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Tue, 09 Feb 2016
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Comet 2

Summary of comets and asteroids news for January 2016

This post introduces a new monthly column that will serve as a summary of the most important news about comets & asteroids and an overview of the comets discovered (and recovered) throughout the month just ended. During the month of January 2016, 8 new comets were discovered, there were 2 recoveries and cometary activity has been reported for 2 previously discovered objects (earlier designated as asteroids).

Moreover, observations of a secondary companion for comet P/2015 Y2 = P/2010 V1 (IKEYA-MURAKAMI) and the discovery of the binary nature of asteroid (2242) BALATON have been reported. "Current comet magnitudes" & "Daily updated asteroid flybys" pages are available at the top of this blog (or just click on the underline text here).

The dates below refer to the date of issuance of CBET (Central Bureau Electronic Telegram) which reported the official news & designations.

- Comet Discoveries

Jan 07 Discovery of C/2016 A1 (PANSTARRS)
Jan 07 Discovery of P/2016 A2 (CHRISTENSEN)
Jan 07 Discovery of C/2016 A3 (PANSTARRS)
Jan 16 Discovery of C/2016 A5 (PANSTARRS)
Jan 20 Discovery of C/2016 A6 (PANSTARRS)
Jan 23 Discovery of P/2016 A7 (PANSTARRS)
Jan 23 Discovery of C/2016 B1 (NEOWISE)
Jan 29 Discovery of C/2016 A8 (LINEAR)
© J. Masiero/Gemini Observatory/AURA
Comet C/2016 B1 (NEOWISE).

Eye 1

Biometric banking coming to an ATM near you

© shutterstock
Regular readers will be aware of our ongoing chronicle covering the increasing use of biometrics in a range of security measures from standard police use, to travel, to banking.

The video below makes the same plea to embrace new technology that is always heard when discussing a solution to the very real threat of identity theft. However, it is worth noting that in this case the company which is developing the solution is Diebold. This is the company that has been charged with hacking democracy during an investigation into bribery, fraud, and a "worldwide pattern of criminal conduct."

Comment: What will you do when you can no longer buy or sell without submitting to biometric identification?


Antarctic fungi possibly able to survive on Mars - ISS experiment shows promise

© European Space Agency
An astronaut fixes the EXPOSE-E platform onto the International Space Station. ESA
Two super-resilient fungi were able to survive, and even grow, when exposed to a Mars-like environment aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The experiment gave clues as to how life may have once thrived on the Red Planet and possibly could again.

The tiny fungi, Cryomyces antarcticus and Cryomyces minteri, are two cryptoendolithic organisms found in extreme conditions on Earth. They are able to survive in the cracks of rocks by feeding on traces of minerals. Members of the ISS Lichens and Fungi Experiment (LIFE) team collected samples in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, a snow-free desert in Antarctica that suffers from high winds and low temperatures, making it arguably the least hospitable place on the planet.
© S. Onofri et al.
Section of rock colonized by cryptoendolithic microorganisms and the Cryomyces fungi in quartz crystals under an electron microscope.
The team then blasted them up to the space station and placed them outside the Columbus module on a special research platform known as EXPOSE-E that has an atmosphere consisting of 95% CO2, 1.6% argon, 0.15% oxygen, 2.7% nitrogen, and 370 parts per million of H2O; with a pressure of 1,000 Pascals - all parameters similar to those found on Mars. The fungi were also pelted with ultra-violet radiation.

Eighteen months later, scientists studied the results, which have been published in the journal Astrobiology.


Space weather: Cosmic radiation intensifying as we enter another Solar Minimum

© spaceweather.com
An increased activity of cosmic rays has been observed around the Arctic Circle by the neutron monitors during the last year. The same trend was also noted in an independent measurement project carried out by the Spaceweather.com and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus over California. The experts think these changes are closely related to a drop in solar activity, as we enter another Solar Minimum.

