropriate way, such as lip smacking, plucking at clothes, moving aimlessly or compulsively around a room. Unlike simple partial seizures, there will be some loss or alteration of consciousness.

What to do

  • Gently lead them from any source of danger
  • Do not restrain or interfere unnecessarily with the person
  • The seizure should be allowed to run its natural course
  • Speaking softly and calmly may help
  • Offer reassurance afterwards

Absence Seizures (previously known as petit mal)

Absence seizures consist of a brief loss of consciousness and are easily mistaken for daydreaming. The person (usually a child) stops what they are doing, remains motionless, blinks, and stares into space. Soon, the person will recover and may not be aware that a seizure has occurred.

What to do

  • Absence seizures are usually very brief and often pass unnoticed
  • If you witness an absence seizure stay with the person for a while to make sure they do not suffer any injury
  • Tell the person what has happened
  • If a child is in the classroom, repeat any information they have missed

Tonic-clonic seizures (previously known as grand mal)

The tonic-clonic seizure is the most widely recognised seizure. The person will lose consciousness and fall to the ground.

The person will stiffen (the tonic phase) and then jerk (the clonic phase).
Breathing may become irregular and as a result the person could turn slightly blue. The person may also make grunting noises, bite their tongue or cheek, or be incontinent.

After a couple of minutes the jerking normally stops and the person will slowly regain consciousness. They may feel groggy, sleepy and confused for some time afterwards and have a headache or aching limbs. How long it takes to feel ok again varies from one person to the next.

What to do

  • Keep calm and note the time the seizure starts and how long it lasts
  • Clear a space around the person and prevent people from crowding round
  • Cushion the person's head with whatever is available
  • Loosen any tight clothing round the neck and gently remove glasses (if worn)
  • Watch the seizure carefully and if possible let it run its natural course
  • Turn the person into the recovery position as soon as the jerking stops
  • Be reassuring during the recovery period and tell the person about the seizure
  • Stay, if possible, until the person is no longer confused

What not to do

  • Do not try to lift or move the person while the seizure is happening unless there is an immediate danger (e.g. they are on a busy road, at the top of stairs, at the edge of water, near a fire or hot radiator)
  • Do not try to stop the jerking or restrain the person
  • Do not put anything in the person's mouth or between their teeth
  • Do not offer the person something to drink until they are fully conscious
  • Do not fuss around the person while they are recovering from the seizure

There is no need to call an ambulance unless:

  • It is the person’s first seizure
  • One seizure follows another without any recovery in between
  • The convulsive or jerking part of the seizure lasts more than 5 minutes or longer than is usual for the person
  • The person has been badly injured
First Aid | Epilepsy Scotland

NASA ISS Image: Grand Canyon

ESA’s BepiColomo: Mercury mapper Tested in Space Simulator

Key components of the ESA-led Mercury mapper BepiColombo have been tested in a specially upgraded European space simulator.

ESA’s Large Space Simulator (LSS) is now the most powerful in the world and the only facility capable of reproducing Mercury’s hellish environment for a full-scale spacecraft.

The Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO) has survived a simulated voyage to the innermost planet.

The octagonal spacecraft, which is Japan’s contribution to BepiColombo, and its ESA sunshield withstood temperatures higher than 350°C.

This is a taste of things to come for the spacecraft. BepiColombo will encounter fully ten times the radiation power received by a satellite in orbit around Earth and, to simulate this, the Large Space Simulator (LSS) at ESA’s ESTEC centre in the Netherlands had to be specially adapted.

Engineers talk about the power of the Sun in units called the solar constant. This is how much energy is received every second through a square metre of space at the distance of Earth’s orbit.

“Previously, the LSS was capable of simulating a solar constant or two. Now it has been upgraded to produce ten solar constants,” says Jan van Casteren, ESA BepiColombo project manager.

SSTL have developed 'STRaND-1, a Smartphone Satellite

Space researchers at the University of Surrey and Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) have developed 'STRaND-1', a satellite containing a smartphone payload that will be launched into orbit around the Earth later this year.

SSTL is a privately owned company. The University of Surrey owns 1% of the shares EADS Astrium NV owns 99% of the shares. .
STRaND-1 (Surrey Training, Research and Nanosatellite Demonstrator) is being developed by the Surrey team to demonstrate the advanced capabilities of a satellite built quickly using advanced commercial off-the-shelf components.

