Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Panguite: New Prehistoric Mineral Discovered in Meteorite

Scientists from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have discovered panguite, a new mineral, embedded in a meteorite.

They believe that the mineral existed way before earth and other planets were formed.

The discovery was made while studying the Allende meteorite.

The Allende meteorite fell across the state of Chihuahua, Mexico in 1969.

More than 40 years later, the meteorite is still serving the scientific community as a rich source of information about the early stages of our solar system's evolution.

Scientists, analysing the Allende meteorite using a scanning electron microscope, were stunned to find a mineral prompting them to name it panguite. This mineral contains some amount of a new type of titanium oxide, never discovered before.

The panguite is named after Pan Gu, a giant from ancient Chinese mythology who, it is believed, established the world by separating yin from yang to create the earth and the sky.

"Panguite is an especially exciting discovery since it is not only a new mineral, but also a material previously unknown to science," said Chi Ma, scientist and director of the Geological and Planetary Sciences division's Analytical Facility at Caltech, in a statement.

Scientists claim that the Allende meteorite is the largest carbonaceous chondrite - a diverse class of primitive meteorites - ever found on our planet and is considered by many as the best-studied meteorite in history.

Till now, scientists have discovered nine new minerals, including panguite, in the Allende meteorite. Some of those minerals are allendeite, hexamolybdenum, tistarite, and kangite.

"The intensive studies of objects in this meteorite have had a tremendous influence on current thinking about processes, timing, and chemistry in the primitive solar nebula and small planetary bodies," said Professor George Rossman, scientist at the Caltech, in a statement.

Last year, another group of scientists discovered a new mineral called "Wassonite". Wassonite was discovered within the Yamato 691 enstatite chondrite meteorite.

Wassonite is a mineral formed from only two elements, sulphur and titanium, yet it possesses a unique crystal structure that has not been previously observed in nature, according to a Nasa report.

Caltech scientists are now studying panguite and other newly discovered refractory minerals. They believe that their study will help them know more about the conditions under which they were formed and subsequently evolved.

"Such investigations are essential to understand the origins of our solar system," said Ma.

Diabetes Reversed in Mice Using stem Cells

Canadian scientists were able to reverse diabetes in mice with a human stem cell transplant, igniting hopes for a cure for the widespread disease, caused by the failure of the pancreas to produce enough insulin to stabilize blood sugar levels in humans.

A paper outlining the work, led by Timothy Kieffer of the University of British Columbia and conducted in partnership with New Jersey-based company BetaLogics, appeared in the journal Diabetes on Tuesday.

Diabetic mice were weaned off of insulin after receiving the pancreatic stem cell transplant, which restarted the cycle in which insulin production rises or falls based on blood sugar levels.  Three to four months later, the mice could maintain healthy blood sugar levels even after being fed a lot of sugar.

"We are very excited by these findings, but additional research is needed before this approach can be tested clinically in humans," Kieffer said in a statement on Tuesday.

The researchers cautioned that their study used mice that had a suppressed immune system, the better to prevent rejection of the transplanted cells.

"We now need to identify a suitable way of protecting the cells from immune attack so that the transplant can ultimately be performed in the absence of any immunosuppression," Kieffer said.

In 2009, a different team of researchers led by scientists from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil and Northwestern University reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association that they were able to successfully reverse type 1 diabetes by injecting 8 patients with some of their own stem cells.

Some studies have shown that this kind of stem cell transplantation is only a temporary fix - after anywhere between six months to three years, the insulin-producing cells are again attacked by the patient's immune system.

SOURCE: Rezania et al. "Maturation of Human Embryonic Stem Cell-Derived Pancreatic Progenitors into Functional Islets Capable of Treating Pre-existing Diabetes in Mice." Diabetes 27 June 2012.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

ESA IDRISI: Protecting the heart of Borneo

Forest cover loss and forest degradation under Business as Usual scenario 2020, calculated using the IDRISI Land Change Modeller and spatial analysis.

Credits: Hatfield Consultants

In Southeast Asia, the island of Borneo is home to one of the world’s most diverse rainforests, but its natural resources are under threat.

Information from satellites is being used to evaluate the impact of the island’s future development.

The mountainous island is the third largest in the world.

It is an area of exceptional biological diversity and its natural resources have tremendous social and economic value at local, national and global levels.

While still of great importance, these resources have diminished in recent years due to logging, plantation development, mining and forest fires.

“The ecosystems in the heart of Borneo provide many local, regional and global services and benefits,” said Anna van Paddenburg, Sustainable Financing and Policy Strategy Leader for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Indonesia.

“The mountainous forests form the headwaters of most of Borneo’s 20 major rivers, providing water for agriculture, human consumption, and industry. 

“The forests provide timber and non-timber forest products, and store huge amounts of carbon.

“The diverse ecosystems support endemic plants and animals, which supports eco-tourism and pharmaceutical research.”

While it is widely recognised that healthy ecosystems provide services that play a critical role in maintaining individual and societal welfare, the benefits that flow from them are not always accounted for in government and private sector decision-making.

In an effort to protect the environment and develop the area in a sustainable way, the Heart of Borneo conservation agreement was initiated by WWF and signed by the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei in 2007.

In December 2010, WWF initiated an assessment of Borneo’s natural capital to quantify and understand the value of ecosystem services and benefits.

ESA provided technical assistance through Hatfield Consultants, a Canadian environmental and geomatics consulting company that has been working in Indonesia for 20 years, and NEO BV, a value-adding data provider.

Read more here

Also visit one amazing individual's conservation efforts, saving gibbons and other endangered species, in neighbouring Indonesia:

Monday, June 25, 2012

NASA Shuttle Image: Lightning flashes, city lights, sunset, Aurora Australis

Lightning flashes, city lights, sunset, Aurora Australis, atmospheric glow and some stars, seen over Argentina on 4/23/2003

Image courtesy of the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center

NASA Shuttle Image: Socorro Island in Gulf of Mexico

A cloud wake appears on the downwind side of Isla Socorro, Mexico - 2/12/2000

Image courtesy of the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center

NASA Cassini: Revealed Why Jet Streams Cross-Cut Saturn

Turbulent jet streams, regions where winds blow faster than in other places, churn east and west across Saturn.

