Wednesday, November 30, 2011

CANADA's NeuroArm: Robotic Arm Provides Healing Touch

The delicate touch that successfully removed an egg-shaped tumor from Paige Nickason's brain got a helping hand from a world-renowned arm -- a robotic arm, that is.

The technology that went into developing neuroArm, the world's first robot capable of performing surgery inside magnetic resonance machines, was born from the Canadarm (developed by MDA for the US Space Shuttle Program), as well as Canadarm2 and Dextre, the Canadian Space Agency's family of space robots performing the heavy-lifting and maintenance on board the International Space Station.

neuroArm began with the search for a solution to a surgical dilemma: how to make difficult surgeries easier or impossible surgeries possible. MDA worked with a team led by Dr. Garnette Sutherland at the University of Calgary to develop a highly precise robotic arm that works in conjunction with the advanced imaging capabilities of MRI systems.

Surgeons needed to be able to perform surgeries while a patient was inside a magnetic resonance (MRI) machine, which meant designing a robot that was as dexterous as the human hand but even more precise and tremor-free.

Operating inside the MRI also means it had to be entirely made from non-magnetic materials (for instance, no steel) so that it would not be affected by the MRI's magnetic field or adversely affect the MRI's images.

The project team developed novel ways to control the robot's movements and give the robot's operator a sense of touch, both essential so that the surgeon can precisely control the robot and can feel what is happening during the surgery.

Since Paige Nickason's surgery in 2008, neuroArm has been used to successfully treat dozens more patients. The neuroArm technology has since been purchased by IMRIS Inc. a private publicly traded medical device manufacturer based in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

MDA and IMRIS are advancing the design to commercialise a two-armed version of the system to allow surgeons to see detailed three-dimensional images of the brain, as well as surgical tools and hand controllers that allow the surgeon to feel tissue and apply pressure when they operate.

A clinical trial led by Dr. Sutherland is currently underway at Calgary's Foothills hospital using the first generation of the robot on a group of 120 patients. IMRIS anticipates being in a position to seek regulatory approval for the robot as early as 2012.

MARS HiRise: Bright and Dark Terrain in Noctis Labyrinthus

Bright and Dark Terrain in Noctis Labyrinthus

To view more of the latest images visit the HiRise website

All-seeing Ball Camera snaps panoramas in mid-air

Throw a typical camera in the air and you're unlikely to capture anything stunning. But now a new ball-shaped camera, created by Jonas Pfeil from the Technical University of Berlin and colleagues, is designed to be tossed upwards to snap panoramas in mid-air.

The rubber ball, which contains 36 cellphone cameras, barely moves at the highest point of its trajectory so the photos it captures aren't blurred by movement.

A built-in accelerometer measures in-flight speed to detect this stationary point and trigger the cameras. Software then stitches the pictures together into a spherical panoramic image.

The team developed the system to simplify panoramic photography, which normally involves painstakingly connecting several different images.

The ball will be demonstrated at Siggraph Asia, a conference on computer graphics and interactive techniques, from December 13-15 in Hong Kong.

Stephen Colbert Talks Science with Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson - YouTube

With a fast-moving mixture of comedy and seriousness, an interview on The Colbert Report is something of an improvisational flying trapeze act.

“Stephen Colbert is an amazingly good interviewer,” writes physicist Sean Carroll, “managing to mix topical jokes and his usual schtick with some really good questions, and more than a bit of real background knowledge.”

Beneath the humor there is a sense that Colbert understands and respects science. The sad thing, writes Carroll, “is that more people are exposed to real scientists doing cutting-edge research by watching Comedy Central than by watching, shall we say, certain channels you might have thought more appropriate venues for such conversations.” But the exposure is all too brief. An interview on The Colbert Report typically lasts only a few minutes.

So it was interesting when Colbert stepped away from his comedic character for a more in-depth conversation with one of his frequent guests, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. The interview took place last year at Montclair Kimberley Academy in Montclair, New Jersey.

Earlier this week Tyson uploaded the video to the website of the Hayden Planetarium, where he is director, but the server was overwhelmed by the resulting surge in traffic.

So someone placed the version above on YouTube. It’s an interesting, and witty, one-hour-and-19-minute conversation. For more of Tyson with Colbert, you can watch his appearances on The Colbert Report at the Hayden Planetarium site.

WSU Researchers Use a 3D Printer to Make Bone-like Material - YouTube

It looks like bone. It feels like bone. For the most part, it acts like bone and it came off an inkjet printer.

A ceramic powder and 3D printer have been paired to create a bone-like material that could be used in surgery within the next decade.

The material, which has already been tested in vivo tests on rats and rabbits, could be created to order for dental and orthopedic procedures.

Once inserted in the body, it acts as a scaffold for new human bone cells to grow upon after just a week.

The manmade scaffold will eventually dissolve "with no apparent ill effects".

The material was created following a four-year effort by chemistry, materials science, biology and manufacturing researchers at Washington State University.

The main "ingredient" is calcium phosphate but silicon and zinc were added, which "more than doubled the strength of the main material," the team explained.

Inside the printer, an inkjet nozzle sprays a plastic binder liquid over a bed of the powder in layers of 20 microns.

Susmita Bose, co-author of the paper revealing the results of the project and professor in WSU's School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering says that custom-ordered replacement bone tissue could be in common use in the next ten years.

"If a doctor has a CT scan of a defect, we can convert it to a CAD file and make the scaffold according to the defect," she said.

The Heart Of Cygnus Fermi: A Cosmic-ray Cocoon

Cygnus X hosts many young stellar groupings, including the OB2 and OB9 associations and the cluster NGC 6910. 

The combined outflows and ultraviolet radiation from the region's numerous massive stars have heated and pushed gas away from the clusters, producing cavities of hot, lower-density gas.

In this 8-micron infrared image, ridges of denser gas mark the boundaries of the cavities. Bright spots within these ridges show where stars are forming today. Credit: NASA/IPAC/MSX.

The constellation Cygnus, now visible in the western sky as twilight deepens after sunset, hosts one of our galaxy's richest-known stellar construction zones.

Astronomers viewing the region at visible wavelengths see only hints of this spectacular activity thanks to a veil of nearby dust clouds forming the Great Rift, a dark lane that splits the Milky Way, a faint band of light marking our galaxy's central plane.

Located in the vicinity of the second-magnitude star Gamma Cygni, the star-forming region was named Cygnus X when it was discovered as a diffuse radio source by surveys in the 1950s.

Now, a study using data from NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope finds that the tumult of star birth and death in Cygnus X has managed to corral fast-moving particles called cosmic rays.

Cosmic rays are subatomic particles - mainly protons - that move through space at nearly the speed of light. In their journey across the galaxy, the particles are deflected by magnetic fields, which scramble their paths and make it impossible to backtrack the particles to their sources.

Yet when cosmic rays collide with interstellar gas, they produce gamma rays - the most energetic and penetrating form of light - that travel to us straight from the source.

By tracing gamma-ray signals throughout the galaxy, Fermi's Large Area Telescope (LAT) is helping astronomers understand the sources of cosmic rays and how they're accelerated to such high speeds. In fact, this is one of the mission's key goals.

The galaxy's best candidate sites for cosmic-ray acceleration are the rapidly expanding shells of ionized gas and magnetic field associated with supernova explosions. For stars, mass is destiny, and the most massive ones - known as types O and B - live fast and die young.