Cosmic rays are a significant form of space weather. They get accelerated toward the Earth by distant supernova explosions and other violent events and are capable of seeding clouds, triggering lightning and penetrating commercial airplanes.

According to the measurements conducted by the Spaceweather.com team, flying back and forth across the continental USA only once, can absorb an amount of ionizing cosmic radiation equivalent to 2 or 5 dental X-rays. More to the point, the cosmic rays can affect mountain climbers, high-altitude drones and astronauts onboard the International Space Station in the same manner.
© spaceweather.com
To measure the radiation, the students have been launching helium balloons into the stratosphere, as a part of the monitoring project. The obtained results showed an excellent match with measurements conducted in polar latitudes.

In general, the polar latitudes are highly suitable for performing such measurements, because the cosmic radiation is concentrated there due to Earth's magnetic field configuration. However, it turns out that cosmic rays are not intensifying only over the poles of our planet, but also over lower latitudes, where the magnetic field is stronger and shields against deep space radiation more efficiently, as well. An example for this is the measurement project carried over California.

Comment: There is plenty of evidence that an increase in cosmic radiation not only affects the planet in the form of major earth changes, but the also affects the humans residing on it. See:


Tipping point for workerless agriculture: World's first robot-run lettuce farm to produce 30,000 heads daily

© Spread
Future of Farming

The future of farming has arrived. It's vertical, soilless, and run by robots.

Tech Insider reports World's First Robot-run farm will harvest 30,000 heads of lettuce daily.
The Japanese lettuce production company Spread believes the farmers of the future will be robots.

So much so that Spread is creating the world's first farm manned entirely by robots. Instead of relying on human farmers, the indoor Vegetable Factory will employ robots that can harvest 30,000 heads of lettuce every day.

Don't expect a bunch of humanoid robots to roam the halls, however; the robots look more like conveyor belts with arms. They'll plant seeds, water plants, and trim lettuce heads after harvest in the Kyoto, Japan farm.

The Vegetable Factory follows the growing agricultural trend of vertical farming, where farmers grow crops indoors without natural sunlight. Instead, they rely on LED light and grow crops on racks that stack on top of each other.

In addition to increasing production and reducing waste, indoor vertical farming also eliminates runoff from pesticides and herbicides — chemicals used in traditional outdoor farming that can be harmful to the environment.

The new farm, set to open in 2017, will be an upgrade to Spread's existing indoor farm, the Kameoka Plant. That farm currently produces about 21,000 heads of lettuce per day with help from a small staff of humans. Spread's new automation technology will not only produce more lettuce, it will also reduce labor costs by 50%, cut energy use by 30%, and recycle 98% of water needed to grow the crops.


Enormous invisible gas cloud careening toward Earth with power of 2 million suns

An invisible gas cloud of spectacular proportions, moving at some 700,000 mph, is believed to be heading for a collision with our galaxy, releasing enough energy to form over two million new stars.

​But nobody alive on Earth today should worry, as it is expected to occur some 30 million years in the future, according to research published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The cloud was discovered in 1963 by American astronomer Gail P. Smith, and later named after him. Since then, the "Smith Cloud" has been thoroughly examined by various astronomers using the Green Bank Observatory and the Hubble Telescope.

According to estimates, the cloud formed on the outskirts of the Milky Way during the period when dinosaurs walked the Earth, approximately 70 million years ago. The Smith Cloud trajectory has been poetically described by astronomers as: "what goes up must come down." After forming, cosmologists note that the cloud was blown away from the Milky Way and then, reaching its farthest point, turned back.

"It's [the path of the cloud] telling us that the Milky Way is a bubbling, very active place where gas can be thrown out of one part of the disk and then return back down into another," Andrew Fox, of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, leader of the research team said, outlining that movement of gas reflects changes constantly occurring within our galaxy.