Scientists have been trying to understand for years the mechanism that drives these wavy structures in Saturn's atmosphere and the source from which the jets derive their energy.

In a new study appearing in the June edition of the journal Icarus, scientists used images collected over several years by NASA's Cassini spacecraft to discover that the heat from within the planet powers the jet streams.

Condensation of water from Saturn's internal heating led to temperature differences in the atmosphere.

The temperature differences created eddies, or disturbances that move air back and forth at the same latitude, and those eddies, in turn, accelerated the jet streams like rotating gears driving a conveyor belt.

A competing theory had assumed that the energy for the temperature differences came from the sun. That is how it works in the Earth's atmosphere.

"We know the atmospheres of planets such as Saturn and Jupiter can get their energy from only two places: the sun or the internal heating.

The challenge has been coming up with ways to use the data so that we can tell the difference," said Tony Del Genio of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, N.Y., the lead author of the paper and a member of the Cassini imaging team.

The new study was possible in part because Cassini has been in orbit around Saturn long enough to obtain the large number of observations required to see subtle patterns emerge from the day-to-day variations in weather.

"Understanding what drives the meteorology on Saturn, and in general on gaseous planets, has been one of our cardinal goals since the inception of the Cassini mission," said Carolyn Porco, imaging team lead, based at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.

"It is very gratifying to see that we're finally coming to understand those atmospheric processes that make Earth similar to, and also different from, other planets."

Rather than having a thin atmosphere and solid-and-liquid surface like Earth, Saturn is a gas giant whose deep atmosphere is layered with multiple cloud decks at high altitudes.

A series of jet streams slice across the face of Saturn visible to the human eye and also at altitudes detectable to the near- infrared filters of Cassini's cameras.

While most blow eastward, some blow westward. Jet streams occur on Saturn in places where the temperature varies significantly from one latitude to another.

Thanks to the filters on Cassini's cameras, which can see near-infrared light reflected to space, scientists now have observed the Saturn jet stream process for the first time at two different, low altitudes.

One filtered view shows the upper part of the troposphere, a high layer of the atmosphere where Cassini sees thick, high-altitude hazes and where heating by the sun is strong.

Views through another filter capture images deeper down, at the tops of ammonia ice clouds, where solar heating is weak but closer to where weather originates.

This is where water condenses and makes clouds and rain.

NASA Orion: Readying for Flight

The NASA team at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans has completed the final weld on the first space-bound Orion capsule.

The Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) Orion will be shipped to the Kennedy Space Center for final assembly and checkout operations.

The EFT-1 flight will take Orion to an altitude of more than 3,600 miles, more than 15 times farther away from Earth than the International Space Station.

Orion will return home at a speed of 25,000 miles, almost 5,000 miles per hour faster than any human spacecraft.

It will mimic the return conditions that astronauts experience as they come home from voyages beyond low Earth orbit.

As Orion reenters the atmosphere, it will endure temperatures up to 4,000 degrees F., higher than any human spacecraft since astronauts returned from the moon.

Image Credit: NASA/Eric Bordelon.

A Tour of Earth from Outer Space - YouTube

A new way to see the world. Give NASA seven minutes, and they’ll show you the Earth’s most impressive landscapes — as seen from space, in HD.

The coasts of Namibia, Tunisia and Madagascar, they’re all on the itinerary, along with Sicily, China, Iran, and Utah. Plus you will see a giant hurricane over the Atlantic ocean. Not to be missed.

Watch this and other space videos at

Challenges of Getting to Mars: Curiosity's Seven Minutes of Terror - YouTube

The massive, nuclear powered Mars Science Lander is due to land Curiosity on the Martian surface on August 5.

In the intervening months since MSL’s November 2011 launch, NASA engineers have had ample time to ponder in just how many ways things can go wrong.

Already, changes have been made to Curiority’s landing parameters. In a new NASA video, engineers focus on the landing mechanism itself including the novel Sky Crane slated to lower the lab gently to the surface.

These engineers anticipate those “seven minutes of terror” while MSL lands and they can do nothing but wait for word of its survival.

To see more JPL Mars Videos on YouTube, go here

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Fast and Accurate Knife-Edge Manoeuvres for Autonomous Aircraft - YouTube

Robot Locomotion Group at MIT have built a computer-controlled aircraft that flies accurately enough to navigate safely through a gap that is smaller than its wingspan.

Here they demonstrate multiple flights of this vehicle with on-board camera footage and high-speed video.

Many small flying robots still have all the grace and awareness of a drunken pigeon, except that comparison probably disrespects the pigeon.

MIT robotics engineers took inspiration from our fine feathered friends to make a flying robot with the lightning-fast reflexes to dodge through gaps smaller than its wingspan.

That does not quite rival the impressiveness of a bird in flight or a "Star Wars" Jedi tearing through the forest of Endor on a speeder bike, but it's pretty good for a mechanical creation.

Starry Night - Vincent van Dominogh - YouTube

Vincent van Gogh's "Starry Night" recreated from an estimated 7,000 dominos. The second attempt took about 11 hours total to build.

The first attempt failed, when he dropped a screw from the camera rig onto it but he was able to improve the swirling clouds better in the second attempt as a result.

There were 2 small breaks in the fall of this project. He did not complete the leading grey line and left out a domino which stopped the reaction in the bottom.