STRaND-1's lead researcher Dr Chris Bridges explained why a smartphone made an ideal satellite payload "Smartphones pack lots of components - such as sensors, video cameras, GPS systems and Wi-Fi radios - that are technologically advanced but a fraction of the size, weight and cost of components used in existing satellite systems.

Also, because many smartphones also run on free operating systems that lend themselves to online software developers, the creators of applications ('apps') for smartphones could feasibly develop apps for satellites," he said.

Smartphones aren't designed to go into space, so in addition to extensive ground testing prior to launch there will be an in-orbit test campaign to put the phone through its paces. A powerful computer built at the SSC will test the vital statistics of the phone once in space.

The computer will check which components of the phone are operating normally and when components malfunction in orbit for recovery. Images and messages from the phone will be sent back to Earth via a radio system.

Once all the tests are complete, the micro computer will be switched off and the smartphone will be used to operate parts of the satellite.

Russia's Spaceship Debris Splashes Down Into Pacific Ocean

The Russian space cargo ship Progress M-08M left orbit and fell into the Pacific Monday after three month of work at the International Space Station (ISS), reported the Mission Control Center outside Moscow.

"As calculated by Mission Control ballistics experts, the Progress M-08M's debris, which did not burn up in the thick layers of the atmosphere, fell into the southern part of the Pacific Ocean far away from navigation routes at 09:07 a.m. Moscow time (0607GMT)," a Mission Control spokesman was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.

The Progress undocked from the Russian module Pirs first and then left the orbit, the control center said.

The cargo ship's place at the ISS will be taken by the Progress M-09M, which is scheduled to blast off from the Baikonur space center on Jan. 28.

The Progress M-08M, launched on Oct. 27, 2010, on a Soyuz-U carrier rocket, reached the ISS in three days carrying 2.5 tons of cargo.

Monday, January 24, 2011

What impact would sun dimming have on Earth’s weather?

Solar radiation management projects, also known as sun dimming, seek to reduce the amount of sunlight hitting the Earth to counteract the effects of climate change. Global dimming can occur as a side-effect of fossil fuels or as a result of volcanic eruptions, but the consequences of deliberate sun dimming as a geoengineering tool are unknown.

A new study by Dr Peter Braesicke, from the Centre for Atmospheric Science at Cambridge University, seeks to answer this question by focusing on the possible impacts of a dimming sun on atmospheric teleconnections.

Teleconnections, important for the predictability of weather regimes, are the phenomenon of distant climate anomalies being related to each other at large distances, such as the link between sea-level pressure at Tahiti and Darwin, Australia, which defines the Southern Oscillation.

“It is important that we look for unintended consequences of any sun dimming schemes,” said Braesicke. “We have to test our models continuously against observations to make sure that they are ‘fit-for-purpose’, and it’s important that we should not only look at highly averaged ‘global’ quantities.”

Dr Braesicke’s team believes that the link between tropical temperatures and extra-tropical circulation are well captured for the recent past and that the link changes when the sun is dimmed.

“This could have consequences for prevailing weather regimes,” said Braesicke, “particularly for the El Nino/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) teleconnection. Our research allows us to assess how forced atmospheric variability, exemplified by the northern polar region, might change in a geoengineered world with a dimmed sun.”

A dimmed sun will change the temperature structure of the atmosphere with a cooling throughout the atmosphere. In the troposphere, temperatures drop because less solar radiation reaches the ground and therefore less can be converted into heat. In the stratosphere, less shortwave radiation is available for absorption by ozone and, therefore, heating rates in the stratosphere are lower.

“We have shown that important teleconnections are likely to change in such a geoengineered future, due to chemistry-climate interactions and in particular, due to changing stratospheric ozone,” concluded Braesicke. “In our model, the forced variability of northern high latitude temperatures changes spatially, from a polecentred pattern to a pattern over the Pacific region when the solar irradiance is reduced. Future geoengineering studies need to consider the full evolution of the stratosphere, including its chemical behaviour.”

Read more here: What impact would sun dimming have on Earth’s weather? | Science Blog

The Southern Hemisphere Of Phobos

The DLR-operated High Resolution Stereo Camera on board ESA's Mars Express spacecraft acquired images of Phobos on 9 January 2011.

The south pole is visible at the bottom right, just next to the dark crater.

This image of Phobos has been photometrically enhanced to make details in the poorly-illuminated areas appear more clearly.

The resolution is 3.9 meters per pixel.

Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum).

