Science & Technology


Asteroids: Breaking up is hard to do

asteroid Eros
This image, taken by NASA's Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous mission in 2000, shows a close-up view of Eros, an asteroid with an orbit that takes it somewhat close to Earth. A new paper argues that the major cause of fragmentation for small asteroids, around one hundred meters in size, is not collisions with other asteroids but rapid rotation induced by radiation.
Hundreds of thousands of asteroids are known to orbit our Sun at distances ranging from near the Earth to beyond Saturn. The most widely known collection of asteroids, the "main belt," contains some of the largest and brightest asteroids and lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Astronomers think that the asteroids, like the planets, formed in the early solar system from the gradual agglomeration of smaller particles but that, in the case of asteroids, their growth was interrupted by mutual collisions that caused them to fragment rather than to coalesce into planets.

This is an hypothesis which astronomers are trying to test by gathering new data. Their work has some immediate repercussions: NASA is currently planning an "Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM)" as part of America's next human spaceflight enterprise. Understanding the origins of asteroid sizes - and then identifying a good one for an astronaut to recover - are prime US goals.

Comment: This out dated hypothesis is slowly being re-evaluated in light of real cometary science.

"The fundamental difference between asteroids and comets is not their chemical composition, i.e. dirty, fluffy icy comets vs. rocky asteroids. Rather, as has long been put forward by plasma theorists, what differentiates 'comets' from 'asteroids' is their electric activity"

Earth Changes and the Human Cosmic Connection

For some in the mainstream astronomy community the penny is finally dropping: Mars moon Phobos may be a captured asteroid and recent discoveries are changing attitudes:

"Yet new information is already pouring in. What scientists have discovered is already starting to transform our understanding of Rosetta's target comet, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (C-G for short), and cometary science."
1. C-G looks nothing like we'd expect

2. The surface is hotter than we guessed, and surprisingly ice-free

3. Despite its dry surface, C-G expels an astronomical amount of water... but not on its dark side
Where's the ice 3 surprising comet facts we've already learned from Rosetta

"NASA is currently planning an "Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM)" as part of America's next human spaceflight enterprise. Understanding the origins of asteroid sizes - and then identifying a good one for an astronaut to recover - are prime US goals."
Really! Sounds more like the prime goal is that of 'perception management' based on 'bogus science'? Forget about funding for advanced warning systems - NASA et al. are broke, and as for asteroid-deflection technologies, many are just absurd. NASA are downplaying the sharp rise in meteor fireball impacts over last 20 years which was first noticed and tracked by in 2002.

Look to the past for what is to come! Celestial Intentions: Comets and the Horns of Moses


Independent authors upset with Amazon's Kindle Unlimited program

author H.M. Ward
© Joshua Bright/NYT
The author H.M. Ward says she left Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program after two months when her income dropped 75 percent.
Authors are upset with Amazon. Again.

For much of the last year, mainstream novelists were furious that Amazon was discouraging the sale of some titles in its confrontation with the publisher Hachette over e-books.

Now self-published writers, who owe much of their audience to the retailer's publishing platform, are unhappy.

One problem is too much competition. But a new complaint is about Kindle Unlimited, a new Amazon subscription service that offers access to 700,000 books - both self-published and traditionally published - for $9.99 a month.

It may bring in readers, but the writers say they earn less. And in interviews and online forums, they have voiced their complaints.

Space success: Russia launches new Angara space rocket

President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday oversaw the successful test-launch of Russia's newest heavy-class Angara rocket, a rare piece of good news in a week dominated by the economic crisis.

The president oversaw by video link the launch of the Angara-A5 from Plesetsk in northern Russia at 0557 GMT, saying the new rocket would allow the country better protection.

"Indeed, for our space industry and I suppose for the whole of Russia this is a major, very important event," Putin said from the Kremlin.

"Russia remains one of the internationally recognized leaders in space exploration."

Putin said that Russia will over the next five years conduct a series of test-launches for the Angara - which is designed for civilian and military use, including the launch of manned spacecraft.