The star that is left standing was very close to falling, but the first dominoes held in place :(

Have you seen Domona Lisa made in 2007?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Earth Observation from Space - Our Beautiful White Marble

Credit: NASA/GSFC/Suomi NPP.
A newly released image from NASA shows off our home planet from an unfamiliar angle — our iconic blue marble, snapped by a satellite that circles the Arctic, is arrayed in frosty white.
The newly launched Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (S-NPP) satellite, which was blasted into space on Oct. 28, 2011, circled the Earth 15 times to capture the visual data used for the stunning picture.

Stunning volcanic view of Alaid Volcano, Alaska

Credit: NASA

Alaid Volcano, the northernmost and highest volcano in the Kuril Island chain, which stretches from Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula to Japan.

Part of Russian territory, Alaid has the textbook cone-shape summit of a composite volcano and tops out at 7,674 feet (2,339 meters). 

A composite volcano, or stratovolcano, is made of many layers of hardened lava and ash spewed out during periodic eruptions.

Dependency drives Conservation of Earth's Coral Reefs

Credit: IUCN

More than 275 million people are dependent on coral reefs for food, coastal protection and livelihoods.

Shark Finning: Venezuala Takes Steps toward survival

Credit: Federico Cabello

Some much-needed good news for sharks has come from Venezuela this week: The South American country announced it is banning shark finning in its waters and has established a new shark sanctuary.

The country became the last in the Americas to outlaw the practice of cutting off the fins of live sharks and tossing the animals back into the ocean to slowly die.

Heat Map of the Northern United States

Credit: University of Wisconsin Madison, Space Science and Engineering Center.

The blast of scorching summer heat hitting the eastern half and southwest regions of the United States has broken a rash of temperature records across the regions.

Yesterday (June 21), on the first full day of summer, high temperatures in states from Maine to New York to Arizona shattered previous record highs for the day, in a catalog that stretches back more than 100 years in some places.

Across the nation, the scalding heat broke a total of 47 record highs and tied 30 of them.

Personal treasure: NASA Space Shuttle Challenger Commemoratice Medallion

The truth be told, I do not spend all my spare time gazing at the stars, much as I enjoy that part of my life, I also spend a few lost hours each week trawling through the local charity shops.

I have a keen and eclectic interest in art and sculpture, which also includes glass and ceramics.

Although, more and more of these shops are going over to women's clothes and accessories, I do find some interesting treasures now and again.

This week I was delighted and amazed to come across this bronze Shuttle medallion.

I was delighted, because it is such a memento of many historic moments in space exploration, and amazed because it was so far away from it's point of manufacture.

Each Shuttle mission was pioneering and, in itself, historical but I was surprised to see the extensive list shown.

This particular medallion commemorates the ill-fated Space Shuttle Challenger's historic STS 41G mission, launched on October 5, 1984.
The mission crew members' crew Photograph and mission Patch are shown below.

The Patch contains the names of the crew; Commander Robert L. Crippen, Pilot Jon A. McBride, Mission Specialist Kathryn D. Sullivan, Mission Specialist Sally K. Ride, Mission Specialist David C. Leestma, Canadian Payload Specialist Marc Garneau (CSA), Payload Specialist Paul D. Scully-Power.

Shuttle Mission 410G was memorable because it was;
  • First Seven Member Crew, 
  • First In-Flight Re-fuelling of a satellite, 
  • First US flight with 2 women crew, 
  • Dr Sullivan who became the first US woman to walk in space (EVA), 
  • Marc Garneau who was the first Canadian (CSA) crew member,

DLR News: Launched with Sharp edges

After a 10-minute flight, the sharp-edged SHEFEX II spacecraft landed safely west of Spitsbergen.

Researchers from the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) launched the seven-ton and roughly 13-metre-long rocket and its payload from the Andøya Rocket Range in Norway at 21:18 CEST on 22 June 2012.

As it re-entered the atmosphere, SHEFEX withstood temperatures exceeding 2500 degrees Celsius and sent measurement data from more than 300 sensors to a ground station.

“The SHEFEX II flight takes us one step further in the road to developing a space vehicle built like a space capsule but offering the control and flight options of the Space Shuttle much more cost-effectively,” says project manager Hendrik Weihs.

DLR Portal - News

Friday, June 22, 2012

NASA HiRise Image: Mars Impact Crater

This enhanced-colour image from March 2012 of a region of Mars near Nili Fossae shows part of the ejecta from an impact crater and contains some of the best exposures of ancient bedrock on Mars.

The impact broke up already diverse rocks types and mixed them together to create this wild jumble of colours, each representing a different type of rock.

Carbonates are commonly formed on Earth by marine organisms; the origin of these carbonates on Mars is unknown, but probably involved liquid water.

This image was taken along with the CRISM instrument, also onboard
the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), in what is called "ridealong" mode. 

This image was taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's HiRISE camera.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

ESA ESTRACK Malargüe webcam

The outdoor webcam at the site of ESA's new deep space tracking station at Malargüe, Argentina, was switched on in May 2010 and brings you a visual update on construction progress.

The Malargüe webcam image is shown below. The camera acquires a new image six times per hour, and the image below will be automatically refreshed.

On 22 June 2009, ESA informed Argentine authorities that an area 40 km south of the town of Malargüe in Mendoza province, about 1000 km (direct line) west and slightly south of Buenos Aires (1400 km by road!), has been chosen as the best option to build a new 35-metre deep space antenna in support of Agency missions.

Together with ESA's DSA-1 (New Norcia, Australia) and DSA-2 (Cebreros, Spain), the 620-tonne antenna in Argentina will complete the 360-degree deep-space coverage needed to ensure full telecommunications during mission-critical events and enhance the return of scientific data.

The station is now under construction and will become operational from mid-2012 in support of scientific and exploration missions.

NASA NBL: JAXA Astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and Suni Williams

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, attired in a training version of his spacesuit, is submerged in the waters of the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) near NASA's Johnson Space Center in this image from January 2012. 

Divers assisted Hoshide in this training exercise, which is intended to help prepare him for work on the exterior of the International Space Station.