They're also relatively rare because such extreme stars, with masses more than 40 times that of our sun and surface temperatures eight times hotter, exert tremendous influence on their surroundings.

With intense ultraviolet radiation and powerful outflows known as stellar winds, the most massive stars rapidly disperse their natal gas clouds, naturally limiting the number of massive stars in any given region.

Which brings us back to Cygnus X. Located about 4,500 light-years away, this star factory is believed to contain enough raw material to make two million stars like our sun.

Within it are many young star clusters and several sprawling groups of related O- and B-type stars, called OB associations.

One, called Cygnus OB2, contains 65 O stars - the most massive, luminous and hottest type - and nearly 500 B stars.

Astronomers estimate that the association's total stellar mass is 30,000 times that of our sun, making Cygnus OB2 the largest object of its type within 6,500 light-years. And with ages of less than 5 million years, few of its most massive stars have lived long enough to exhaust their fuel and explode as supernovae.

Intense light and outflows from the monster stars in Cygnus OB2 and from several other nearby associations and star clusters have excavated vast amounts of gas from their vicinities.

The stars reside within cavities filled with hot, thin gas surrounded by ridges of cool, dense gas where stars are now forming.

It's within the hollowed-out zones that Fermi's LAT detects intense gamma-ray emission, according to a paper describing the findings that was published in the journal Science.

Veteran Mars Researcher Says Viking Detected Life on Mars

NASA has repeatedly stated that its new mission to Mars, Curiosity, carries no life detector.

Yet, Gilbert V. Levin, Experimenter on NASA's 1976 Viking Mission, disagrees.

He says instruments aboard Curiosity can confirm his published claim that his Labeled Release (LR) experiment detected living microorganisms on Mars.

Dr. Levin was Experimenter and Dr. Patricia Ann Straat Co-Experimenter on the experiment that produced evidence of life on Mars.

Because another Viking instrument failed to find organic matter, the stuff of life, NASA discounted the LR results. Since Viking, Mars missions have sought only evidence of habitability, not life itself.

Levin now claims the organic analyzers and the high-resolution camera on Curiosity as his "stealth life detectors."

After twenty years of analyzing the LR data, reviewing flaws in Viking's organic detector, and studying new information on life obtained from Mars and Earth, Levin finally announced his "life claim" in a 1997 publication.

today, he said that, should Curiosity detect organic matter, the last obstacle to his claim to life on Mars will vanish. Co-Experimenter Straat agrees with Levin, saying, "I look forward to Curiosity data that may confirm our life interpretation of the LR."

Levin's other "virtual experiment" is Curiosity's high-resolution camera. It might determine whether "lichen-like" colored patches Levin found on rocks at the Viking sites might be living organisms.

Patricia Straat, and JPL's William Benton assisted him in the study which subjected images of the Mars rocks and terrestrial rocks bearing lichen to the Viking Imaging System.

Visible and infrared spectral analyses found the same responses from the Mars and terrestrial images (Levin, G. V., P. A. Straat and W. D. Benton, "Color and Feature Changes at Mars Viking Lander Site," J. Theoret. Biol., 75, 381-390, 1978 - available at, tab "Mars Research").

Levin has now written Dr. Mike Malin, designer of Curiosity's camera, asking him to seek and take high-resolution pictures of any such patches, hoping to determine whether Viking found living organisms on the rocks.

Levin (see biog. started his Mars life-seeking efforts in 1958. Funded by NASA, he began developing the LR. In 1969, NASA appointed Levin as Team Member of the IRIS experiment aboard the 1971 Mariner 9 Mars orbiter. Dr. Straat joined that effort in 1970. They sought organic gases in the Martian atmosphere.

None were found, but recent observers of Mars have claimed detecting methane, possibly of microbial origin. Following Viking, Levin was appointed Team Member of NASA's MOx experiment aboard the Russian '96 Mission to Mars, converting that soil analysis instrument to give it life detection capability. However, the spacecraft crashed after launch.

"This is a very exciting time," says Levin, now an adjunct professor at Arizona State University, Tempe, "something for which I have been waiting for years. At the very least, the Curiosity results may bring about my long-requested re-evaluation of the Viking LR results."

Stunning Photo of Beta Pictoris Galaxy by Amateur Astronomer

An amateur astronomer captured the shot of his life when he took a picture of forming solar system.

Auckland resident Rolf Olsen is the first amateur astronomer to take pictures of another solar system from his small telescope in his backyard.

Olsen managed to photograph the star Beta Pictoris, which is located 60 light years away.

He only used a 25 cm telescope to capture the image of the distant galaxy.

Beta Pictoris is estimated to be about 12 million years old and is considered a model for what the Milky Way looked like 4.5 billion years ago. It had been previously been photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope.

In the 1980s infrared images of the galaxy revealed that it's surrounded by a flat dust disk. The disk is larger than our solar system and scientists have wanted to capture a picture of it for further study. The only problem is that the star is so bright that it can obscure the dust disk around it.

Rolf managed to get rid of the unwanted light to get a clear picture of Beta Pictoris with the dust disk surrounding it.

Rolf got the idea from an 18-year-old scientific paper from Harvard tiled "Observation of the central part of the beta Pictoris disk with an anti-blooming CCD" that describes how to get an image using similar equipment.

First he took pictures of Beta Pictoris using a camera mounted on his telescope. He then took another batch of pictures of another star, Alpha Pictoris which is similar to Beta Pictoris in brightness and color.

He subtracted the image of the second star to eliminate the glare from Beta Pictoris. Rolf cleaned up the raw subtracted image to make the dust disk easier to see. The result is a clear image of Beta Pictoris with the dust disk surrounding it.

"And the result is, I believe, the first amateur image of another solar system: The protoplanetary disc around Beta Pictoris. I must say it feels really special to have actually captured this," Olsen writes in his website.

The scientific community has been quick to laud Olsen's effort.

ESA: Phobos-Grunt Latest Orbit Raising Manoeuvres Fails

The European Space Agency's latest attempts to send commands to the Phobos-Grunt have not been successful as the spacecraft did not raise its orbit and remained on track for its re-entry to Earth's atmostphere.

As of latest estimates, the Russian mission's re-entry is expected in mid-January.

Russian news agencies reported that from November 28 to November 29, ESA's ground station in Perth had five opportunities to contact Phobos-Grunt from 18:21 to 03:47 GMT (22:21 - 07:47 Moscow Time) but all attempts to command Phobos-Grunt to fire its engines for reaching higher orbit were unsuccessful.

Russian mission controllers have asked ESA to repeat sending the commands to the trapped spacecraft.

However, tracking data revealed that the Phobos-Grunt course was not changed by an engine burn and remained at 209.8 by 310 km.

It could be that the spacecraft did not receive the signal or even if it received the data it was not able to conduct the burn due to technical reasons, sources said.

ESA continues to improve its ground stations to be able to send signals to the Russian spacecraft. It has modified its Maspalomas Ground Station in Spain to have a second communication asset along the orbital path of Phobos Grunt.

The modifications that were implemented on the Perth Tracking Station, such as the upgrades to add a "feedhorn" antenna which enabled the facility in Perth to communicate with Phobos-Grunt have similarly been made on the 15-meter dish at this Station.

Russian controllers are expected to confirm a possible orbit raising maneuver tomorrow as more communication opportunities are coming up for the two ESA Ground Stations.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

NASA's Orion MPCV faces a second splash test - video

Engineers conducted the first test as part of Phase 1 of the Orion MPCV boilerplate test article at NASA's Langley Research Center, on Oct. 18.