The Full story on ESA's portal

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Culprit found for increased stroke injury with diabetes

Strokes are a leading cause of mortality and adult disability. Those that involve intracerebral hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain) are especially deadly, and there are no effective treatments to control such bleeding. Moreover, diabetes and hyperglycemia (high blood glucose levels) are associated with increases in bleeding during hemorrhagic stroke and worse clinical outcomes.

But Joslin Diabetes Center researchers now have identified one key player that contributes to this increased bleeding, a discovery that may pave the way toward treatments that minimize adverse stroke outcomes both for people with pre-existing diabetes and those with hyperglycemia identified at the time of stroke.

Studies in the lab of Joslin Investigator Edward Feener, Ph.D., pinpointed a new mechanism involving a protein called plasma kallikrein that interferes with the normal clotting process in the brain following blood vessel injury with diabetes. Their work is reported online in the journal Nature Medicine.

The scientists began by injecting a small amount of blood into the brains of rats with diabetes and of control animals without diabetes. The difference was dramatic — the diabetic animals bled over a much greater area of the brain.

Work in the Feener lab had previously implicated plasma kallikrein in diabetic eye complications. When the experimenters pre-treated the diabetic animals with a molecule that inhibits the protein’s effects, brain damage from the blood injections dropped to levels similar to that in the control animals. Conversely, when pure plasma kallikrein was injected into the brain, it produced little impact on the control animals but rapidly increased major bleeding in the animals with diabetes.

Further studies by the Joslin researchers showed that normalizing blood glucose levels in diabetic animals could block the effect from plasma kallikrein, and that rapidly inducing hyperglycemia in control animals mimicked the effects of diabetes on brain hemorrhage. This suggests that high blood sugar at the time of brain hemorrhage, rather than diabetes per se, is responsible for the increased bleeding.

“Given the prevalence of strokes and the damage they inflict, these findings are exciting because they suggest the possibility that rapid control of blood sugar levels may provide an opportunity to reduce intracerebral hemorrhage, which is a clinical situation that has very limited treatment options,” says Dr. Feener, who is also an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “This work could have broad implications since about half of patients with acute hemorrhagic stroke have hyperglycemia, whether or not they have pre-existing diabetes.”

The work also raises the possibility of developing drugs that target plasma kallikrein and may provide protective measures in people with diabetes or others at high risk for stroke. Such drugs might also prove useful for patients suffering from the more common ischemic strokes, which usually begin as blocked vessels in the brain but can transform into hemorrhages.

Surprisingly, while plasma kallikrein has been studied for decades, the Joslin scientists found that the protein boosts brain bleeding through a previously unknown mechanism — by blocking platelet activation near damaged blood vessels.

Nuclear-Waste Train Glows Red Hot in Infrared

Railroad cars carrying some 123 tons of nuclear waste glow red-hot in an infrared picture taken in Valognes (map), France, in November and released by Greenpeace International as part of an antinuclear-power campaign that included arranging protests that delayed the train's progress.

The train is hauling a so-called CASTOR convoy, named after the type of container carried: Cask for Storage and Transport Of Radioactive material. These trademarked casks have been used since 1995 to transport nuclear waste from German power plants to France for reprocessing, then back to Germany for storage.

"High-level waste is in fact hot," said nuclear energy and proliferation expert Matthew Bunn. "It doesn’t mean anything in particular in terms of how dangerous it is."

(Related pictures: "Leaking Nuclear Waste Fills Former Salt Mine.")

NASA ISS Image: Stromboli Volcano, Italy

The mild eruptions of Italy’s Stromboli Volcano are so frequent and numerous that an entire style of volcanism—strombolian—is named after the volcano.

Strombolian eruptions are characterised by nearly continuous lava fountaining, accompanied by emissions of gas, ash, and volcanic bombs.

The sight of that lava spraying into the sky at night has led people to nickname Stromboli the “Lighthouse of the Mediterranean.”

This natural-color satellite image shows the island of Stromboli, the volcano’s cloud-covered summit, and a thin volcanic plume on January 13, 2011. The image was acquired by the Advanced Land Imager aboard Earth Observing-1 (EO-1).

The volcanic island has been building, according to geologists, for nearly 200,000 years. Historical records of eruptions at Stromboli date back 2,400 years, and carbon dating suggests that the volcano has been almost continuously active for at least 1,400.