Hoshide and his Expedition 32 crew mates Suni Williams and Yuri Malenchenko are scheduled to launch aboard the Soyuz TMA-05M from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, on July 14 to the station.

Image Credit: NASA

ESA Thales: MSG-3 fuelled

In the cleanroom at Europe’s spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre, in Kourou, French Guiana, the third Meteosat Second Generation satellite undergoes further preparations for launch. MSG-3 is planned for launch in July 2012. MSG-3 is the third in a planned series of four satellites operated by Eumetsat, the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites. 

The satellites return highly detailed imagery of Europe, the North Atlantic and Africa every 15 minutes for use by meteorologists and national weather forecasters. 

Along with keeping track of cloud development and temperature to improve weather forecasting accuracy, MSG-3 has two secondary objectives in the areas of radiation and rescue. 

Shortly after liftoff from Kourou, French Guiana, MSG-3 will be injected into geostationary orbit at an altitude of 36 000 km over the equator. 

Credits: ESA/CNES/Arianespace/Optique Video du CSG - S. Martin 

Gérald and Eric from the Thales fuelling team getting ready ( ESA/C. Soulez-Lariviere)

Credit: ESA/Thales

Yesterday, the team finished loading 365 kg of liquid fuel (Monomethyl Hydrazine, MMH). This follows the earlier fuelling with liquid oxidizer (Mixed Oxides of Nitrogen, MON).

In total, the fuel has increased the mass of MSG-3 by about a ton.

MSG-3 will now be installed on the launcher adapter. On Monday, it will be moved to the Final Assembly Building, BAF, for integration on the launcher later next week.
The launcher and EchoStar 17 (co-passenger) activities are also proceeding as planned.

Science: It's a girl thing! - Official teaser - YouTube

Science: it's a girl thing! From cosmetics to chemistry, from fashion to biology, from rhythm to electronics, girls have what it takes to succeed in science. Put your lab glasses on and see science with different eyes!

A slightly controversial video created with good intentions but coming under a trickle of criticism. What do you think? Good, emberassing, effective, or what?

Controversial Investment: Chinese Firm CIC To Take Stake in European Eutelsat

China Investment Corp. (CIC) is buying a 7-percent stake in satellite fleet operator Eutelsat of Paris from Spain’s Abertis Telecom for 385.2 million euros ($500 million), a transaction that values Eutelsat at 5.5 billion euros, Abertis announced June 22.

Barcelona-based Abertis, which used to be Eutelsat’s biggest shareholder, has been gradually reducing its stake to refocus on investments in which it can gain a controlling interest.

In satellite telecommunications, Abertis has increased its ownership of satellite fleet operator Hispasat of Spain, in which it now has a 46.6 percent equity stake.

Abertis has long harboured ambitions to purchase a majority share of Hispasat but up to now the Spanish government, which through various state-owned entities owns around 26 percent of Hispasat, has declined to give its approval.

Abertis sold a 16 percent share of Eutelsat to several investors Jan. 13 in a transaction that valued Eutelsat at 6.1 billion euros. Abertis agreed to a six-month lockup of its remaining 15.35 percent holding, meaning it could not sell those shares until mid-July.

In its June 22 announcement, Abertis said Beijing-based CIC has agreed not to take ownership of the Eutelsat shares until the lockup period ends.

Eutelsat has been a profitable investment for Abertis since its initial acquisition in 2006. Its sale to CIC brings it a net capital gain of 237 million euros.

Abertis said it would “remain a Eutelsat shareholder, with a stake of 8.35 percent,” even though a minority ownership would appear to be at odds with Abertis’ stated goal of aiming for control of the assets its owns.

“Abertis keeps on reshuffling its holdings in the satellite infrastructure business, strengthening its commitment to growth, specifically targeting projects in which it can take an industry leadership role and a greater financial consolidation, as in the case of Hispasat,” Abertis said in the statement.

CIC, an aggressive Chinese sovereign-wealth fund, was formed in 2007 with a bond issue from China’s Ministry of Finance. The company used this to purchase $200 billion in China’s foreign-exchange reserves in strategically competitive infrastructure and rare-Earth mining corporations.

Although, in its 2010 annual report, issued in July 2011, CIC describes itself as “a financial investor. As such, it does not seek to control any sector or company,” Europe, Canada and the US are not convinced.

CIC’s investments in 2010 included minority stakes in power-utility AES Corp. of Arlington, Va., Chesapeake Energy of Oklahoma City and energy producer Penn West of Canada.

Given the U.S. government’s position on all things involving strategic space technology and China, the CIC acquisition may nonetheless raise issues.

SPIONs Track Functioning of Stem Cells Inside Body

UK's Liverpool Scientists have developed a method to track the stem cells in our body, according to a new report.

Scientists from the University of Liverpool have developed new methods to track stem cells and the changes that happen to them after they have been in the body for a significant period of time.

Scientists "labeled" the cells with superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (SPIONs) before they were administered to the patients.

The magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans clearly showed movement of the stem cells and the scientists could determine whether the stem cells reached their intended target or not.

However, scientists warn that conditions within the body's cells can lead to the degradation of SPIONs and reduce the ability of MRI scans to pick up on their signal in the long-term.

To overcome this drawback, scientists are developing new methods to visualise SPION's in the cells before they enter the body to learn their performance in the long-term.

Photothermal technique, a unique optical imaging system is used to improve SPION labelling so that particles survive for longer and have minimal impact on the function of the transplanted cells.

"In order to fully explore this potential, however, more technological developments are needed to understand how stem cells behave in the body after transplantation.

If we can't monitor stem cells effectively, it can have serious implications for patient health. Studies have already shown that if cells migrate to the circulatory system, beyond their target organ or tissue site, then it can cause inflammation in the body," said Dr Lara Bogart, scientist at the University's Institute of Integrative Biology in a statement.