The 18,000-pound (8,165 kg) test article, representative of the Orion Crew Module, was drop tested at a 43-degree relative pitch angle and a 30-degree roll angle and travelled at 27 mph (43 kph) horizontal velocity before splashing down in the Hydro Impact Basin.

NASA ISS Crew: Living and Working in Orbit

Commander Dan Burbank (right) and Flight Engineer Anton Shkaplerov work in the Destiny laboratory of the International Space Station. Credit: NASA TV

The International Space Station’s Expedition 30 crew – Commander Dan Burbank and Flight Engineers Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin – performed science experiments and participated in an emergency drill Tuesday.

Burbank, a NASA astronaut, began his workday almost immediately after the crew’s regular 1 a.m. EST wakeup time as he conducted the Reaction Self Test.

This 5-minute test helps crew members objectively identify any impacts to their performance caused by sleep loss, fatigue and disruptions to circadian rhythms.

Following the crew’s daily planning conference with flight control centers around the world, Burbank spent his morning setting up equipment for the Integrated Cardiovascular experiment and participating as its test subject.

Investigators use the data from these tests to measure the atrophy of the heart muscle that appears to develop during long-duration spaceflight and to develop countermeasures to mitigate those effects.

Experiments like this one are crucial to understanding and maintaining crew health as NASA moves towards space exploration beyond low-Earth orbit.

Meanwhile, Shkaplerov participated in a Russian cardiovascular study known as Pneumocard and later performed routine maintenance on the life-support system in the Russian segment of the orbiting complex.

His fellow cosmonaut, Ivanishin, conducted preventative maintenance on the ventilation system of the Zvezda service module.

After a break for lunch, all three Expedition 30 crew members teamed up for an emergency egress drill to remain familiar with the location of emergency equipment and hatches as well as the evacuation route.

In cooperation with the mission control centers around the world, the crew worked through the response procedures as if there were an actual emergency requiring a rapid departure and tagged up with flight controllers afterward to review the results.

Quadrocopter Ball Juggling, ETH Zurich - YouTube

It seems like an ideal–and adventurous–match: innovative architectural firm Gramazio & Kohler, known for using robots to assemble buildings, team up with inventor Raffaello D’Andrea, whose autonomous robots help retailers like Walgreen’s and Staples stock their warehouses efficiently.
This is the idea behind an exhibition that opens on December 2 and is on view through February 19 at the FRAC Centre in Orleans, France, an art and design gallery.
The result promises to be an intriguing exercise in using advanced robots to construct a swirling structure. The flying robots D’Andrea will provide won’t be building an actual skyscraper outdoors, but will be carrying and assembling 1,200 polystyrene foam bricks into an undulating tower that will reach nearly 20 feet high in the FRAC Centre.

It could be considered either a beautiful sculpture or a large-scale architectural model.
D’Andrea, a co-founder and Chief Technical Advisor of Kiva Systems, which makes warehouse robots, also teaches at ETH Zurich (ETH is the acronym for the Swiss spelling of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, or Eidgenossiche Technische Hochschule). There, he researches and builds intricate flying robots that can perform complicated maneuvers. Check out the video to get a sense of what they can do:
Fabio Gramazio & Matthias Kohler, also professors at ETH Zurich, have regularly used robots to build walls and pavilions for around five years, including a 72-foot-long structure in New York consisting of 7,000-plus bricks.
Pairing the robotics pioneers should result in a show-stopping exhibition but this could be more than an art and design show. Taking the complex research that the collaborators have done over the years on the precision, flexibility, and speed of robots and applying their collective knowledge to the construction of buildings could be a step toward the future of both architecture and robotics.

Beyond the ideal match of the creative minds involved, this exhibition could prove to symbolize another excellent match of creative industries, too.

Astronomer Captures NASA Mars Probe, in transit gloria!

Click on the image and download a short AVI show the NASA Mars Rover in transit.

'That's no asteroid, that's the Nasa Mars Rover Curiosity heading for Mars!'

Video captured by astronomer Gerhard Dangl 10 hrs post-launch

NASA Fermi Reveals a Cosmic-ray Cocoon in Cygnus - YouTube

Tour the Cygnus X star factory. This video opens with wide optical and infrared images of the constellation Cygnus, then zooms into the Cygnus X region using radio, infrared and gamma-ray images. Fermi LAT shows that gamma rays fill cavities in the star-forming clouds. The emission occurs when fast-moving cosmic rays strike hot gas and starlight.

Interactive Mirror technology: New York Times

Information is everywhere — in the world, in your home, everywhere. In today’s pair of videos from my visit to The New York Times Co.’s R&D Lab, Brian House, The Times Co.’s Creative Technologist for R&D, demonstrates the Lab’s, reflection of that idea — in the form of a data-bearing mirror.

The device (working name: “the magic mirror”) uses Microsoft’s Kinect motion-sensing technology to read physical cues from its user; it uses voice recognition technology to detect verbal cues. (In the videos, you’ll hear House talk to the mirror, Snow White-style.) The mirror also uses the the Times’ powerful APIs to serve up information on-demand.

The device, within its notional home, would replace the standard bathroom mirror. And like the R&D Lab’s screen-topped table, it’s all about bringing a new kind of intimacy to the news experience. You can use it, say, to browse Times headlines, or watch Times videos, while you’re brushing your teeth.

You can use it to schedule events on your personal calendar, or to shop online, or to exchange messages — from the classic “buy milk” on up — with other members of your household.

While the mirror is capable of serving (relatively) traditional forms of content — individual articles, videos, etc. — via its screen functionality, even more striking is its experimentation with information that has, directly, very little to do with the Times itself.

In exploring the realms of health and commerce alongside more standard editorial content, the Times Co. is hinting at the products we might see when news organizations expand their scope beyond the news itself.

Essentially, the mirror fuses news — and, in this case, a highly branded, New York Times experience of the news — with all the other forms of data that we encounter in our daily lives. Again, the “information shadow” idea.

By building a device that is both a screen and a mirror, the R&D Lab can experiment with the ways to combine the personal and the informational in ways that (it hopes!) aren’t intrusive, but rather helpful and, in that, welcome.

This is The New York Times Company acting not just as a curator of information about the wider world, but also as a curator of the information that punctuates, and complicates, and in some sense defines its customers’ personal lives.

ESA: SOHO Predicts Solar Storms

A new method, based on data from the COSTEP instrument onboard SOHO, permits for the first time up to an hour of warning prior to the arrival of the most dangerous particles of a solar storm at Earth.

Solar storms consist of electrons, protons and heavy ions, the last of which pose the gravest danger to space-borne electronics and to humans outside the Earth's protective magnetic field (such as on the Moon or en route to Mars). Electrons arrive first, signaling the later arrival of the ions.

So far, however, there had been no adequate method to predict when these ions arrive. Sufficient advance warning allows for spacecraft to be put in a protective "safe mode" and humans to be instructed to seek shelter from the storm.

Arik Posner, a physicist in NASA's Science Mission Directorate, looked at hundreds of radiation storms recorded by COSTEP (Comprehensive Suprathermal and Energetic Particle Analyzer) between 1996 and 2002, and was able to construct an empirical, predictive matrix that can be used to forecast the ions' arrival time from the electron data.