The current eruption has been going on uninterrupted since 1932. For most of the past 5,000 years, eruptions and venting have sprung from the Sciara del Fuoco (Stream of Fire), a large collapse scar on the northwest side of the island.

The peak of the island volcano stands 924 meters (3,030 feet) above sea level, but in fact the entire structure rises more than 2,000 meters (6,500 feet) from the sea floor. The volcano is a result of the subduction of the African tectonic plate as it collides with and slides under the Eurasian plate.

Today, a few hundred people call the island home, though past populations counted in the thousands. In Jules Verne's novel Journey to the Center of the Earth (Voyage au Centre de la Terre), Axel and Otto Lidenbrock finish their journey by climbing out through Stromboli.

NASA ISS Image: The snow covered Alps

The Alps form a crescent stretching from the Mediterranean coasts of Italy and France to Vienna, Austria.

On January 17, 2011, clear skies afforded the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite an uninterrupted view of the mountain range.

This natural-color image shows snow-capped mountains interspersed with vegetated valleys.

Clouds snake through valleys in the north and west, and a nearly continuous cloud bank fills the Po Valley in the south, but skies over the mountains are clear.

The Alps’s began forming tens of millions of years ago, when the African tectonic plate slowly collided with the European plate. The plate collision helped close the western part of the ancient Tethys Sea and lifted up the massive European mountain chain that persists today.

Across the Earth, some mountain ranges are gaining elevation through tectonic uplift, while others are losing elevation through erosion. A study published in Tectonophysics in 2009 found that the Alps are doing both. The actions of glaciers and rivers scrape away fine sediment, which is carried away by water and wind.

As this happens, the mountain range loses weight, lightening the load for the Earth’s crust. So just as ice and water scrape off the top, deeper rock layers push up from below. In the Alps, these processes appear to be in equilibrium, keeping the mountain range at a near-constant elevation.

Read more here

Robot Evolution means crawling before learning to walk

Roboticists are applying the way we learn to walk as humans to robots, hoping to improve their movement and behaviours by enabling them to change their form as they learn to move.

Just as babies learn to crawl before they walk, a new line of robots at the University of Vermont are able to walk by learning from successful movements. This happens because their unique design makes it possible for them to change form as they learn to walk.

In the study, the robots wear a brace that gradually tilts their body and bends the legs, while the robot’s controller searches for successful movements. The robots begin in a crawl-like state and squirm around like a lizard on floor until they can figure out how to properly walk.
They have lots of moving parts. And their brains, like our brains, have lots of distributed materials: there’s neurons and there’s sensors and motors and they’re all turning on and off in parallel.. -Josh Bongard
Josh Bongard, leading the study on these evolving robots, is a roboticist at the University of Vermont. He released his discoveries earlier this month to the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
We’re copying nature, we’re copying evolution, we’re copying neural science when we’re building artificial brains into these robots.
Bongard’s work, funded by the National Science Foundation is aiming to produce robots that will perform simple tasks with the ability to be adaptable in unstructured or outdoor environments and instead of programming the robots the traditional way, the team at UVM are creating computer programs to help them develop the desired behaviours, while equipping them with tools to change their body.

Bondgard says the reason this hasn’t been done before is because “it is really hard to change a robot’s body… it’s much easier to change the programming inside its head”.

Read more here

Snowman goes to the desert

Panasonic's SPARKS team tests out the company's various “eco-technologies.” When they received a Facebook message from a Bahraini girl named Amna who wanted to show her brother Saleh snow for the first time, the proverbial “sparks” started flying.

Sure, they could ship a snowman in a refrigerated case – but that would be too easy. Instead, they sent it in a standard cardboard box, and thanks to a new Panasonic vacuum sealing technology, Frosty arrived in finely frozen form.

The snowman was fully assembled in the mountains of Japan, complete with carrot nose. The Panasonic team loaded it into the box, sealed it with their U-Vacua insulation panels that decompress to keep out all heat, and popped it on a plane to Bahrain for a 5,300-mile journey.

Dozens of kids came to greet the snowman in the sweltering, sunny desert, and after a few snapshots with the foreign visitor, the kids couldn't resist digging into ol' Frosty for a snowball fight.

The paper-thin vacuum panels are impressive, appearing to add very little in size or weight to the original box. And they clearly kept the snowman chilly enough throughout the 40-hour trip. If only he could have lasted that long out of the box.