"Labelling stem cells is hugely valuable to tracking their movements in the body, but we need to know more about how the particles used interact with stem cells.

Using new imaging systems we can work out their precise location in the cell and how they behave over time.

We hope to use this information to improve understanding of the MRI signal that tracks SPIONs once stem cells have been transplanted," she added.

Stem cells are used to treat conditions such as leukaemia and have the potential to treat many more diseases and disorders where patient survival is reliant on organ and tissue donation.

Managing our Finite Water Resources - YouTube

Social sciences have given us a new understanding of how societies are managing natural resources such as water supply.

A research project under the Sustainable Practices Research Group, led by Professor Mark Harvey, is exploring our management and consumption of drinking water in the UK and across the globe.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

American Classics

A Ring Nebula around Wolf-Rayet Star

Made with narrow and broad band filters, this colourful cosmic snap shot covers a field of view about the size of the full Moon within the boundaries of the constellation Cygnus.

It highlights the bright edge of a ring-like nebula traced by the glow of ionized hydrogen and oxygen gas.

Embedded in the region's interstellar clouds of gas and dust, the complex, glowing arcs are sections of bubbles or shells of material swept up by the wind from Wolf-Rayet star WR 134, brightest star near the center of the frame.

Distance estimates put WR 134 about 6,000 light-years away, making the frame over 50 light-years across.

Shedding their outer envelopes in powerful stellar winds, massive Wolf-Rayet stars have burned through their nuclear fuel at a prodigious rate and end this final phase of massive star evolution in a spectacular supernova explosion.

The stellar winds and final supernovae enrich the interstellar material with heavy elements to be incorporated in future generations of stars.

The Corpus Clock and Chronophage

Known as the Corpus Clock, the machine has been invented by and designed by Dr John Taylor for Corpus Christi College Cambridge for the exterior of the college's new library building.

The Clock was unveiled on 19th September by Stephen Hawking, cosmologist and author of the global bestseller, A Brief History of Time.

Dr Taylor, an inventor and horologist, has put 500,000 pounds of his own money and seven years into developing the clock, which has been inspired from a design by a clock made by the legendary John Harrison, the pioneer of longitude.

Of John Harrison's many innovations, he came up with the 'grasshopper escapement, explained Dr Taylor, referring to the device used by Harrison to turn rotational motion into a pendulum motion for timekeeping.

No one knows how a grasshopper escapement works, so I decided to turn the clock inside out and, instead of making the escapement 35 mm across, it is 1.5 m across, he said.

He calls the new version of the escapement a Chronophage (time-eater) a fearsome beast which drives the clock, literally eating away time.

The Chronophage is currently installed and on public view in Edinburgh, at the National Museum of Scotland.
For more information please log on to

Private Deep Space Asteroid Telescope Mission to be Unveiled

Artist’s impression of a 6-mile-wide asteroid striking the Earth. Scientists think approximately 70 of these dinosaur killer-sized or larger asteroids hit Earth between 3.8 and 1.8 billion years ago.

CREDIT: Don Davis

A group of scientists will unveil an audacious plan for the first privately funded deep space telescope next week - a mission that aims to map the inner solar system for potentially dangerous asteroids.

On June 28, members of the B612 Foundation will discuss plans to build, launch and operate the Sentinel Space Telescope Mission during a press conference at the Morrison Planetarium at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

The briefing will begin at 11:30 a.m. EDT (1530 GMT) and wrap up at around 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT), organization officials said in a media alert.

According to the media alert, the telescope will circle the sun and identify space rocks with orbits that cross Earth. Determining the trajectories of these asteroids will help protect Earth from cataclysmic impacts and will also help mission planners chart future expeditions deeper into the solar system.

"Mapping the great unknown of the inner solar system is the first step to opening up this next frontier," organization officials said in a statement.

"The B612 Foundation believes that humanity can harness the power of science and technology to protect the future of civilization on this planet, while extending our reach into the solar system."

The scheduled speakers will include:
  • Ed Lu, B612 Foundation chairman and CEO, former space shuttle, Soyuz and space station astronaut
  • Rusty Schweickart, chairman emeritus, Apollo 9 lunar module pilot
  • Scott Hubbard, project architect from Stanford University, former director of NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.
  • Harold Reitsema, mission director, former director of science mission development at Ball Aerospace
NASA and other teams of astronomers regularly use telescopes to monitor the sky for asteroids that could pose a threat to Earth. Experts have said that while giant asteroids could pose a global threat to our planet, even a larger space rock measuring about 460 feet wide (140 meters) could create widespread destruction at its impact point.

Last year, NASA scientists announced that they had successfully tracked about 90 percent of the largest asteroids in orbits that approach near Earth.

Data from NASA's infrared WISE space telescope allowed astronomers to estimate that there are about 981 asteroids the size of a mountain or larger on paths that come near Earth. About 911 of those asteroids have been tracked, researchers said.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

NASA Researchers Estimate Ice Content of Crater at Moon's South Pole

Elevation (left) and shaded relief (right) image of Shackleton, a 21-km-diameter (12.5-mile-diameter) permanently shadowed crater adjacent to the lunar south pole. 

The structure of the crater's interior was revealed by a digital elevation model constructed from over 5 million elevation measurements from the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter. 

Credit: NASA/Zuber, M.T. et al., Nature, 2012

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft has returned data that indicate ice may make up as much as 22 percent of the surface material in a crater located on the moon's south pole.

The team of NASA and university scientists using laser light from LRO's laser altimeter examined the floor of Shackleton crater.

They found the crater's floor is brighter than those of other nearby craters, which is consistent with the presence of small amounts of ice.

This information will help researchers understand crater formation and study other uncharted areas of the moon. The findings are published in Thursday's edition of the journal Nature.

"The brightness measurements have been puzzling us since two summers ago," said Gregory Neumann of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., a co-author on the paper.