Posner's ion storm forecasting matrix. Click here to view a more complete version of the matrix with extended caption.

After testing the results, the matrix was used on COSTEP data gathered in 2003, a year that had not yet been analyzed and formed no part of the matrix itself.

The matrix was applied to the electron data and as a result, it successfully predicted all four major ion storms of 2003 with advance warnings ranging from 7 to 74 minutes.

The method did, however, also create three false alarms from the 2003 dataset. Improvements will come as Posner works his way through even more of COSTEP's dataset.

Posner's forecasts for the intense "Halloween storms" of 2003. Black denotes the predicted ion flux; red is what was actually observed.

The COSTEP instrument was launched with SOHO in 1995.

It has been operating for more than a whole solar cycle, which lasts on average 11.1 years, and is still going strong.

ESA prepares new technologies for future launchers

ESA and the DLR German Space Center fired a Texus rocket 263 km into space on 27 November to test a new way of handling propellants on Europe’s future rockets.

Texus 48 lifted off at 10:10 GMT (11:10 CET) from the Esrange Space Centre near Kiruna in northern Sweden on its 13-minute flight.

During the six minutes of weightlessness – mimicking the different stages of a full spaceflight – two new devices were tested for handling super-cold liquid hydrogen and oxygen propellants and then recovered for analysis.

Building on over 30 years of Texus missions, flight 48 was the first to demonstrate a new technology for future launchers.

DLR procured the rocket for this flight, which was performed under ESA’s Cryogenic Upper Stage Technologies (CUST) project as part of the Future Launchers Preparatory Programme (FLPP).

ESA Portal - Europe prepares new technologies for future launchers

Improved upper stage
ESA is working on a restartable cryogenic upper stage to improve Europe’s launchers.

Liquids naturally float around in weightlessness but to ensure engine ignition after a long coast in low-gravity, propellant must be held ready at the tank’s outlet using ‘capillary’ forces – the same force that helps paper towels soak up water.

Although this has already been mastered for launchers and satellites that use storable liquids, higher-performance cryogenic fluids are more difficult to handle.

On Texus 48, liquid nitrogen represented the cryogenic propellants to ease cost and safety constraints, and simplify the thermal design.

“The launch of Texus 48 demonstrating new technologies for future rockets was a success. It also shows great cooperation with DLR, where joint efforts made this flight possible on time,” said Guy Pilchen, Future Launchers Preparatory Programme Manager.

ESA:‘Star wars’ laser offers new insight into Earth’s atmosphere

With the need to understand global change one of today’s most pressing scientific challenges, ESA is exploring novel techniques for future space missions.

Firing laser pulses between satellites is promising a step up in tracking greenhouse gases.

More renowned for their appeal as holiday destinations, the Spanish Canary Islands recently played host to an experiment that involved shooting laser beams from a peak on La Palma to Tenerife.

Over the course of two weeks, the night sky lit up with green pulses of light between the two islands – looking more like a scene from a Star Wars film than an experiment to help understand Earth’s atmosphere.

The experiment was devised to test the concept of using ‘infrared differential absorption spectroscopy’ as a way of making extremely accurate measurements of trace gases such as carbon dioxide and methane.

Optical ground station, Tenerife

The approach links two satellites orbiting Earth: one acts as a transmitter and the other acts as a receiver, with the atmosphere being probed as the beam travels between them.

Radio occultation involves tracking signals from satellites as they rise or set behind Earth and is a well-established method of sensing the atmosphere using microwave signals.

This new concept, however, uses shortwave infrared laser pulses. At the right wavelength, the atmospheric molecules affect the beam.

This information can then be used to calculate concentrations of trace gases, and potentially wind.

Repeated at different altitudes, a vertical profile stretching from the lower stratosphere to the upper troposphere could be built up.

As an important part any new development, the theory has to be put to the test.

Read more: Esa Website portal

Tungurahua Volcano from Juive Grande, Ecuador

The Tungurahua Volcano is seen from Juive Grande, Ecuador

Picture: PABLO COZZAGLIO/AFP/Getty Images

Monday, November 28, 2011

Solar Eclipse: Lucky Skywatchers in New Zealand

James Tse snapped this stunning photo of the partial solar eclipse on Nov. 25, 2011 from New Zealand.
CREDIT: James Tse

A few lucky skywatchers in New Zealand were treated to a partial solar eclipse that darkened the sky over parts of the southern hemisphere.

Last Friday, the moon passed between Earth and the sun, creating a partial solar eclipse for the fourth and final time this year.

The eclipse was only visible from certain locations in the southern hemisphere, including pockets of southern South Africa, across the Antarctic continent, Tasmania and parts of New Zealand.

At greatest eclipse, the moon covered 90.5 percent of the sun's diameter from the point closest to the axis of Earth's shadow, which is a location in the Bellingshausen Sea on the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula, according to NASA scientists.

So, while majority of the planet could not see this partial solar eclipse, a few fortunate skywatchers in New Zealand captured some amazing photos of the event. [See photos of the partial solar eclipse]

Squidbot: Able to squeeze into small spaces

A squid-inspired robot that can limbo under small gaps could help rescue workers safely explore earthquake-hit areas or toxic waste spills.

"The squid is our hero, squids do incredible things," says George Whitesides, who led the group building the robot at Harvard University. Squid tentacles are essentially long tubes of liquid surrounded by muscles that squeeze the liquid to provide motion.

Whitesides' soft robot mimics this principle with a body made from flexible plastics powered by a simple pneumatic system that uses air to curl its four limbs or arch its back.

These cheap materials make the robot essentially disposable, meaning that it would not need to be recovered from a hazardous environment.

Whitesides had previously used a similar system to create a soft robot hand capable of picking up an egg, but his new creation focuses on moving rather than gripping.

The squidbot can walk with a variety of gaits and is also able to squeeze under a two centimetre gap by undulating its body like a limbo dancer, as shown in the video above.

The robot is currently limited by a tail of attached cables that provide the air needed to make it move, but larger versions could be completely mobile.

"It's going to be very straightforward to make bigger ones that have an on-board gas source," says Whitesides. Details of the robot were published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Cassini Solstice Mission: Titan's Kraken Mare

The Cassini spacecraft looks toward Saturn's largest moon, Titan, and spies the huge Kraken Mare in the moon's north.

Kraken Mare, a large sea of liquid hydrocarbons, is visible as a dark area near the top of the image.

See Titan's Northern Polar Clouds and Titan's Northern Lake to learn more.

This view looks toward the Saturn-facing side of Titan (3,200 miles across, or 5,150 kilometers,).

North on Titan is up and rotated 29 degrees to the left.

The image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Sept. 14, 2011 using a spectral filter sensitive to wavelengths of near-infrared light centered at 938 nanometers.

The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 1.2 million miles (1.9 million kilometers) from Titan and at a Sun-Titan-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 26 degrees. Image scale is 7 miles (12 kilometers) 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 in Washington.

The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit or . The Cassini imaging team homepage is at .

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Jet Man Flies Over Swiss Alps - YouTube

A self-styled "jet man" has performed another death defying stunt - flying alongside two Albatross aircraft above the Swiss Alps.

Adventurer Yves Rossy flew in a custom-built jet suit over the mountain range in formation with the aircraft.

Rossy, 51, launched himself from the side of a helicopter before taking his place alongside the two jets high above the Alps.