NASA ISS: WORF Image - British Columbia mountains

A test photo of British Columbia's snow-capped west coast mountains is the first official image taken from the International Space Station’s new Window Observational Research Facility (WORF).

The test photo, designated ISS EarthKAM Image Winter 2011 #9362, is of an area of British Columbia, Canada, just north of Vancouver Island

The image was taken to test the functionality of the control computer and camera associated with EarthKAM, an educational outreach project that allows Earth bound middle school students to take pictures of our home planet from the unique perspective of the space station, 220 miles above the Earth's surface.

WORF was delivered to the station on the STS-131 mission of space shuttle Discovery in April 2010.

Image credit: NASA

Addicted to Risk - Naomi Klein TED Video

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Concorde G-BOAA arrives in Edinburgh

It's the 35th anniversary of the Concorde G-BOAA flight from London to Bahrain on January 21 1976.

It was the first commercial flight by a British Airways Concorde and they're  celebrating with a weekend of fun and celebrations at National Museum of Flight, East Fortune, Edinburgh, Scotland

NASA - A Supermassive Black Hole

In a single exposure, astronomers were able to confirm the existence of a supermassive black hole in the center of galaxy M84.

They did this by using the Hubble Space Telescope's more powerful spectrograph to map the rapid rotation of gas at the galaxy's center.

The colorful zigzag provides the evidence. If no black hole were present, the line would be nearly vertical.

The Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph measured a velocity of 880,000 mph within 26 light-years of the galaxy's center.

This measurement allowed astronomers to calculate that the black hole contains at least 300 million solar masses. M84 is located in the Virgo Cluster of galaxies, 50 million light-years from Earth, and a nearby neighbor to the more massive M87 galaxy, which also contains an extremely massive black hole. The image on the left shows the galaxy's center in visible light.

Image Credit: NASA, Gary Bower, Richard Green (NOAO), the STIS Instrument Definition Team

A Minimalist-record-player

Take a peek at this record player. It’s the kind that plays vinyl records, the 12″ kind, and it does it well with only the bare minimum.

It’s called “Turnstyle” and it’s made up of the motor, the needle, the speakers, and the controls. What more do you need? It’s a skeleton of its former self.

This project is designed by RD Silver, a designer who has the guts to take away everything but the guts.

The requirements for function set upon this project were the following: spin record, on/off, volume, speaker, and needle.

As far as design requirements: no corners, no hard edges, no 90 degree angles.

JAXA: HTV2 Kounotori Launch video

Friday, January 21, 2011

NASA Shuttle Discovery: External Tanks in VAB

NASA's space shuttle Discovery's external fuel tanks are worked on and examined in the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida

Picture: AP

NASA Venus Radar Image: Magellan Mission

An image created by NASA shows a hemispheric view of Venus created using more than a decade of radar investigations culminating in the 1990-1994 Magellan mission, and is centered on the planet's North Pole.

The Magellan spacecraft imaged more than 98 percent of the planet Venus and a mosaic of the Magellan images (most with illumination from the west) forms the image base.

Gaps in the Magellan coverage were filled with images from the Earth-based Arecibo radar in a region centered roughly on 0 degree latitude and longitude, and with a neutral tone elsewhere (primarily near the south pole)

Delta 4 Heavy Rocket Launch

A Boeing Delta 4 Heavy rocket, which may someday be used to send humans into space, rises from the launch pad during its first unmanned launch at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California

Picture: AP

Synaesthesia: Hearing music and seeing colours

Many people associate colours with words, sounds and occasionally smells. My associations aren't strong or consistent enough to be considered true synaesthesia, the neurological condition under which normally distinct sensory impressions cross over and blend with one another but there is evidence that experiences, similar to synaesthesia, can be induced in those who don't normally have it. This is accomplished through training or hypnosis, for example.

Recently, there's been a proliferation of art that attempts to capture the essence of synaesthesia in recent years. That's a tough task - how do you communicate such an intrinsically subjective experience? Indeed, few of the works lead to experiences that prove any more stimulating than looking through a kaleidoscope. Would Parfums Pourpres du Soileil des Pôles - a performance piece for three harmonium players and a synaesthete - turn out to be any different?

Many people certainly won't find the individual elements of Parfums prepossessing. During the hour-long performance, the musicians play an uninterrupted succession of glacial arpeggios - sustained chords that are slowly assembled and disassembled, note by note. (Fans of drone will be well satisfied, though.) As they do so, the synaesthete selects and arranges coloured cards to reflect his or her perception of the music, a spectacle reminiscent of watching someone hunting for particular Lego bricks to complete a particularly abstract construction.

