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Comet

Dark energy camera takes accidental gigantic, magnificent picture of Comet Lovejoy

Comet Lovejoy
© Fermilab’s Marty Murphy, Nikolay Kuropatkin, Huan Lin and Brian Yanny.
Comet 2014 Q2 (Lovejoy), on December 27, 2014, as seen by the Dark Energy Survey.
Oops! In a happy accident, Comet Lovejoy just happened to be in the field of view of the 570-megapixel Dark Energy Camera, the world's most powerful digital camera. One member of the observing team said it was a "shock" to see Comet Lovejoy pop up on the display in the control room.

"It reminds us that before we can look out beyond our Galaxy to the far reaches of the Universe, we need to watch out for celestial objects that are much closer to home!" wrote the team on the Dark Energy Detectives blog.

On December 27, 2014, while the Dark Energy Survey was scanning the southern sky, C2014 Q2 entered the camera's view. Each of the rectangular shapes above represents one of the 62 individual fields of the camera.

Comment: The icy snowball comet theory is really a hypothesis which is completely outdated:

Boat

Gone with the wind: Wind-powered freighters

Vindskip
© Lade AS
To make ships more eco-efficient, engineers have been working with alternative fuels. A Norwegian engineer is currently pursuing a new approach: With VindskipTM, he has designed a cargo ship that is powered by wind and gas. Software developed by Fraunhofer researchers will ensure an optimum use of the available wind energy at any time.

International shipping is transporting 90 percent of all goods on earth. Running on heavy fuel oil freighters contribute to pollution. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) wants to reduce the environmental impact of ocean liners. One of the measures: Starting from 2020, ships will only be allowed to use fuel containing maximum 0.1 percent sulfur in their fuel in certain areas. However, the higher-quality fuel with less sulfur is more expensive than the heavy fuel oil which is currently used. Shipping companies are thus facing a major challenge in reducing their fuel costs while complying with the emission guidelines.

A new way of reducing fuel consumption, emissions and bunker expenses is being pursued by the Norwegian engineer Terje Lade, managing director of the company Lade AS: With VindskipTM he has designed a type of ship that does not use heavy fuel oil but utilizes wind for propulsion. The highlight: The hull of the freighter serves as a wing sail. On the high seas, VindskipTM will benefit from free-blowing wind making it very energy efficient. For low-wind passages, in order to maneuver the ship on the open sea while also maintaining a constant speed, it is equipped with an environmentally friendly and cost-effective propulsion machinery running on liquefied natural gas (LNG). With the combination of wind and liquefied natural gas as an alternative fuel to heavy fuel oil, the fuel consumption is estimated to be only 60 percent of a reference ship on average. Carbon dioxide emissions are reduced by 80 percent, according to calculations by the Norwegian company.
Galaxy

Astronomers discover extremely elusive 'intermediate-mass' black hole

galaxy NGC 2276
© X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/M.Mezcua et al & NASA/CXC/INAF/A.Wolter et al; Optical: NASA/STScI and DSS; Inset: Radio: EVN/VLBI
This is a composite image of the galaxy NGC 2276, with X-rays from Chandra (pink) and optical data (red, green, and blue). The inset zooms into just NGC 2276-3c, an intermediate-mass black hole and reveals its emission in radio waves, including a jet produced by the black hole that appears to be snuffing out star formation.
Astronomers have detected a black hole embedded in the spiral arm of a galaxy 100 million light-years from Earth — but this isn't any old black hole, it belongs to an extremely elusive class that may be the 'missing link' in black hole evolution.

Using observational data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) Network, which detects radio waves from energetic sources in the cosmos, the researchers, led by Mar Mezcua of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, were able to also deduce that this particular 'intermediate-mass black hole' (IMBH) is creating a 'dead zone' inside its host galaxy, NGC 2276.

"In paleontology, the discovery of certain fossils can help scientists fill in the evolutionary gaps between different dinosaurs," said Mezcua. "We do the same thing in astronomy, but we often have to 'dig' up our discoveries in galaxies that are millions of light years away."

Black holes are known to come in two main classes: stellar-mass black holes, which are spawned by supernovae and are around 5-30 times the mass of the sun, and supermassive black holes, which occupy the cores of most galaxies and have solar masses of millions to billions. But to understand how black holes grow, there must be some black holes that have masses between the stellar and the supermassive. After all, logic dictates that if all black holes start small and grow over time, there must be some intermediate mass black holes out there with girths that range between a few hundred to a few hundred thousand solar masses.
Heart

Rats are pretty remarkable - recognize kindness, repay favors

rat
© RIA Novosti / Yakov Andreev
Humans have long used the behavior of rats to personify the worst qualities in their fellow man. When it comes to acts of kindness, however, it turns out the much maligned creature is willing to repay favors to its fellow rodents.

The study, published this week in the journal Biology Letters, was set up to observe an ever elusive concept in the animal kingdom - the principle of direct reciprocity.

According to Michael Taborsky, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Bern in Switzerland who helped carry out the experiment, the practice is in fact so rare that this is the first time it has ever been scientifically observed in non-humans.

Along with his Swiss colleague Vassilissa Dolivo, the team brought together 20 female wild-type Norwegian rats. During the experiment, the team used pieces of banana as attractive awards, and pieces of carrots as less attractive rewards.