Moon Express Lunar Ambitions

Moon Express, a privately funded company, is developing a robotic spacecraft to land on the moon.
CREDIT: Moon Express

When he's not acting as the CEO of Intelius, an information-services company, Naveen Jain dreams of one day being able to mine the moon.

In August 2010, Jain co-founded Moon Express, a privately funded company that aims to build and launch a robotic spacecraft to the moon.

The lander is being designed to carry up to 220 pounds (100 kilograms) of cargo to the lunar surface.

Moon Express is one of nearly 30 teams making a run at the $30 million Google Lunar X-Prize, which is a commercial race to land a homemade robot on the moon.

The company was already awarded a contract worth up to $10 million as part of NASA's Innovative Lunar Demonstration Data program. But Jain has his sights set on even loftier ambitions.

Space 'Superbubbles' Could Spawn Energetic Cosmic Rays

An artist's concept of the heliosphere, a magnetic bubble that partially protects the solar system from cosmic rays.
CREDIT: Richard Mewaldt/Caltech

Enigmatic cosmic rays that strike Earth with giant amounts of energy might come from hot gaseous "superbubbles" in space, a new study reveals.

Cosmic rays have perplexed scientists for a century. These electrically charged particles bombard Earth with energies dwarfing anything we are capable of, but their origins remain a mystery.

Since cosmic rays are electrically charged, they can get pushed and pulled around by interstellar magnetic fields in the gas between the stars as they zip through space, obscuring where they come from.

One suspected fountain of cosmic rays are star-forming regions. The massive stars within these stellar nurseries can spew out massive amounts of energy and explode as supernovas.

NASA NPP Satellite Gets First Look At US East Coast

Here's looking at you, East Coast. A new NASA satellite captured its first look at the eastern seaboard of North America yesterday (Nov. 21).

The Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) onboard NASA's newest Earth-observing satellite, acquired the high-resolution image of a broad swath of Eastern North America from Canada's Hudson Bay past Florida to the northern coast of Venezuela. Earlier this month, the satellite sent back its first look at the Earth.

VIIRS is one of five instruments onboard the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project (NPP) satellite that launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., on Oct. 28.

Since then, NPP reached its final orbit at an altitude of 512 miles (824 kilometers), powered on all instruments and is traveling around the Earth at 16,640 mph (26,780 kph).

VIIRS will collect radiometric imagery in visible and infrared wavelengths of the Earth's land, atmosphere and oceans.

By far the largest instrument onboard NPP, VIIRS weighs about 556 pounds (252 kilograms). Its data will be used to observe the Earth's surface including fires, ice, ocean color, vegetation, clouds, and land and sea surface temperatures.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

ESA Astronaut, Andre Kuipers promotes Dutch Cheese in space

Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers will have a special treat waiting for him in orbit when he arrives in space next month: five kilogrammes of Amsterdam's finest cheese, its maker said Saturday.

The 53-year-old Kuipers is due to blast off on board a Soyuz rocket on December 21 with two other astronauts for a five-month-mission on board the International Space Station.

"Andre is a big fan of our cheese and asked us in a letter to arrange with space authorities to see if we could send up some of his favourite Old Amsterdam," the cheesemaker's spokeswoman Henriette Westland told AFP.

"After numerous emails to NASA and the European Space Agency, they agreed to send up around 10 kilogrammes (22 pounds)," she added.

She said the Dutch traditional snack had to be specially cut and wrapped before being shipped to Houston and then to Kazakhstan, where five kilogrammes were blasted off on board a cargo rocket to the ISS at the end of October.

Another five kilogrammes are expected to go up on another freight rocket from the Baikonur launching site by the end of January, Westland added.

Old Amsterdam cheese is one of the Westland company's best-known export brands and sold in some 70 countries.

NASA Mars Science Lab and Curiosity Rover Launches

The Atlantic Ocean provides a backdrop as the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket clears the tower at Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Sealed inside the rocket's protective payload fairing is NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft, beginning a 9-month interplanetary cruise to Mars.

Liftoff was at 10:02 a.m. EST Nov. 26. MSL's components include a car-sized rover, Curiosity, which has 10 science instruments designed to search for signs of life, including methane, and help determine if the gas is from a biological or geological source.

Image Credit: NASA/Darrell L. McCall

USAF Shuttle X-37B: Homecoming

At the end of November, the mysterious X-37B robot spaceplane will reach a critical point in its mission.

This time will mark the end of the official 270-day endurance limit of the semi-secret military shuttle. The X-37B could be getting ready to come home. But will it?

The X-37B is a small, experimental, automated winged spacecraft operated by the US Air Force.

It's roughly the size of a car, and has wings and a small cargo bay with clamshell doors that open up in orbit.

There's no cockpit and no crew. The cargo bay contains a boom that unfurls a solar panel while the vehicle is in orbit.

The first flight of an X-37B vehicle was launched on April 22, 2010, and flew a lengthy classified mission throughout the year. On December 3, 2010, the spacecraft returned to a runway landing, following a mission that lasted roughly 224 days.

We know for sure that the spacecraft itself was testing components and procedures that could be useful in future reusable spacecraft.

The "X" designates that this is an experimental vehicle. Prior to its adoption by the US Air Force, the X-37B was actually a civilian project connected to NASA, and these goals for the spacecraft were clearly stated in open channels.

The US Air Force has also reiterated these points in official statements. This part of the mission is beyond debate.

We also suspect that something else was carried in the cargo bay, but we don't know the details. The secrecy surrounding the X-37B's mission generated much curiosity and fear.

Some pundits suspected there was a spy camera on board, to investigate objects on Earth or in space. Some suggested the small shuttle was a robot satellite mechanic, ready to refuel or repair other spacecraft.

The wildest suggestion of all was that weapons were aboard, ready to destroy other spacecraft or targets on the ground. The spy camera theory is plausible, but not exactly proven. The other two theories are dubious.

It is our opinion that the cargo bay contained mechanical parts and other components to be used on military satellites. The parts would be exposed to space and operated for a long period.

Afterwards, they would be returned to Earth for analysis. This isn't very sexy, but it's absolutely vital. The US military and the shadowy intelligence community have lost too many satellites in recent years.

Problems with their components must surely be a cause of these losses. Fixing these bugs will ensure that these large, complex and highly expensive spacecraft will be more reliable in the future.

The first flight of the X-37B seems to have been highly successful, judging from the limited evidence we have. Photographs and video of the spacecraft were released soon after it landed, showing it intact.

Second Flight
There was a gap of only a few months between the landing of the first X-37B and the launch of the second vehicle. Evidently, there was no need for a major overhaul or redesign.

So we return to the second flight of the X-37B. Everything we know suggests that it's identical to the first vehicle. There has been even less discussion of this second mission than the first.

We don't know if is carrying or doing anything different to the first mission but it has clearly done something new. It's already been in space for much longer than its predecessor.

It is unlikely to come down before its 270 days are up. We believe that the second X-37B will try to push the endurance of this spacecraft further.

We don't really know how long this vehicle can survive in space. The official endurance figure could be a conservative estimate, or possibly tinged with a little strategic deception.

NASA MARS Curiosity Rover: Launched

NASA's Curiosity rover, the biggest, most sophisticated robotic explorer ever built, blasted off Saturday on a journey to Mars, where it will hunt for signs life once existed there.

Curiosity, which is the size of a large car and weighs in at one ton, has a laser beam for zapping interesting rocks and a tool kit for analyzing their contents.