Comment: This latest Russian space success, together with that of their BRICS allies earlier this year (India's maiden Mars mission successful and China's first mission to moon and back) is in direct contrast to their Western counterparts; who have suffered various anomalies, in a shockingly bad year for their space dominance. Symbolic perhaps?

Virgin Galactic Space Ship Two destroyed after in flight anomaly

Antares rocket explosion: A "vehicle anomaly", a deliberate destruction, or something else?

NASA rocket bound for International Space Station explodes just seconds after takeoff


No way to live outside Earth: Space colonization a myth - ESA director

Space Colonization
© Capture
For decades in history space was the giant playground - but only for NASA and the USSR. Now, many nations strive to reach and explore the last frontier. With the enormous costs for the venture, will cooperation prevail over national interests? Are there benefits in the near future - for all of us - in spending so much to get to the orbit?

We touch upon all these questions with Director-General of the European Space Agency, Jean Jacques Dordain, on Sophie&Co.

Sophie Shevarnadze: Jean Jacques Dordain, the director-general of the European Space agency, it's great to have you with us today.

Jean Jacques Dordain: Thank you.

Read the full transcript

Scientists invent pheromone trap that may end the global bedbug infestation

bedbug experiment
© Simon Fraser University, Greg Ehlers
By giving blood weekly to her life partner's bug experiment, SFU scientist Regine Gries has all but given us the gift of freedom from bed bug torture.
The world owes a debt of gratitude to Simon Fraser University biologist Regine Gries. Her arms have provided a blood meal for more than a thousand bedbugs each week for five years while she and her husband, biology professor Gerhard Gries, searched for a way to conquer the global bedbug epidemic.

Working with SFU chemist Robert Britton and a team of students, they have finally found the solution--a set of chemical attractants, or pheromones, that lure the bedbugs into traps, and keep them there.

This month, after a series of successful trials in bedbug-infested apartments in Metro Vancouver, they have published their research, "Bedbug aggregation pheromone finally identified," in Angewandte Chemie, a general chemistry journal.

They're working with Victoria-based Contech Enterprises Inc. to develop the first effective and affordable bait and trap for detecting and monitoring bedbug infestations. They expect it to be commercially available next year.

Comment: Bedbugs have been a nightmare for tenants and landlords and hotels, the past few years with concerns that they carry drug-resistant bacteria. This solution arrives none too soon. Wouldn't it be wonderful if someone invented a solution to rid the globe of its psychopath infestation?


Scientist discovers way to control internal clock

© Thinkstock
Forget those hi-tech apps and widgets. Forget your anachronistic lo-tech paper calendars with cutesy pictures of animals or romantic misty landscapes. You might react to these artificial cues and bring some semblance of order to your life, but physiologically, your body dances to a different tune - the hard-wired circadian rhythms that drive many biological processes to cycle every 24 hours.

From the very beginnings of life on earth, in the earliest cells of the most primitive organisms, this fundamental process of life has been essential for survival. To protect the all-important replicating DNA of the first living beings from high ultraviolet radiation during the daytime, those organisms developed photosensitive proteins and circadian rhythms. Surviving to this day, for instance, the fungus Neurospora retains this clock-regulated mechanism.

When the natural function of circadian rhythm is disrupted, the human body can succumb to many related health problems, including metabolic disease and neuropsychiatric illnesses such as bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, as well as sleep and anxiety disorders. You mess with that pre-fungal bio-app, the circadian clock, at your peril.

But some intriguing work by Thomas Burris, Ph.D., chair of pharmacological and physiological science at Saint Louis University (SLU) and his colleagues brings promise of new ways to treat problems that are associated with circadian dysfunction.

Mistletoe: The vampire of the forest

mistletoe kiss
© Fox Photos/Getty
When it's not the holiday posterplant, mistletoe spends its days sucking the life out of trees worldwide.

