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Solar Flares

Comet plunges into the Sun

On Friday, Aug.28th, the sun swallowed a comet. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spotted the icy visitor from the outer solar system making a headlong plunge into our star. One comet went in; none came out. Click to play the movie:


Heated by the sun at point blankrange, the comet's fragile ices vaporized, leaving at most a "rubble pile" of rock and gravel scattered along its sungrazing orbit. Any remains are invisible from Earth.

The comet, R.I.P., was probably a member of the Kreutz family. Kreutz sungrazers are fragments from the breakup of a single giant comet many centuries ago. They get their name from 19th century German astronomer Heinrich Kreutz, who studied them in detail. Several Kreutz fragments pass by the sun and disintegrate every day. Most, measuring less than a few meters across, are too small to see, but occasionally a bigger fragment like this one (~10 m to 50 m) attracts attention.

Binoculars

Underground lakes of pure water exist below Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota

© AP
This 1982 photo provided by The National Park Service shows a park employee sitting on a rock in Calcite Lake at The Wind Cave National Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The underground lakes, which were discovered in the 1960s, aren't home to any animal life but prominent cave microbiologist Hazel Barton has discovered there is bacteria - albeit scant - in the lakes. Barton hopes to decipher how the bacteria survives and answer questions about how it interacted before multicellular organisms came along and perhaps find new sources of antibiotics.
Hundreds of feet beneath the Black Hills, a team of scientists and researchers snake through dark, narrow and silent corridors of ancient rock to reach their goal: what is thought to be some of the purest water on Earth.

The crew of National Park Service scientists that's anchored by microbiologist Hazel Barton travels sporadically to the lowest reaches of South Dakota's Wind Cave National Park to study a series of underground lakes, which were discovered in the 1960s and aren't home to any animal life or even easily detectable microscopic organisms.

But Barton, from the University of Akron, has discovered there is bacteria—albeit scant—in the lakes. She's beginning to analyze about six years of data and hopes to decipher how the bacteria survives, answer questions about how it interacted before multicellular organisms came along and perhaps find new sources of antibiotics.

Ice Cube

Bizarre Mars crater reveals huge slab of ice at shallower depths than any seen before

Image
© NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona
Scientists have finally solved the mystery of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's puzzling discovery of a perfect, terraced, gigantic crater. And it's better than 'aliens'. For humans have just discovered water ice at much shallower depths than previously thought.

It all started with the MRO's finding of a crater that was too bizarrely shaped. A meteor impact normally results in debris flying out in different directions. Not the case here; the crater was perfectly terraced and the size of California and Texas - two of America's three biggest states - put together.

The predictable flurry of articles declaring it as a UFO landing emerged soon thereafter. But Ali Bramson of the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (LPL) dispelled the sensationalism - and offered something better: "an enormous slab of water ice, measuring 130 feet thick."

Bramson explained the initial confusion: "Craters should be bowl-shaped, but this one had terraces in the wall.

"When the crater is forming, the shock wave from an object hitting a planet's surface propagates differently depending on what substrates are beneath the area of impact," and, therefore, "If you have a weaker material in one layer, the shock wave can push out that material more easily, and the result is terracing at the interface between the weaker and stronger materials."

Telescope

Sturgeon Moon celestial phenomenon first of three consecutive supermoons occurring this year

© Mario Anzuoni / Reuters
The moon is pictured atop a downtown building in Los Angeles, California August 28, 2015.
Tonight the world has been able to observe a spectacular celestial phenomenon - the supermoon, also known as the Sturgeon Moon. It is the first of three consecutive "supermoons" occurring this year.

In fact, the term 'supermoon' is not astronomical. Scientists call this event a 'perigee moon': it takes place when the full Moon reaches the closest point to Earth on its oval orbit. This point is called perigee and it is about 50,000 km closer to our planet than the opposite side of the Moon's elliptical path - apogee.

Target

Potential Kuiper Belt flyby targeted by 'New Horizons' team

© NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Alex Parker
Path of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft toward its next potential target, the Kuiper Belt object (KBO) 2014 MU69, nicknamed “PT1” (for “Potential Target 1”) by the New Horizons team. NASA must approve any New Horizons extended mission to explore a KBO.
NASA has selected the potential next destination for the New Horizons mission to visit after its historic July 14 flyby of the Pluto system. The destination is a small Kuiper Belt object (KBO) known as 2014 MU69 that orbits nearly a billion miles beyond Pluto.

This remote KBO was one of two identified as potential destinations and the one recommended to NASA by the New Horizons team. Although NASA has selected 2014 MU69 as the target, as part of its normal review process the agency will conduct a detailed assessment before officially approving the mission extension to conduct additional science.