It carries a robotic arm, a drill, and a set of 10 science instruments including two color video cameras.

Sensors will enable it to report back on the Martian weather and the levels of radiation in the atmosphere -- important data for NASA as it devises future human exploration missions.

Known formally as the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), the spacecraft launched at 10:02 am (1502 GMT) atop an Atlas V rocket to begin its nearly nine month trip to the Red Planet.

"Liftoff of the Atlas V with Curiosity, seeking clues to the planetary puzzle about life on Mars," said NASA commentator George Diller as the white rocket soared skyward from the Florida space pad.

The most advanced machine yet to roam the surface of Earth's nearest neighbor cost $2.5 billion to construct and launch, and has been described by NASA as "a dream machine."

It is powered by nuclear fuel and is about twice the size of NASA's twin solar-powered rovers Spirit and Opportunity that landed on Mars in 2004.

Scientists hope it will return valuable information about the past, present and future habitability of Mars to help the US space agency plan a human mission there, perhaps by the 2030s.

While the rover is not equipped to detect living organisms, it may find samples of organic carbon that indicate life once existed on Mars, or that perhaps it still does in microbial form.

One of the key instruments on board is a joint French-US project called the Chemistry and Camera investigation, which can emit a laser beam with the energy of a million light bulbs and tell scientists what makes up a Martian rock.

"It's like an arm that can reach out up to 25 feet (eight meters) away, brush something off, analyze it, actually look at the weathering surfaces and the interior of the rock at the same time," said Roger Wiens, principal investigator.

The rover's robotic arm, meanwhile, can drill into the ground or into rocks to create a powder, and a mobile chemistry lab on board can sift through the powder and tell scientists back on Earth what it contains.

Curiosity also has a Twitter account, @MarsCuriosity, from which it avidly tweeted about its liftoff and rocket ride.

"Spacecraft separation complete. Next stop: Mars!" it tweeted 44 minutes after launch.

In similar form, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy tweeted its congratulations to NASA on the successful blastoff.

"Great beginning to most complicated mission & largest ever rover to go to Mars," it said.

The landing spot for Curiosity, the Gale Crater near Mars' equator, was chosen after lengthy study because it contains a three-mile (five-kilometer) high mountain and many layers of sediment that could reveal a lot about the planet's wetter past.

"It is going to look for places that are habitable either in the past or potentially even in the future or currently," said Mary Voytek, director of NASA's Astrobiology Program.

The crater itself is at a low elevation so scientists believe that if water ever did pool on Mars, it likely found its way there. Everywhere that water exists on Earth, so does some form of life.

First, the rover has to travel 354 million miles (570 million kilometers), arrive intact and survive an elaborate rocketed-powered sky crane landing.

The project is meant to last two Earth years, or one full Martian year, but NASA hopes that like some of its other rovers in the past, Curiosity will outlive its expected potential.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Exmoor - Europe's First International Dark Sky Reserve

ESA Mars Express steadily returns to routine operation

Mission controllers are making excellent progress in returning Mars Express to routine service.

Some science activities have already resumed after being temporarily suspended last month following a series of faults related to the onboard data storage system.

Having arrived around Mars in December 2003 for an initial two-year mission, the spacecraft is now in its eighth year of science operations.

It has returned some of the most stunning images and valuable science data ever obtained from the Red Planet.

In mid-October 2011, anomalies in the operation of its Solid-State Mass Memory (SSMM) system caused science observations to be temporarily halted.

The problem had surfaced several weeks earlier, when, on several occasions, the spacecraft autonomously entered safe mode.

This is an operational mode designed to safeguard both the spacecraft and its instrument payload in the event of internal faults or errors.

Data storage problems
The cause was a complex combination of events relating to reading from and writing to memory modules in the SSMM system.

This is used to store data acquired by the instruments and housekeeping data from the spacecraft's subsystems, prior to transmission to Earth.

It is also used to store commands that have been received from ground stations while awaiting execution.

“This problem was unanticipated by the spacecraft designers, so everyone on the mission control team is learning as we go.”

The mission control team at ESOC, ESA's Space Operations Centre, Darmstadt, have been working closely with technical experts from the spacecraft's manufacturer as well as other experts at ESA to troubleshoot and isolate the problem.

However, it has not been possible to date to understand nor resolve the problem with the SSMM directly.

Therefore the team are now designing a series of new procedures that will enable commands to be stored without critical dependency on the problem-plagued SSMM.

BBC Nature: 'Brinicle' ice finger of death filmed in Antarctic - YouTube

Source: (video extracted with StreamTransport)

As brine from the sea ice sinks, a 'brinicle' forms threatening life on the sea floor with a frosty fate.

A bizarre underwater "icicle of death" has been filmed by a BBC crew.

With timelapse cameras, specialists recorded salt water being excluded from the sea ice and sinking. The temperature of this sinking brine, which was well below 0C, caused the water to freeze in an icy sheath around it.

Where the so-called "brinicle" met the sea bed, a web of ice formed that froze everything it touched, including sea urchins and starfish. The unusual phenomenon was filmed for the first time by cameramen Hugh Miller and Doug Anderson for the BBC One series Frozen Planet.

Creeping ice
The icy phenomenon is caused by cold, sinking brine, which is more dense than the rest of the sea water. It forms a brinicle as it contacts warmer water below the surface. Mr Miller set up the rig of timelapse equipment to capture the growing brinicle under the ice at Little Razorback Island, near Antarctica's Ross Archipelago.

"When we were exploring around that island we came across an area where there had been three or four [brinicles] previously and there was one actually happening," Mr Miller told BBC Nature.
The diving specialists noted the temperature and returned to the area as soon as the same conditions were repeated.

"It was a bit of a race against time because no-one really knew how fast they formed," said Mr Miller. "The one we'd seen a week before was getting longer in front of our eyes... the whole thing only took five, six hours."

Against the odds
The location - beneath the ice off the foothills of the volcano Mount Erebus, in water as cold as -2C - was not easy to access. "That particular patch was difficult to get to. It was a long way from the hole and it was quite narrow at times between the sea bed and the ice," explained Mr Miller.

"I do remember it being a struggle... All the kit is very heavy because it has to sit on the sea bed and not move for long periods of time." As well as the practicalities of setting up the equipment, the filmmakers had to contend with interference from the local wildlife.

The large weddell seals in the area had no problems barging past and breaking off brinicles as well as the filming equipment. "The first time I did a timelapse at the spot a seal knocked it over," said Mr Miller.
But the team's efforts were eventually rewarded with the first ever footage of a brinicle forming.

Dr Mark Brandon
Polar oceanographer, The Open University

Freezing sea water doesn't make ice like the stuff you grow in your freezer. Instead of a solid dense lump, it is more like a seawater-soaked sponge with a tiny network of brine channels within it.

In winter, the air temperature above the sea ice can be below -20C, whereas the sea water is only about -1.9C. Heat flows from the warmer sea up to the very cold air, forming new ice from the bottom. The salt in this newly formed ice is concentrated and pushed into the brine channels. And because it is very cold and salty, it is denser than the water beneath.

The result is the brine sinks in a descending plume. But as this extremely cold brine leaves the sea ice, it freezes the relatively fresh seawater it comes in contact with. This forms a fragile tube of ice around the descending plume, which grows into what has been called a brinicle.

Brinicles are found in both the Arctic and the Antarctic, but it has to be relatively calm for them to grow as long as the ones the Frozen Planet team observed.