While this might not sound very entertaining, there's a certain intellectual fascination to it. During last Wednesday's performance at the South London Gallery, the choreography was by Claude-Samuel Lévine, who arranged the cards in several horizontal rows, continually adding and removing them as the music developed. At times the arrangement became disordered and vaguely resembled a painting by Kandinsky (often believed to be a synaesthete); at others it fell into a strict grid that was more like Mondrian (not a synaesthete).

He later explained that the "y" axis of his arrangement more or less represented musical pitch, and the "x" axis time. What the colours represented proved harder to articulate, at least in terms comprehensible by a non-synaesthete. Lévine clearly felt strongly that his presentation reflected his personal experience. His collaborator Laurent Montaron said that it was much the same each time the piece was performed - a hallmark of true synaesthesia.

Try as they might, however, many people cannot grasp the correspondence between Lévine's actions and the musical progressions. There was one exception, whwn one dramatic key change led to the frenzied construction of a wall of white cards and a second that prompted Lévine to sweep away the multicoloured mass that he had painstakingly assembled for the past 10 minutes.

A couple of my fellow audience-members did claim to have "got it", but it was hard to know how seriously to take those claims. Since synaesthesia has become widely known (perhaps even trendy), it's noticeable that more and more people profess to have it - sometimes offering only the flimsiest of evidence. But trying to compare notes led quickly into the philosophical quagmire of qualia. Inasmuch as the experience of art is necessarily subjective, the experience of synaesthetic art is doubly so; and Montaron says different synaesthetes respond in markedly different ways to the piece, confusing matters still further.

A more common reaction, however, was bafflement, edged with suspicion from some of those encountering synaesthesia for the first time. Synaesthetic art might gratify the eye and ear, but it can also leave you wondering if it's actually possible to communicate effectively across the gulf between the minds of those with and without the condition.

Even the title of the piece - "purple perfumes of the polar sun" in English - is evocative but opaque: it's a line from Metropolitain by the French poet, libertine and synaesthete Arthur Rimbaud. Exactly what Rimbaud was describing in his poem remains the subject of controversy; and it seems a fair bet that the message of Parfums will remain just as elusive - at least to those of us who are not, in the end, special synaesthetic snowflakes.

ISS Image: The Moon rising

Twin Stars Could Be Visible From Earth By 2012

Earth could be getting a second sun, at least temporarily.

Dr. Brad Carter, Senior Lecturer of Physics at the University of Southern Queensland, outlined the scenario to Betelgeuse, one of the night sky's brightest stars, is losing mass, indicating it is collapsing. It could run out of fuel and go super-nova at any time.

When that happens, for at least a few weeks, we'd see a second sun, Carter says. There may also be no night during that timeframe.

The Star Wars-esque scenario could happen by 2012, Carter says... or it could take longer. The explosion could also cause a neutron star or result in the formation of a black hole 1300 light years from Earth, reports

But doomsday sayers should be careful about speculation on this one. If the star does go super-nova, Earth will be showered with harmless particles, according to Carter. "They will flood through the Earth and bizarrely enough, even though the supernova we see visually will light up the night sky, 99 per cent of the energy in the supernova is released in these particles that will come through our bodies and through the Earth with absolutely no harm whatsoever," he told

In fact, a neutrino shower could be beneficial to Earth. According to Carter this "star stuff" makes up the universe. "It literally makes things like gold, silver - all the heavy elements - even things like uranium....a star like Betelgeuse is instantly forming for us all sorts of heavy elements and atoms that our own Earth and our own bodies have from long past supernovi," said Carter.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Obesity in horses and ponies in UK

Research carried out in Scotland has already shown a prevalence of obesity in pleasure riding horses but this is the first time a similar study has been done in England.

Five hundred owners were sent questionnaires. None of them kept horses for breeding, livery, riding stables, or competition, so were all classed as keeping their animals for leisure only.

Owners were asked to score the condition of their horses on a scale from zero to five. Of the 160 returned, one in five showed that their horses were either overweight or obese.

Grass was the main source of forage for half the horses and coarse mix was the main source of concentrate feed in a similar proportion. Only one in 10 horses was not fed any concentrate.

The researchers then assessed the body condition of 15 randomly selected horses to see if the scores had under or overestimated the horse’s weight.