"While the distribution of brightness was not exactly what we had expected, practically every measurement related to ice and other volatile compounds on the moon is surprising, given the cosmically cold temperatures inside its polar craters."

The spacecraft mapped Shackleton crater with unprecedented detail, using a laser to illuminate the crater's interior and measure its albedo or natural reflectance. The laser light measures to a depth comparable to its wavelength, or about a micron.

That represents a millionth of a meter, or less than one ten-thousandth of an inch. The team also used the instrument to map the relief of the crater's terrain based on the time it took for laser light to bounce back from the moon's surface. The longer it took, the lower the terrain's elevation.

Stealthy Herpes virus robs years from your life

MOST of us could gain extra years of life by ridding ourselves of a virus we don't even realise we are carrying - if new efforts to tackle the stealthy parasite bear fruit.

Between 50 and 80 per cent of people living in the UK, US and Australia are infected by cytomegalovirus, or CMV - a herpes virus closely related to the one that causes chickenpox. In some African countries, the figure is thought to be even higher.

CMV can lead to brain damage and hearing loss in newborns, but was long assumed to be harmless in healthy adults, says Allison Aiello, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. "Then HIV came along."

When people are infected with CMV and HIV, they can develop all sorts of nasty complications, such as CMV retinitis, which causes blindness. As researchers investigated further, they realised that the damaging effects of CMV were caused by its unique effect on the immune system.

Your body responds to any infection by training a small number of immune cells to recognise and remember the pathogen in future. CMV somehow cheats the system. 

When the virus next attacks you, the immune T-cells trained to remember the virus do not work as they should. Instead, the body trains up a fresh batch of T-cells to recognise CMV, eating into your limited supply of untrained cells. 

Over time, around 40 per cent of T-cells may be trained specifically to attack CMV, leaving fewer to tackle other possible infections.

A slew of research shows that this continual using up of untrained T-cells ages the immune system. The latest study suggests that this takes its toll on life expectancy.

For 18 years, Paul Moss at the University of Birmingham, UK, and his colleagues followed the health of more than 500 people over the age of 65. Around 70 per cent of the people were infected with CMV. 

"We saw a four-year reduction in lifespan in the CMV-positive group," says Moss, who presented the findings at the American Association of Immunologists' annual meeting in Boston, last month.

To put that figure in perspective, Aiello says: "Smoking and drinking can take that much time off your life."

Those infected with CMV were more likely to die from cardiovascular disease, says Moss. The virus has also been linked to accelerated cognitive decline and poorer physical health generally - and it may leave the body more susceptible to other infections, such as flu.

Now the good news: Moss's team reckons that long-term treatment with antiviral drugs could help claw back those years.

His team infected 6-week-old mice with CMV and, once the rodents were 6 months old and the virus was established, they treated some of them with a drug used to treat herpes viruses. 

While the number of untrained immune cells dwindled in the untreated mice, numbers remained high in the mice given antivirals. 

"We were able to completely reverse this particular effect of CMV," says Moss. What's more, the treated mice appeared more resilient to being infected with flu further down the line, and lost less weight during that infection than their untreated counterparts. Moss presented this study in Boston, too.

He will soon begin trialling the antivirals in people over 65. "If we can strengthen the immune systems of older people, we will hopefully see a reduction in the incidence of flu infection, as well as reduced morbidity and mortality," he says.

Any treatment, however, might require people to take the drugs for months, if not years. What would be better, says Phil Stevenson at the University of Cambridge, would be to prevent infection in the first place by developing a vaccine.

"For CMV, the thing you want to stop is the primary infection," he says. Finding a way to block the entry of the virus will be tricky, though, partly because no one is sure exactly how CMV infects people.

The same problem applies to Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) - a related virus that can cause glandular fever and cancer. 

A 30-year-long research programme to generate a vaccine for it failed, says Stevenson, because it began with an assumption that EBV first infects the body through the immune system's B-cells. This was where the virus was spotted in people presenting with symptoms.

To investigate whether the virus may be infecting other cells first, Stevenson's team turned to a mouse model. 

They were able to make the virus glow by adding a gene for a light-emitting protein found in fireflies. 

When Stevenson studied the mice a day after they had been infected, he found that the cells in their noses were the ones glowing (Journal of General Virology, DOI: 10.1099/vir.0.006569-0).

NASA SOHO Image: 2 Double CMEs

The Sun unleashed two double coronal mass ejections (CMEs) within 24 hours (June 8 - 9, 2012). 

The first double eruption sent clouds of particles mushrooming at just about the same time in almost opposite directions. 

The second blasts sent two circular clouds out into space, again at almost the same time, followed by a smaller billowing out a CME below the Sun.
STEREO's COR2 coronagraph blocks out the Sun (represented by the white circle) with the black disk so that we can see the faint features in the Sun's corona extending beyond the disk. This is from the Ahead spacecraft.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Dutch H5N1 Flu researchers Eager to Restart their Hybridisation work

After six months of dispute, research in the Netherlands that made a deadly H5N1 flu airborne will be published this week. The scientists behind it now want to get on with their work – but they can't.

In December 2011, a US biosecurity committee advised against publishing the research, fearing it was "dual-use research of concern" (DURC) – done for noble reasons, but dangerous if pathogens escaped or if bioterrorists obtained them. Most committee members changed their minds in April, and approved publication.

But in January, before that turnaround, the world's top flu labs declared a moratorium on any further such research in a bid to calm the situation. "Now, we don't know under what conditions we can lift the moratorium," says Ab Osterhaus of the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, where the research was done.

In theory they can at any time, because the agreement was voluntary. The problem, says Anthony Fauci, head of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is that any similar research done before ground rules for DURC are clarified could run into a similar dispute over publishing.

The US hastily published a new DURC policy in March. It says that if work with any of 15 pathogens increases virulence, transmission, hosts or resistance to defences, researchers must apply a mitigation plan to be agreed by relevant authorities. 