Giant world map made from recycled computers


"British artist Susan Stockwell

recently completed this gigantic world map (21 feet x 13 feet)

made from recycled computer components

for the University of Bedfordshire.

Entitled 'World,'

the piece has been in progress since 2010

and uses motherboards, electrical wiring, fans, and myriad other components."

The artist appears above

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Phobos Grunt: ESA Pursuing Strategies to Maintain Contact with Russian Mars Mission

The European Space Agency (ESA), which was able to established a two-way communication with Russia's Phobos-Grunt mission after its successful contact on Tuesday, said it is pursuing strategies to consolidate contact with the mission.

In an update posted on its website, ESA said its 15 m-diameter antenna at Perth, Australia, was again used to contact Russia's Phobos-Grunt spacecraft during the night of Nov. 23-24.

A total of five communication passes were available between 20:19 and 04:08 GMT.

Teams working at the Perth station and at ESA's Space Operations Centre, Darmstadt, Germany, were delighted to see a clear signal during the first of the passes.

"The first pass was successful in that the spacecraft's radio downlink was commanded to switch on and telemetry was received," said Wolfgang Hell, ESA's Service Manager for Phobos-Grunt.

Hell said the signals received from Phobos-Grunt during the second contact were much stronger than those initially received on 22 November, in part due to having better knowledge of the spacecraft's orbital position.

Hell explained that one of the two low-gain antennas on Phobos-Grunt was oriented toward Perth, thus, communication worked.

The second contact was short and so it was used only to uplink commands while in the next three passes the spacecraft's orbital position changed, and the second, opposing, antenna had to be used, but no signal was received from Phobos-Grunt.

"Our Russian colleagues will use this result for troubleshooting and to plan their commands for us to send tonight," says Manfred Warhaut, ESA's Head of Mission Operations.

Another five communication slots are available during the night of 24-25 November, and the Perth tracking station will again be allocated on a priority basis to Phobos-Grunt, ESA said.

If revived, the Phobos-Grunt mission may still have a short window to journey across space and visit a new target, such as an asteroid, Russian space officials said.

Plutonium-238 Scarcity Could Derail Future NASA Space Missions

NASA's future space missions may be delayed or cancelled to the scarcity of plutonium-238 which has been used by the space agency to fuel its manned spacecrafts for the past 50 years.

Scientists say that without additional stores of this fuel, the agency's ability to conduct future planetary science is in jeopardy, adding that it is something the United States simply cannot afford.

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity which is scheduled to launch Nov. 26, is powered by this radioactive element.

However, with the chemical getting scarce, Curiosity may be the last in a long line of spacecrafts to be powered by plutonium.

"It's like having a car and no gasoline in the car," said Ralph McNutt, a planetary scientist at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory and a project scientist for NASA's Messenger mission to Mercury.

"The development of this power system has taken place in the U.S. over five decades, and we're on the verge of throwing it all away."

In 2009, the National Research Council reported that plutonium-238 has been and will continue to be "essential to the U.S. space science and exploration program."

The council recommended that domestic production of the material be restarted in order to sustain NASA's planetary science program, and to avoid delays or even cancellations of future missions.

Plutonium-238 is a toxic substance that gives off heat that can be converted to electricity in the cold, dark depths of space.

The United States produced this highly toxic chemical in facilities that supported the nuclear weapons program during the Cold War but they stopped making it in the late 1980s.

The NASA has used these plutonium-powered systems for famous missions like the Voyager probes.

However, Jim Adams, deputy director of planetary science at NASA, told NPR that even with slow down in space exploration due to budget constraints, fuel for NASA missions is only up to around 2022.

Physicists Set Dark Matter Mass at 40-Giga-Electron Volts

Physicists have determined that dark matter, the mysterious particles believed to make up almost a fourth of the universe, must have a mass greater than 40-giga-electron volts or it is not a dark matter.

According to Brown University physicist Savvas Koushiappas and Alex Geringer-Sameth, the limit for the mass of dark matter is important because it casts doubt on the results of underground experiments that have reported detecting dark matter.

Recent results from dark matter collaborations, the DAMA/LIBRA, CoGeNT and CRESST, which reported detecting the elusive particle in underground experiments.

Those collaborations state that they found dark matter with masses ranging from 7 to 12 GeV, less than the 40-giga-electron volts limit determined by the Brown physicists.

"What we find is if a particle's mass is less than 40 GeV, then it cannot be the dark matter particle," Koushiappas said.

For their study, the physicists used publicly available data collected from an instrument on NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope and constrained the mass of dark matter particles by calculating the rate at which the particles are thought to cancel each each other out in galaxies that orbit the Milky Way galaxy.

Observations show that dark matter accounts for about 23 percent of the universe and the remaining part is made up of dark energy which is the force believed to cause the universe's accelerated expansion.

However, dark matter and dark energy do not emit electromagnetic radiation like stars and planets; they can be "seen" only through their gravitational effects.other out in galaxies that orbit the Milky Way galaxy.

"If for the sake of argument a dark matter particle's mass is less than 40 GeV, it means the amount of dark matter in the universe today would be so much that the universe would not be expanding at the accelerated rate we observe," Koushiappas said in reference to the discovery that the expansion of the universe is accelerating. This discovery was awarded the 2011 Nobel prize in physics.

A similar conclusion has been reached by the Fermi-LAT Collaboration, an international scientific collaboration, using a different methodology.

NASA MARS Rover: Wheels Installed On Curiosity

Originally taken in July 2010, this photo shows NASA engineers installing six wheels on the Curiosity rover. 

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project will launch Curiosity on Friday, Nov. 26. Curiosity is scheduled for arrival at Mars in August 2012.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Cyborg Insects: First To Monitor Hazardous Places

Cyborg insects can possibly be the first to check and monitor hazardous places instead of man.

Doing so, dangerous accidents can be prevented and at the same time, people will easily know the status of the area.

These robo-insects will be able to check if there are trapped victims or potential explosion.

Roboexperts are finding ways on how to make sure that they will create the best roboinsect for the job. They have to make sure that everything is set before they launch these insects.

The research was conducted at the University Of Michigan College Of Engineering led by Professor Khalil Najafi and Erkan Aktakka.

Both of them are trying to find ways on how to harvest energy from the insects to utilize them more. That way, these robotic insects can last longer and will not be trapped in hazardous places in case they run out of battery.

The main idea of the team is to collect the cyborg’s biological energy from either its body heat or movement.

These tiny insects were designed to convert kinetic movement to electricity to prolong their battery life.

That way, they can use the power in using applications like camera, gas sensor, or microphone in checking hazardous areas.

Cyborg Insects are just like Robotic Spiders created a month ago to check the status of chemical accidents.

These small robotics are created to reduce the risk of accidents and deaths caused by experiments and other hazardous causes.

Because scientists and researchers all over the world want to provide a safer and better place for everyone, they are continuously discovering and trying things that may harm not only people but the environment.

Therefore, having these creepy little crawlers is indeed a great help in the world of science and technology.

The number of people affected on chemical accidents and other hazardous causes are continuously increasing.

These cases could have been prevented if proper assessments have been done. And because of that, scientists have become more aware on what to do.

Definitely, more of these cyborgs and robotic creatures will be created for almost the same purposes in the near future.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Jodrell Bank: Dense fog

Peter Wreford took this picture of a radio telescope in the mist at Jodrell Bank in Cheshire, UK
Picture: Peter Wreford

Reliable nuclear device to heat, power Mars Science Lab

The Mars Science Laboratory's radioisotope power system was fueled and tested at Idaho National Laboratory. 

