Science & Technology


NASA's new images of Pluto's largest moon, Charon show surprisingly complex and violent history

Charon in Enhanced Color NASA's New Horizons captured this high-resolution enhanced color view of Charon just before closest approach on July 14, 2015.
NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has returned the best color and the highest resolution images yet of Pluto's largest moon, Charon - and these pictures show a surprisingly complex and violent history.

At half the diameter of Pluto, Charon is the largest satellite relative to its planet in the solar system. Many New Horizons scientists expected Charon to be a monotonous, crater-battered world; instead, they're finding a landscape covered with mountains, canyons, landslides, surface-color variations and more.

"We thought the probability of seeing such interesting features on this satellite of a world at the far edge of our solar system was low," said Ross Beyer, an affiliate of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging (GGI) team from the SETI Institute and NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, "but I couldn't be more delighted with what we see."


Massive Global Cooling process discovered as Paris climate deal looms

© The Register, UK
As world leaders get ready to head to Paris for the latest pact on cutting CO2 emissions, it has emerged that there isn't as much urgency about the matter as had been thought.

A team of top-level atmospheric chemistry boffins from France and Germany say they have identified a new process by which vast amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted into the atmosphere from the sea - a process which was unknown until now, meaning that existing climate models do not take account of it.

The effect of VOCs in the air is to cool the climate down, and thus climate models used today predict more warming than can actually be expected. Indeed, global temperatures have actually been stable for more than fifteen years, a circumstance which was not predicted by climate models and which climate science is still struggling to assmilate.

In essence, the new research shows that a key VOC, isoprene, is not only produced by living organisms (for instance plants and trees on land and plankton in the sea) as had previously been assumed. It is also produced in the "microlayer" at the top of the ocean by the action of sunlight on floating chemicals - no life being necessary. And it is produced in this way in very large amounts.

According to an announcement just issued by the German government's Leibniz Institute for Tropospheric Research:
Atmospheric chemists from France and Germany, however, can now show that isoprene can also be formed without biological sources in the surface film of the oceans by sunlight and so explain the large discrepancy between field measurements and models. The new identified photochemical reaction is therefore important to improve the climate models.


Russian scientist believes he's found the key to vitality in Siberian bacteria

© RT/
A scientist in Russia claims the secret to “eternal life” is in a 3.5-million-year-old Siberian specimen.
The wait for immortality may soon be over, at least according to a scientist in Russia. Anatoli Brouchkov, head of the Geocryology Department at Moscow State University, claims injecting 3.5-million-year-old Siberian bacteria has given his health and energy a boost. He believes its DNA and genes can contain the cure to aging.

"I started to work longer, I've never had a flu for the last two years," said Brouchkov, in an interview with Russia TV. "But it still need the experiments. We have to work out how this bacteria prevents aging. I think that is the way this science should develop. What is keeping that mechanism alive? And how can we use it for our own benefits?"


New super-sensitive pathogen test can detect thousands of viruses, even those present at low levels

© Mansi Thapliyal / Reuters
A new super-sensitive test called ViroCap can detect thousands of viruses that make people and animals sick - and doctors don't even have to know what exactly they are looking for.

ViroCap can be used to detect such deadly viruses as Ebola or help fight the more mundane viruses like rotavirus, according to the technology's developers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

The laboratory tests we are all used to are called polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays. The most expansive PCR assays can only screen up to 20 similar viruses at the same time while ViroCap looks for everything.

"With this test, you don't have to know what you're looking for," says Gregory Storch, professor of pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.


Unusual ripples in Saturn's rings may show something strange is happening inside the planet

© NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
The movement of waves in Saturn's rings offers clues to activity and conditions within the planet. This natural-color view of Saturn was taken from 764,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) away.
Unusual ripples in Saturn's rings are revealing the mysterious inner workings of the great gas giant. Planetary scientists and modelers are slowly picking apart that mystery.

Billions of particles race around Saturn's 170,000-mile-wide (273,600 kilometers) set of rings, which are mostly water ice with a smattering of rock. The rings are full of activity, including waves that ricochet outward in spiral patterns, most caused by the gravitational pull of Saturn's 62 moons. Waves caused by the moons, which orbit outside the rings' sphere, always travel outward.

But then there's a set of waves heading inward. That means there's something moving inside, too. [Video: Fly Through Space 'In Saturn's Rings']


Possible nova in Sagittarius

Following the posting on the Central Bureau's Transient Object Confirmation Page about a possible Nova in Sgr (TOCP Designation: PNV J18033275-2816054) we performed some follow-up of this object remotely through a 0.43-m f/6.8 astrograph + CCD) of iTelescope network (MPC Code Q62 - Siding Spring).

On our images taken on September 28.4, 2015 we can confirm the presence of an optical counterpart with R-CCD magnitude 9.5 at coordinates:

R.A. = 18 03 32.77, Decl.= -28 16 05.3

(equinox 2000.0; UCAC4 catalogue reference stars).