Mistletoe is basically a vampire - but one of those an anti-hero type vampires. Yes, I was surprised to learn that the same forest shrub that we love to smooch under every December is a parasite that spends its days sucking the "lifeforce" from trees round the globe. Out of roughly 1,400 species of mistletoe, most are hemiparasites, meaning they depend on host trees for minerals and water but still harvest energy from the sun in their leaves. Many view the plants as a pest, but that's starting to change.

"Even though they can be really hard on a tree, they can also be really important to wildlife," says David Shaw, a forest health specialist at Oregon State University. While stealing hard-earned resources from trees, the bushy brooms that mistletoe creates provide food and shelter to birds, bugs, and a few mammals. Recent research suggests this mix of thieving and generosity - they could be essential to the health and prosperity of an ecosystem.

Scientists successfully create artificial sperm and eggs from skin cells

Early-stage sex cells research in Cambridge has potential to help people with fertility problems

Scientists have made primitive forms of artificial sperm and eggs in a medical feat that could transform the understanding of age-related diseases and fertility problems.

Researchers in Cambridge made the early-stage sex cells by culturing human embryonic stem cells under carefully-controlled conditions for a week.

They followed the success by showing that the same procedure can convert adult skin tissue into precursors for sperm and eggs, raising the prospect of making sex cells that are genetically matched to patients.

The cells should have the potential to grow into mature sperm and eggs, though this has never been done in the lab before. The next step for the researchers will be to inject the cells into mouse ovaries or testes to see if they fully develop in the animals.

British law prohibits fertility clinics in the UK from using artificial sperm and eggs to treat infertile couples. But if the law was revised, skin cells could potentially be taken from patients and turned into genetically identical sperm or eggs for use in IVF therapies.

Skin cells from a woman could only be used to make eggs because they lack the Y chromosome. Those from a male might theoretically be turned into eggs as well as sperm, but Azim Surani, who led the work at the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge, said that on the basis of current knowledge, that was unlikely.

Comment: Many of our scientific advances are focusing on increasing our lifespan and ability to procreate. But what affect does this have on the environment around us, where nature helps to control and stabilize the delicate ecosystems?


Dodwell's surprising study of the obliquity of the ecliptic

Earth’s Axial Tilt
© Wikipedia
Earth’s Axial Tilt, or Obliquity.
This Atlantipedia report (reproduced below) from 2010 concerns research by English-born George Dodwell, who held the post of Government Astronomer for South Australia for 43 years (1909 - 1952) until his retirement. He came across a study by a Professor Drayson who cited ancient astronomical observations and put forward a revision to standard Earth precession theory which Dodwell found 'untenable', but he became interested in the data.

Dodwell: 'it seemed to me worthwhile to trace out more clearly just how much, and why, the ancient and mediaeval observations of the obliquity of the ecliptic, on which Professor Drayson based his conclusions, differed from Newcomb's internationally accepted formula for the secular, or age-long, variation of the obliquity.

These observations went back to values given by Strabo, Proclus, Ptolemy, and Pappus in the early centuries of the Christian era. They indicated a consistent and increasing divergence in past ages from the values calculated by means of Newcomb's formula.' [bold added]

Graphene could harvest energy from thin air

Editor's note: Tomorrow Transformed explores innovative approaches and opportunities available in business and society through technology.

Bold claims for new battery technology have been around since the invention of the lead-acid battery more than 150 years ago.

But researchers at Manchester University in the UK say their latest discovery involving the new wonder material graphene could be the most revolutionary advance in battery technology yet.

According to a study published in the journal Nature, graphene membranes could be used to sieve hydrogen gas from the atmosphere -- a development that could pave the way for electric generators powered by air.

"It looks extremely simple and equally promising," said Dr Sheng Hu, a post-doctoral researcher in the project. "Because graphene can be produced these days in square metre sheets, we hope that it will find its way to commercial fuel cells sooner rather than later."

Comment: Although graphene is being touted with all these technological wonders, it is not so clear what the side effects of graphene oxide (when graphene is exposed to air) is to the environment and people.

Miracle material graphene can pose danger to the environment