Here, magnetic testing ensures that the electric field generated by the system is small enough that it won't interfere with the rover's scientific instruments. Credit: Idaho National Laboratory.

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission, which is scheduled to launch this week, has the potential to be the most productive Mars surface mission in history. That's due in part to its nuclear heat and power source.

When the rover Curiosity heads to space as early as Saturday, it will carry the most advanced payload of scientific gear ever used on Mars' surface. Those instruments will get their lifeblood from a radioisotope power system assembled and tested at Idaho National Laboratory. The Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator is the latest "space battery" that can reliably power a deep space mission for many years.

The device provides a continuous source of heat and power for the rover's instruments. NASA has used nuclear generators to safely and reliably power 26 missions over the past 50 years. New generators like the one destined for Mars are painstakingly assembled and extensively tested at INL before heading to space.

"This power system will enable Curiosity to complete its ambitious expedition in Mars' extreme temperatures and seasons," said Stephen Johnson, director of INL's Space Nuclear Systems and Technology Division. "When the unit leaves here, we've verified every aspect of its performance and made sure it's in good shape when it gets to Kennedy Space Center."

The power system provides about 110 watts of electricity and can run continuously for many years. The nuclear fuel is protected by multiple layers of safety features that have each undergone rigorous testing under varied accident scenarios.

The INL team began assembling the mission's power source in summer 2008. By December of that year, the power system was fully fueled, assembled and ready for testing. INL performs a series of tests to verify that such systems will perform as designed during their missions. These tests include:

+ Vibrational testing to simulate rocket launch conditions.

+ Magnetic testing to ensure the system's electrical field won't affect the rover's sensitive scientific equipment.

+ Mass properties tests to determine the center of gravity, which impacts thruster calculations for moving the rover.

+ Thermal vacuum testing to verify operation on a planet's surface or in the cold vacuum of space.

INL completed its tests in May 2009, but by then the planned September 2009 launch had been delayed until this month because of hurdles with other parts of the mission. So INL stored the power system until earlier this summer, when it was shipped to Kennedy Space Center and mated up with the rover to ensure everything fit and worked as designed.

The system will supply warmth and electricity to Curiosity and its scientific instruments using heat from nuclear decay. The generator is fueled with a ceramic form of plutonium dioxide encased in multiple layers of protective materials including iridium capsules and high-strength graphite blocks.

Space Station Trio Lands Safely in Kazakhstan

Russian support personnel work to help get crew members out of the Soyuz TMA-02M spacecraft shortly after the capsule landed with Expedition 29 Commander Mike Fossum and flight engineers Sergei Volkov and Satoshi Furukawa in a remote area outside of the town of Arkalyk, Kazakhstan, at 9:26 p.m. EST on Monday, Nov. 21, 2011 (8:26 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2011, Kazakhstan time). NASA astronaut Fossum, Russian cosmonaut Volkov and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Furukawa are returning from more than five months aboard the International Space Station where they served as members of the Expedition 28 and 29 crews. Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

Expedition 29 Commander Mike Fossum, left, and flight engineers Sergei Volkov, center, and Satoshi Furukawa, sit in chairs outside the Soyuz TMA-02M capsule just minutes after they landed in a remote area outside the town of Arkalyk, Kazakhstan, at 9:26 p.m. EST, on Nov. 21, 2011. NASA astronaut Fossum, Russian cosmonaut Volkov and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Furukawa returned from more than five months aboard the International Space Station where they served as members of the Expedition 28 and 29 crews. Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

ESA Makes Contact with Russia’s Lost Mars Moon Mission

Scientists have picked up a signal from Russia's Phobos-Grunt spacecraft, the European Space Agency said Wednesday. The craft was launched earlier this month, but scientists soon lost contact with it.

The ESA reported that its tracking station in Perth, Australia, established contact with Phobos-Grunt on Tuesday at 20.25 UT.

The Phobos-Grunt, also called the Phobos-Soil spacecraft, was constructed to retrieve the first-ever soil samples from the surface of Phobos, one of the moons of Mars. The $163 million probe blasted off from its launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, starting Russia's first interplanetary mission in more than two decades.

Russia had hoped to end its long absence from deep space, dating back to an unsuccessful Mars mission in 1996, with the launch of Phobos-Grunt spacecraft. But the loss of contact after takeoff put the country in a state of uncertainty.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

ESA Cluster Mission: Cosmic particle accelerators

ESA's Cluster satellites have discovered that cosmic particle accelerators are more efficient than previously thought.

The discovery has revealed the initial stages of acceleration for the first time, a process that could apply across the Universe.

All particle accelerators need some way to begin the acceleration process. For example, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN employs a series of small accelerators to get its particles up to speed before injecting them into the main 27 km-circumference ring for further acceleration.

In space, large magnetic fields guide particles known as cosmic rays across the Universe at almost the speed of light, but are notoriously bad at getting them moving in the first place.

Now ESA's Cluster mission has shown that something similar to the 'staging' process used at CERN is happening above our heads in the natural particle accelerators of space.

On 9 January 2005, Cluster's four satellites passed through a magnetic shock high above Earth. The spinning craft were aligned almost perfectly with the magnetic field, allowing them to sample what was happening to electrons on very short timescales of 250 milliseconds or less.

The measurements showed that the electrons rose sharply in temperature, which established conditions favourable to larger scale acceleration.

It had long been suspected that shocks could do this, but the size of the shock layers and the details of the process had been difficult to pin down.

Steven J. Schwartz, Imperial College London, and colleagues used the Cluster data to estimate the thickness of the shock layer. This is important because the thinner a shock is, the more easily it can accelerate particles.

"With these observations, we found that the shock layer is about as thin as it can possibly be," says Dr Schwartz.

Thin in this case corresponds to about 17 km. Previous estimates had only been able to tie down the width of the shock layers above Earth at no more than 100 km.

This is the first time anyone has seen such details of the initial acceleration region.

ESA & NASA's Hubble Confirms That Galaxies Recycle

Distant quasars shine through the gas-rich "fog" of hot plasma encircling galaxies. 

At ultraviolet wavelengths, Hubble's Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) is sensitive to absorption from many ionized heavy elements, such as nitrogen, oxygen, and neon.

COS's high sensitivity allows many galaxies that happen to lie in front of the much more distant quasars. The ionized heavy elements serve as proxies for estimating how much mass is in a galaxy's halo.

(Credit: NASA; ESA; A. Feild, STScI).

New observations by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope are expanding astronomers' understanding of the ways in which galaxies continuously recycle immense volumes of hydrogen gas and heavy elements. This process allows galaxies to build successive generations of stars stretching over billions of years.

This ongoing recycling keeps some galaxies from emptying their "fuel tanks" and stretches their star-forming epoch to over 10 billion years.

This conclusion is based on a series of Hubble Space Telescope observations that flexed the special capabilities of its Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) to detect gas in the halo of our Milky Way and more than 40 other galaxies.

Data from large ground-based telescopes in Hawaii, Arizona and Chile also contributed to the studies by measuring the properties of the galaxies.

Astronomers believe that the color and shape of a galaxy is largely controlled by gas flowing through an extended halo around it. The three studies investigated different aspects of the gas-recycling phenomenon.