This may include increased containment, changing the experiment, withholding results, classifying the work under secrecy rules – or just not doing it.

A further plan will be published soon, says Fauci. It will flesh out what risks are unacceptable and how to mitigate them, and draw up a committee from US government agencies to apply the rules.

Some researchers welcome the move. "The policy adds another layer of oversight to make sure that all angles have been discussed before and after an experiment with potential dual use," says Adolfo García-Sastre at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

Others fear trouble. Ron Fouchier, who led the Dutch work on H5N1, says the Dutch authorities are happy with his biocontainment precautions, but a US committee is re-examining them under the new DURC rules. 

He worries that pathogen research could simply leave the US. Fouchier thinks researchers and authorities should discuss safety while planning research – and that it should apply to more than the 15 pathogens.

"We need international guidelines on how to decide who can do what, based on the risks and benefits of the research," says Osterhaus. At the moment, he adds, not even bio-containment labs are standardised. He has asked the European Commission to get involved.

The World Health Organization will publish new guidelines on biosafety in coming weeks, and plans a global meeting on DURC issues next year.

David Heymann, chairman of the UK Health Protection Agency, agrees that global standards are needed.

"Stronger regulations are easy, but they're false security, as they either are not enforced, or affect law-abiding scientists but not rogues," he says. What will work, he adds, is if scientists agree on how to do research safely – and enforce this through peer pressure.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Star Trek Actor George Takei with Nasa Robonaut

Credit: Johnson Space Center (via Facebook)

George Takei (Star Trek's Sulu) and Robonaut throwing the Vulcan salute during a recent visit to NASA Johnson Space Center.

NASA's Juno Mission: Probe to Examine Jupiter's Biggest Secrets

Jupiter is probably the best place in the solar system to study how the magnetic fields of planets are generated. 

The Juno spacecraft will make the five-year, 400-million-mile voyage to Jupiter and orbit the planet, collecting data for more than one Earth year.


A NASA probe that is traveling through space on its way to Jupiter is expected to help astronomers unlock mysteries about the largest planet in our solar system when it arrives there in 2016.

NASA's Juno mission was launched in August 2011 to study how Jupiter formed and evolved. After a five-year journey, the spacecraft is expected to arrive at the gas giant planet in August 2016.

Jupiter has long intrigued astronomers, from the planet's distinct surface features and complex weather systems to its mysterious origin and evolution, said Fran Bagenal, a professor of astrophysical and planetary sciences at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and a co-investigator on the Juno mission.

"People have been looking at this exterior since the time of Galileo," she said. "[But] we know very little of what's inside. We're sending Juno out there to Jupiter to try to understand the origin and evolution of Jupiter, [to] try to explain how much water there is, what it's like inside, what the atmosphere is like."

Bagenal discussed the exciting results the Juno mission is expected to yield in a session on June 11 here at the 220th meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

Once the solar-powered Juno spacecraft is captured into orbit around Jupiter, the probe will map the planet's magnetic and gravitational fields to learn more about the interior structure of Jupiter.

[Photos: NASA's Juno Mission to Jupiter]

NASA JPL Project Morpheus: Lander undergoes engine testing

Morpheus is a vertical test bed demonstrating new green propellant propulsion systems and autonomous landing and hazard detection technology.

Designed, developed, manufactured and operated in-house by engineers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, the Morpheus Project represents not only a vehicle to advance technologies, but also an opportunity to try out “lean development” engineering practices

Engine Testing
After sticking to the ground for upgrades the past several months, the Project Morpheus prototype lander took to the skies at Johnson Space Center again on Tuesday.

Since its last round of tests in 2011, the Morpheus team has given the liquid oxygen/liquid methane-fueled lander a new engine, new avionics and a power unit redesign.

In addition, the vehicle software has been substantially updated in preparation for the integration of its Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology (ALHAT) payload.

The lander has the same oxygen and methane tanks, and the same structure, but otherwise it’s practically an all-new vehicle.

“The first series of tests gave us a basic understanding of our ability to control the vehicle and allowed us to initially characterize the performance of the subsystems on the vehicle,” Morpheus Project Manager Jon Olansen said.

“With that information we were able to go back and design in upgrades to improve performance and reliability.”

Once the upgrades were complete, it was time to start up a new series of tests. Like last time, they started with hot fire tests to demonstrate engine operation, and this week worked up to tethered testing.

On Tuesday, the refitted lander successfully hovered 15 feet above the ground for 40 seconds, firing the engine for a total of 50 seconds with ignition, ascent and descent.

NASA Launching Into History - Sally Ride, First US Astronaut in Space

On June 18, 1983, a young physicist from California took her seat aboard the space shuttle and launched into history. 

On that date, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space as a mission specialist on STS-7. In this image, Ride monitors control panels from the pilot's chair on the flight deck.

Image Credit: NASA

ESA EXOMARS: Tests self-steering Rover in Chile's ‘Mars’ desert

ESA assembled a top engineering team, then challenged them to devise a way for rovers to navigate on alien planets.

Six months later, a fully autonomous vehicle was charting its course through Chile’s Mars-like Atacama Desert.

May’s full-scale rover field test marked the final stage of a StarTiger project code-named ‘Seeker’.

Standing for ‘Space Technology Advancements by Resourceful, Targeted and Innovative Groups of Experts and Researchers’, StarTiger involves a multidisciplinary team gathered at a single site, working against the clock to achieve a technology breakthrough.

 “Our expert team met at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in the UK,” explained Gianfranco Visentin, head of ESA’s Automation and Robotics section.

“Their challenge was to demonstrate how a planetary rover – equipped with state-of-the-art autonomous navigation and decision-making software – could traverse 6 km of Mars-like environment and come back where it started.”

Mars rovers cannot be remotely ‘driven’. It takes radio signals up to 40 minutes to make a round trip between Mars and Earth. Instead, rovers are given instructions to carry out autonomously.