They assigned an average score that was significantly higher for these horses; eight of the owners had scored their horse at least one grade lower than the researcher had, indicating that the owners had underestimated their horses’ weight.

On the basis of the researchers’ findings, the authors estimate that the true prevalence of overweight/obesity was likely to be 54 percent rather than the 20 percent indicated by the questionnaire responses.

“Increasing incidence of obesity is a multi-species problem, affecting both humans and their companion animals,” says veterinary student Helen Stephenson. “Addressing this issue is an important role for the profession, and I hope to do my part when I go into practice.”

Europe China at Impasse on GPS Navigation

Negotiations to resolve signal overlaps between European and Chinese satellite navigation systems have made no progress despite more than two years of effort and the issue now poses “a major problem for the security of the EU,” the European Commission says.

“[A] solution will not be found without political support” from top European authorities and from the European Parliament, according to the commission, which is the executive arm of the 27-nation European Union (EU).

In a Jan. 18 update on Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation system, the commission suggests that efforts to persuade China to move away from frequencies planned for Galileo’s Public Regulated Service (PRS) have gone nowhere. PRS is Galileo’s equivalent to the U.S. GPS military code, which is encrypted and reserved for defense and security customers.

China is under no legal or regulatory obligation to steer clear of PRS for its Compass/Beidou navigation system, now being deployed, because a signal overlap will not prevent users of either system from accessing their services.

But the overlap will make it impossible for China or Europe to jam one another’s signals without disabling their own service. This is an issue the United States and Europe spent several years negotiating before European authorities agreed to place PRS on a radio frequency some distance from the GPS military code.

The commission’s report says Galileo is in a competitive race with Russian and Chinese navigation constellations to be the global complement to GPS and is at risk of losing the race because of Galileo delays that likely will mean full service is not available before 2020.

The Russian Glonass and Chinese Compass/Beidou efforts have been given priority by their government sponsors. Glonass is now expected to return to full global service by 2012, with Compass/Beidou following perhaps two or three years later.

These services, plus regional systems being built by Japan and India, and the established GPS system, “provide a challenge … in competitive terms,” the commission says.

Coronary Imaging helps identify cause of heart disease

Results from the PROSPECT clinical trial shed new light on the types of vulnerable plaque that are most likely to cause sudden, unexpected adverse cardiac events, and on the ability to identify them through imaging techniques before they occur.

The trial, Providing Regional Observations to Study Predictors of Events in the Coronary Tree (PROSPECT), is the first prospective natural history study of atherosclerosis using multi-modality imaging to characterize the coronary tree. The study findings were published in the January 20, 2011 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

“As a result of the PROSPECT trial, we are closer to being able to predict — and therefore prevent — sudden, unexpected adverse cardiac events,” said principal investigator Gregg W. Stone, MD. Dr. Stone is Professor of Medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, Director of Cardiovascular Research and Education at the Center for Interventional Vascular Therapy at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center and Co-Director of the Medical Research and Education Division at the Cardiovascular Research Foundation (CRF).

The multi-center trial studied 700 patients with acute coronary syndromes (ACS) using three-vessel multimodality intra-coronary imaging — angiography, grayscale intravascular ultrasound (IVUS), and radiofrequency IVUS — to quantify the clinical event rate due to atherosclerotic progression and to identify those lesions that place patients at risk for unexpected adverse cardiovascular events (sudden death, cardiac arrest, heart attacks and unstable or progressive angina).

Among the discoveries of the trial are that most untreated plaques that cause unexpected heart attacks are not mild lesions, as previously thought, but actually have a large plaque burden and/or a small lumen area. These are characteristics that were invisible to the coronary angiogram but easily identifiable by grayscale IVUS.

Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, for the first time it was demonstrated that characterization of the underlying plaque composition (with radiofrequency IVUS, also known as VH-IVUS) was able to significantly improve the ability to predict future adverse events beyond other more standard imaging techniques.

“These results mean that using a combination of imaging modalities, including IVUS to identify lesions with a large plaque burden and/or small lumen area, and VH-IVUS to identify a large necrotic core without a visible cap (a thin cap fibroatheroma) identifies the lesions that are at especially high risk of causing future adverse cardiovascular events,” Dr. Stone said.

ESA's Galileo satellite undergoes launch check-up at ESTEC

Galileo’s first satellite is undergoing testing at ESA’s technical centre in the Netherlands, checking its readiness to be launched into orbit. This marks a significant step for Europe’s Galileo satnav constellation.