Our annotated confirmation image. Click on it for a bigger version:
© Remanzacco Observatory


NASA is developing a gun to deflect asteroids

Ready, aim, fire...cross fingers and hope for the best!
NASA Scientists are working on developing a giant space "shotgun" capable of knocking an asteroid off collision course with Earth. New York-based engineers Honeybee Robotics - an interplanetary exploration specialist - has been commissioned to develop the concept for the Nasa Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM).

The idea behind it is not to blow up an asteroid, as this could potentially make things worse sending hundreds of smaller meteorites crashing into the planet. It would, instead be to hit one with enough force to steer it away so it passed as a safe distance. Currently, there is next to nothing that could be done to prevent a significant asteroid on a collision course with us from crash to earth. If it was a rock of a size significant enough to threaten life on earth (500 metres and upwards), the change of direction would probably have to take place about 100 years before it got here.

The shotgun could also be used to get samples from asteroids and test the strength of them as they are in orbit. Kris Zacny, vice president at Honeybee Robotics, said the concept will also be "key" to sending sending humans to Mars in the future. If the gun is developed, chunks of asteroids will be dislodged out of orbit and sent closer to the moon, where they would be more accessible to experts.

Comment: Just like target practice...any military interest here? Must be all kinds of things they could sample or dislodge. And, as far as being the "key" to sending humans to Mars...huh?

Comment: there's a dangerous bright idea... Until you hit it, you won't know what the risk is in fragmenting the asteroid. An astronomical conundrum at least!


NASA cuts partnership with private asteroid hunt

Sentinel space telescope, artist rendition
NASA has cut ties with a private group that intends to launch an asteroid-survey mission. The decision clouds the prospects of the only large-scale space telescope being developed to seek space objects that have the potential to wreak havoc on Earth.

NASA said Tuesday that it has ended its commitment to provide analytical and data-downlink support to Sentinel, a US$450-million satellite designed to spot 90% of near-Earth objects (NEOs) larger than 140 metres. NASA said the decision was made because the project has missed its development deadlines, and the money held in reserve for Sentinel operations is needed elsewhere.

The Sentinel team vows to continue, but it is unclear whether the project can overcome perennial cash-flow problems and NASA's vote of no confidence. Money for the spacecraft's development was supposed to come from private donors, but fund-raising has lagged behind expectations.

Sentinel's struggles are "disappointing," says Timothy Spahr, CEO of space consultancy NEO Sciences. If the mission ever launches, it has the potential to make a big dent in the estimated half-million-plus undetected and potentially devastating asteroids that come within 45 million kilometres of Earth's orbit. An object no more than 55 metres across ravaged trees across 2,000 square kilometres of Siberian forest in the so-called Tunguska event of 1908; a direct hit from a Tunguska-sized asteroid could lay waste to a large city. Of the roughly 363,000 near-Earth asteroids as big as the tunguska object, only 565 had been discovered as of a year ago.

Comment: With all the 'drop-outs' in recent years from this 'dedicated space agency effort', given the uptick of incoming objects, why hasn't NASA come up with at least ONE NEO telescope to suss out and track asteroids that are a threat to Earth? Maybe there is more to this 'balk and cancel' routine than meets the eye.

Eye 2

Apple decides you shouldn't know too much about U.S. drone strikes

Evidently believing too much substantive information can be bad for business, this weekend Apple pulled a free app that catalogues and maps drone killings by the U.S. because it found its content "objectionable." The Metadata+ app was developed by Intercept editor Josh Begley, who had to rework it five times to get past Apple's restrictions on content - farts, cats, porn are just fine - for the App Store; ultimately, they only accepted it after Begley removed the word "drone" from it. The app listed the date, location and victims of American drone strikes, and buzzed users at each new strike. "I love my phone because it puts me at the center of the map," Begley explained while developing the app. "But I'm not the center of the map. I can't even pronounce the names of the places we're bombing."

Comment: Just following orders from their Masters, no doubt. If too many people understood just how many innocent civilians are being murdered, there might be an uprising against our continual wars.


Record-breaking distance has been achieved in quantum teleportation

A record-breaking distance has been achieved in the bizarre world of quantum teleportation, scientists say.

The scientists teleported photons (packets of light) across a spool of fiber optics 63 miles (102 kilometers) long, four times farther than the previous record. This research could one day lead to a "quantum Internet" that offers next-generation encryption, the scientists said.

Teleporting an object from one point in the universe to another without it moving through the space in between may sound like science fiction pulled from an episode of "Star Trek," but scientists have actually been experimenting with "quantum teleportation" since 1998.

Quantum teleportation depends on capturing the fundamental details of an object — its "quantum states" — and instantly transmitting that information from one area to another to recreate the exact object someplace else.

Quantum teleportation relies on the strange nature of quantum physics, which finds that the fundamental building blocks of the universe can essentially exist in two or more places at once.