“ESA’s ExoMars rover, due to land on Mars in 2018, will have state-of-the-art autonomy,” added Gianfranco.

“However, it will not travel more than 150 m per individual ‘Sol’ – a martian day – or much more than 3 km throughout its mission.

ESA ISS Astronaut Image: Alaid Volcano in the Kuril Islands

Alaid Volcano in the Kuril Islands of the Russian Federation is featured in this image photographed by an Expedition 31 crew member on the International Space Station.

The Kurils chain extends from the Kamchatka Peninsula to the islands of Japan, and contains numerous active volcanoes along its length.

Alaid is the highest (2,339 meters above sea level) volcano in the Kuril chain, as well as being the northernmost.

The textbook conic morphology of this stratovolcano is marred only by the summit crater, which is breached to the south (center) and highlighted by snow cover.

The volcano rises 3,000 meters directly from the floor of the Sea of Okhotsk, with the uppermost part of the volcanic edifice exposed as an island.

Much of the sea surface surrounding the volcano has a silver-gray appearance. This mirror-like appearance is due to sunglint, where light reflects off the sea surface and is scattered directly towards the observer onboard the space station.

Sunglint is largely absent from a zone directly to the west of the volcano, most likely due to surface wind or water current patterns that change the roughness—and light scattering properties—of the water surface in this area.

Volcanoes in the Kurils, and similar island arcs in the Pacific “ring of fire”, are fed by magma generated along the boundary between two tectonic plates, where one plate is being driven beneath the other (a process known as subduction).

Alaid Volcano has been historically active with the most recent confirmed explosive activity occurring in 1996.

Sat Seeker for iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPad 2 at AppStore

Sat Seeker for iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPad 2 Wi-Fi, iPad 2 Wi-Fi + 3G, iPad (3rd generation) and iPad Wi-Fi + 4G on the iTunes App Store

ESA Cassini Image: In the shadows of Saturn’s rings

Titan appears to be strung like a bead on Saturn’s rings, which cast shadows onto the southern hemisphere of the gas giant in this beautiful image from Cassini.

Faint but exquisite detail in the gas giant’s upper atmosphere paints a tranquil scene.

A thin band of bright white ammonia ice clouds is etched into the planet’s disc towards the top of the image while clouds dotted below are faded scars of a huge storm that raged across the planet through much of 2011.

Shadows cast by Saturn’s iconic rings appear painted onto the planet’s southern hemisphere in two thick bands broken by thin, lighter stripes, reflecting the intricacies of the individual rings.

As Saturn’s seasons progress towards northern hemisphere summer, the rings will appear to grow wider and wider.

Meanwhile Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, appears to hang on the planet’s rings like a bead on a necklace. The effect is a result of the line-of-sight viewing position; Titan orbits Saturn at an average distance of 1, 221, 870 km.

The moon is an enigma in itself – cloaked in a thick nitrogen-rich atmosphere, it is the only moon in the Solar System that has a dense atmosphere. Lakes of liquid hydrocarbons pool on its surface, and an active methane cycle plays a similar role to Earth’s water cycle, complete with clouds and methane rain.

Cassini has been in orbit around Saturn since 2004 and is now in its second extended mission phase, the Cassini Solstice Mission, which will continue until 2017.

Nature: Biologists grow human-eye precursor from stem cells

A stem-cell biologist has had an eye-opening success in his latest effort to mimic mammalian organ development in vitro.

Yoshiki Sasai of the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CBD) in Kobe, Japan, has grown the precursor of a human eye in the lab.

The structure, called an optic cup, is 550 micrometres in diameter and contains multiple layers of retinal cells including photoreceptors.

The achievement has raised hopes that doctors may one day be able to repair damaged eyes in the clinic.

But for researchers at the annual meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research in Yokohama, Japan, where Sasai presented the findings this week, the most exciting thing is that the optic cup developed its structure without guidance from Sasai and his team.

The human eye is a complex structure — but the cues to build it come from inside the growing cells. Credit: Dougal Waters/Getty

“The morphology is the truly extraordinary thing,” says Austin Smith, director of the Centre for Stem Cell Research at the University of Cambridge, UK.

Until recently, stem-cell biologists had been able to grow embryonic stem-cells only into two-dimensional sheets. But over the past four years, Sasai has used mouse embryonic stem cells to grow well-organized, three-dimensional cerebral-cortex1, pituitary-gland2 and optic-cup3 tissue. His latest result marks the first time that anyone has managed a similar feat using human cells.

Read the full article here: Biologists grow human-eye precursor from stem cells : Nature

NASA Maps Global View of Health-Sapping Air Pollution

In many developing countries, the absence of surface-based air pollution sensors makes it difficult, and in some cases impossible, to get even a rough estimate of the abundance of a subcategory of airborne particles that epidemiologists suspect contributes to millions of premature deaths each year.

The problematic particles, called fine particulate matter (PM2.5), are 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter, about a tenth the fraction of human hair. These small particles can get past the body’s normal defenses and penetrate deep into the lungs.

To fill in these gaps in surface-based PM2.5 measurements, experts look toward satellites to provide a global perspective.

Yet, satellite instruments have generally struggled to achieve accurate measurements of the particles in near-surface air.

The problem: Most satellite instruments can't distinguish particles close to the ground from those high in the atmosphere.

In addition, clouds tend to obscure the view and bright land surfaces, such as snow, desert sand, and those found in certain urban areas can mar measurements.

However, the view got a bit clearer this summer with the publication of the first long-term global map of PM2.5 in a recent issue of Environmental Health Perspectives.

Canadian researchers Aaron van Donkelaar and Randall Martin at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, created the map by blending total-column aerosol amount measurements from two NASA satellite instruments with information about the vertical distribution of aerosols from a computer model.

Read more of this article here: NASA - Global View of Health-Sapping Air Pollution