Science of sound proves you are a cosmic instrument

© blenderartists.org
Cymatic frequency: Human voice made visible.
  • Music in our DNA
  • Harmony in health, variations cause deterioration
  • Nerves transmit musical impulses, not electrical ones
  • Intelligence correlates with harmony
"Music is the universal language of mankind."
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

An ancient understanding of the cosmological universe puts forth that inaudible music calculates the position of the heavenly bodies in our skies. With quintessential harmony, Mars, Neptune, Uranus, and all the other planets are held perfectly in place, with the harmonic ratios of each planet determining how they respond to one another, and how they affect all life on the planet earth, as well as sentient life elsewhere in the galaxy. The ancients understood that cosmic harmony is the state of enlightenment. Disharmony, is when the egoic nature, or false self has not been healed, and conducts the 'show' of our lives - the musical, as it were, of you.

Comment: A sound theory! All matter exists at specific densities or vibrations and each particle has its own unique resonant frequency, its own place in the cosmic symphony. Our choices lie in selecting which currents, which harmonies, we merge with and what message or frequency wave we emanate and amplify.


Moon born in a head-on collision with Earth

© Paul Warren/UCLA
A close-up of lunar rock from the Apollo 17 mission. Its oxygen 'fingerprint' matches that of Earth rocks.
As births go, they don't come much more violent than the Moon's.

Some 4.5 billion years ago, the young Earth collided with a developing planet, Theia. But instead of dealing each other a glancing blow, chemical analysis shows the collision was head-on, disintegrating Theia and part of Earth into a hot swirling disk of water and dust surrounding what was left of Earth.

This mix eventually clumped together to become the Moon, a new study suggests.

The key to the findings is the unique oxygen "fingerprint" that is found in all the planets, moons, comets and asteroids in our Solar System, including the Earth and the Moon.

More than 99.9% of Earth's oxygen is "normal", with each atom containing eight protons and eight neutrons. But there are small quantities of slightly heavier oxygen - molecules with an extra neutron jammed in.

While this "fingerprint" is a reliable identifier, it has traditionally been very hard to detect. So the University of California Los Angeles-led team used new, super-sensitive equipment to analyse seven lunar rocks brought back by the Apollo 12, 15 and 17 missions, as well as a lunar meteorite, and compared them to six volcanic rocks from the Earth's mantle. They found their heavy oxygen levels to be almost identical - within five parts per million.

To have that level of similarity, the planetary objects must have crashed into each other straight on. A side blow couldn't account for that degree of mixing.


Herpes in space: NASA using $80,000 in grants to study how it mutates in space flight

© Maxim Shipenkov / Reuters
NASA is engaged in a study of four types of herpesviruses to better understand how they mutate - and worsen - before, during, and after manned space missions. Funded by grants and contracts totaling $80,000, it is expected to be completed by May of 2018.

Titled "Effect of Spaceflight on Herpesvirus Genome Stability and Diversity," the research is being conducted out of the University of Florida.

"The goal of this study will be to determine the changes in the genomic and mutational diversity that is present in the Herpesvirus virome present in astronaut saliva and urine samples collected before, during, and after space flight," NASA said on its website.

Comment: See also:


Is consciousness the product of carefully balanced chaos?

© agsandrew/Shutterstock
Is my yellow the same as your yellow? Does your pain feel like my pain? The question of whether the human consciousness is subjective or objective is largely philosophical. But the line between consciousness and unconsciousness is a bit easier to measure. In a new study of how anesthetic drugs affect the brain, researchers suggest that our experience of reality is the product of a delicate balance of connectivity between neurons—too much or too little and consciousness slips away.

"It's a very nice study," says neuroscientist Melanie Boly at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who was not involved in the work. "The conclusions that they draw are justified."

Previous studies of the brain have revealed the importance of "cortical integration" in maintaining consciousness, meaning that the brain must process and combine multiple inputs from different senses at once. Our experience of an orange, for example, is made up of sight, smell, taste, touch, and the recollection of our previous experiences with the fruit. The brain merges all of these inputs—photons, aromatic molecules, etc.—into our subjective experience of the object in that moment.