The first part of Europe’s global satellite navigation system is due to be launched over the next two years – a total of four Galileo In-Orbit Validation (IOV) satellites.

The following four years to 2015 will see Galileo brought up to its first operational configuration of 18 satellites in medium Earth orbit.

Before they are launched, the IOV satellites must be formally qualified for space operations by passing a rigorous series of tests that reproduce the heavy vibration, acoustic noise and shock they will experience during the violent rocket ride into orbit – plus a little extra for safety.

The venue for these tests is the ESTEC Test Centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. This unique European facility combines a complete portfolio of space simulation facilities under a single roof.

“From the point of view of mechanical qualification, the Galileo IOV satellites are identical,” said Pedro Cosma, Assembly Integration and Testing engineer for Galileo.
“So we are employing one of the satellites for this qualification testing, the first to be built, known as the Protoflight Model (PFM). It will respond in practically the same way as the other Flight Models – FM2, FM3 and FM4.”
The satellites have been built by a consortium of European companies. Their payloads were designed, developed and assembled by EADS Astrium in Portsmouth, UK, with the overall satellite designed and developed by Astrium in Ottobrunn, Germany and assembled by Thales Alenia Space in Rome, Italy.

The first satellite will endure simulated launch vibrations on ESTEC’s Electrodynamic Shaker, followed by the sudden pyrotechnic shocks during separation from the launch vehicle.

NASA Video of Orion nebula

The Orion Nebula is a huge cluster of gas and dust 1350 light years away from Earth. It's been dubbed a "stellar nursery" because huge stars are formed there.

In the video above, you can watch a wide view of the constellation of Orion, then zoom in through Orion's sword.The clip ends with a new image of the nebula itself, revealed in intricate detail.

This image won seventh place in a recent photo competition run by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) and is a composite of exposures through five different filters.

The competition invited amateurs to trawl through the observatory's raw data to find beautiful images that had been overlooked by professionals. It was transformed into a colour image by overall winner Ivor Chekalin. A gallery of his images can be seen here.

The image was captured with the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory, Chile.

NASA Mars Recon Orbiter HiRISE Image: Chasma Boreale

A coloured satellite image of a steep cliff at the head of Chasma Boreale on Mars, obtained by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

The orbiter peers directly down at a dizzyingly steep cliff face in the Red Planet's polar regions.

The cliff, to the right of the image, is composed of layer upon layer of red dust and pale ice deposits which, like tree rings on Earth, preserve a record of the Martian climate.


SDO AIA Image: Solar Activity in ultra-violet range

A full-disk extreme ultraviolet image of the Sun taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory's Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) instrument, showing the temperatures of gases on the solar surface and in the solar atmosphere. 

Red gases are cooler (around 60,000 degrees Celsius), blue and green are warmer (more than 1 million degrees). 

A solar flare is seen at upper left. Spacecraft like the Solar Dynamics Observatory allow us to 'see' wavelengths of light which would be invisible to human eyes. 

In the ultraviolet the Sun's familiar face appears dark, but now we can see that it's surrounded by wispy streamers of gas and blotched with bright regions of intense solar activity, each the size of the Earth.


Richard Feynman Video: Explaining Magnets

Legendary physicist Richard Feynman talks about why it is so hard to answer certain science questions in layman terms

Doctor Feynman was one of the defining physicists of our time. He is commonly said to have made complex physics accessible to all, and his lectures were later published in a series of books such as “Six Easy Pieces” and “Six Not So Easy Pieces“.

He was often referred to as the “Great Explainer”, leading the BBC to produce a short series with him known as “Fun To Imagine” on key scientific concepts in the early 80s, such as this video. In fact, his lectures at the California Institute of Technology were so renowned that fellow academics, teachers and professors would often sit in to refresh their memory on important physical concepts.

Sadly, Richard Feynman passed away on 15 February 1988, but his legacy still remains.

Fruiting Bodies: Dictyostelium discoideum

The fruiting bodies produced by the amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum as part of its reproductive cycle are pictured. Scientists have learned that some of the single-celled organisms display a primitive form of agriculture.

Instead of consuming all the bacteria at a particular site, they save some to 'seed' at other locations where food is scarce.

The amoeba species lives in slime moulds in the soil, where they exhibit an unusual form of social reproduction.

Dictyostelium chooses social over sexual reproduction whenever it runs out of food.