Comment: Rats! Another human misconception about the animal world bites the dust. If humans were a bit more perceptive of the animals around them, calling someone a "dog" or "rat" might be a compliment - and "ratting someone out" a kind acknowledgment of their reciprocity of kindness.

Eye 1

Bionic eye lets blind man see again

 Allen Zderad
© Mayo Clinic/YouTube screen shot
A blind man was recently able to see again after having a bionic eye implant.
A bionic eye implant is now allowing a blind man to see the outlines of his wife after 10 years in darkness.

The implant, called a retinal prosthesis, consists of a small electronic chip that is placed at the back of the eye to send visual signals directly into the optic nerve. This bypasses the damaged cells in the man's retina.

The bionic eye doesn't have enough electrodes to recreate the details of human faces, but for the first time since he lost his vision, the man can make out the outlines of people and things, and walk without a cane.
Binoculars

Researcher decodes prairie dog language, discovers they've been talking about us

prairie dog
© CC BY 2.0 chadh
You might not think it to look at them, but prairie dogs and humans actually share an important commonality -- and it's not just their complex social structures, or their habit of standing up on two feet (aww, like people). As it turns out, prairie dogs actually have one of the most sophisticated forms of vocal communication in the natural world, really not so unlike our own.

After more than 25 years of studying the calls of prairie dog in the field, one researcher managed to decode just what these animals are saying. And the results show that praire dogs aren't only extremely effective communicators, they also pay close attention to detail.

According to Dr. Con Slobodchikoff, who turned his vocalization analysis on the Gunnison's prairie dog of Arizona and New Mexico, the chirps these animals use as 'alert calls' are actually word-like packages of information to share with the rest of the colony. Amazingly, these unique sounds were found to both identify specific threats by species, such as hawks and coyotes, and to point out descriptive information about their appearance.

And, when they're talking about humans, that might not always be flattering.
Wolf

Gray wolves, once decimated by eradication campaign, rebound in Oregon

© Reuters/Oregon Fish & Wildlife/Handout
A wolf roaming the same area as OR 7 is seen in this undated Oregon Fish & Wildlife handout photo taken with a remote camera.
Oregon's once decimated gray wolf population has rebounded to at least 77 animals, and the wolves are now pairing off and breeding across a wide region, state officials with the state's Department of Fish and Wildlife said on Wednesday.

Gray wolves, native to Oregon but wiped out in the state by an eradication campaign in the early 20th century, first returned there in 2008 and have now spread out to multiple parts of the Pacific Northwest state.

"The wolf population continues to grow and expand, and for the first time we've had wolf reproduction in southern Oregon," said Michelle Dennehy, spokeswoman for the state wildlife department. "And we had eight breeding pairs last year. We also documented six new pairs of wolves, and 26 pups."

Comment: The age old battle of man versus nature.

Info

New research suggests that hippocampus has a role in processing unconscious memory

memory centers brain
A new study by a UT Dallas researcher challenges a long-accepted scientific theory about the role the hippocampus plays in our unconscious memory.

For decades, scientists have theorized that this part of the brain is not involved in processing unconscious memory, the type that allows us to do things like button a shirt without having to think about it.

But research by Dr. Richard Addante, a senior lecturer in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, raises doubts about that.

"These intriguing new findings raise important questions regarding the organization of memory systems, and will doubtlessly receive a great deal of attention from other investigators," said Dr. Bert Moore, dean of the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences and Aage and Margareta M&ostroke;ller Distinguished Professor. "Dr. Addante's careful, thoughtful work provides exciting insights into the brain bases of memory."
Info

A molecular compass for bird navigation

© Brian E. Small
Arctic Tern
Each year, the Arctic Tern travels over 40,000 miles, migrating nearly from pole to pole and back again. Other birds make similar (though shorter) journeys in search of warmer climes. How do these birds manage to traverse such great distances when we need a map just to make our way to the next town over?

Researchers have established that birds can sense the earth's magnetic field and use it to orient themselves. How this internal compass works, though, remains poorly understood.

Physicists at the University of Oxford are exploring one possible explanation: a magnetically sensitive protein called cryptochrome that mediates circadian rhythms in plants and animals. Blue or green light triggers electrons in the protein to produce pairs of radicals whose electron spins respond to magnetic fields. "As we vary the strength of the magnetic field, we can alter the progress of these photochemical reactions inside the protein," said lead researcher Peter Hore, who will present his work during a talk at the American Physical Society's March Meeting on Wednesday, March 4 in San Antonio, Texas.
Info

Angry Norwegian lemmings: The bravest rodent and the myth of suicide


Angry Norwegian lemming
The angry Norwegian lemming is one of the bravest rodents in the world because it has evolved aposematic traits to ward off predators, a study has suggested.

Norwegian lemmings have an interesting reputation, with people often mistakenly believing they are "crazed creatures" that commit suicide by throwing themselves off cliffs, or exploding because they are so angry.

They have bold colouring - with a red-brown back, yellow flanks, a white chest, chin and cheeks, and a big black patch on its head - and so stand out from their less vibrant relatives.

While most other small rodents flee when they sense a threat and only very rarely aggressively protect themselves from predators, the Norwegian lemming laughs in the face of danger.

When predators approach, they make loud, severe barks, and fight back against attacks with lunges, bites and screams. In a BBC report about their behaviour last year, one group of researchers even reported a face off with a farm tractor, "leaving a trail of infuriated lemmings behind".

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