"Even as the New Horizons spacecraft speeds away from Pluto out into the Kuiper Belt, and the data from the exciting encounter with this new world is being streamed back to Earth, we are looking outward to the next destination for this intrepid explorer," said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and chief of the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency headquarters in Washington. "While discussions whether to approve this extended mission will take place in the larger context of the planetary science portfolio, we expect it to be much less expensive than the prime mission while still providing new and exciting science."

Comment: 10 Reminders About the Regions Beyond Neptune
  1. The Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud are regions of space. The known worlds and comets in both regions are much smaller than Earth's moon.
  2. The Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud surround our sun, a star. The Kuiper Belt is a doughnut-shaped ring, extending just beyond the orbit of Neptune from about 30 to 55 AU. The Oort Cloud is a spherical shell, occupying space at a distance between five and 100 thousand AU.
  3. Long-period comets (which take more than 200 years to orbit the sun) come from the Oort Cloud. Short-period comets (which take less than 200 years to orbit the Sun) originate in the Kuiper Belt.
  4. There may be are hundreds of thousands of bodies larger than 100 km (62 miles) and an estimated trillion or more comets within the Kuiper Belt. The Oort Cloud may contain more than a trillion bodies.
  5. Some dwarf planets within the Kuiper Belt have thin atmospheres that collapse when their orbit carries them farthest from the sun.
  6. Several dwarf planets in the Kuiper Belt have tiny moons.
  7. The are no known rings around worlds in either region of space.
  8. The first mission to the Kuiper Belt is New Horizons. New Horizons reached Pluto in 2015.
  9. Neither region of space is capable of supporting life as we know it.
  10. Both the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud are named for the astronomers who predicted their existence during the 1950s: Gerard Kuiper and Jan Oort.



Key

The unexpected reward of making mistakes

© Your Therapy Source
Making a mistake can be rewarding, study finds MRI study shows failure is a rewarding experience when the brain has a chance to learn from its mistakes

The human brain learns two ways - either through avoidance learning, which trains the brain to avoid committing a mistake, or through reward-based learning, a reinforcing process that occurs when someone gets the right answer. Scientists have found that making a mistake can feel rewarding, though, if the brain is given the opportunity to learn from its mistakes and assess its options.

The human brain learns two ways -- either through avoidance learning, which trains the brain to avoid committing a mistake, or through reward-based learning, a reinforcing process that occurs when someone gets the right answer. Scientists have found that making a mistake can feel rewarding, though, if the brain is given the opportunity to learn from its mistakes and assess its options.

Many political leaders, scientists, educators and parents believe that failure is the best teacher.

Scientists have long understood that the brain has two ways of learning. One is avoidance learning, which is a punishing, negative experience that trains the brain to avoid repeating mistakes. The other is reward-based learning, a positive, reinforcing experience in which the brain feels rewarded for reaching the right answer.

A new MRI study by USC and a group of international researchers has found that having the opportunity to learn from failure can turn it into a positive experience -- if the brain has a chance to learn from its mistakes.

Comment: Other interesting articles:


Info

New math could reveal hidden sources of chaos

© Kobol75/Shutterstock
Chaotic systems are sometimes described using fractal patterns. A new theory tries to come up with a single, mathematical definition of chaos that could identify seemingly smooth situations with the potential for chaos.
It's that point when a smooth river turns into a tumultuous swirl of white water, the tornado that unpredictably changes course on a dime or the wild interactions of three planets under one another's gravitational pull.

It's chaos.

Although most people instinctively know chaos when they see it, there hasn't been one, single, universally agreed-upon mathematical definition of the term. Now, scientists have tried to come up with a mathematical way to describe such chaotic systems.

The new definition, which was described in a paper published in July in the journal Chaos, could help identify seemingly smooth situations where the potential for chaos lurks, said study co-author Brian Hunt, a mathematician at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Arrow Down

Cosmetic and cleaning products contain huge quantities of plastic particles posing serious risk to marine life

© Thompson/Bakir/Plymouth University
This image captured by an electron microscope shows polyethylene microbeads widely used in shower gel.
Everyday cosmetic and cleaning products contain huge quantities of plastic particles, which are released to the environment and could be harmful to marine life, according to a new study.

Research at Plymouth University has shown almost 100,000 tiny 'microbeads' -- each a fraction of a millimetre in diameter -- could be released in every single application of certain products, such as facial scrubs.

The particles are incorporated as bulking agents and abrasives, and because of their small size it is expected many will not be intercepted by conventional sewage treatment, and are so released into rivers and oceans.

Researchers, writing in Marine Pollution Bulletin, estimate this could result in up to 80 tonnes of unnecessary microplastic waste entering the sea every year from use of these cosmetics in the UK alone.

Comment: Microbeads are highly potent concentrators of toxins. Tiny marine creatures often mistake these particles for food, and these plankton are eaten in large numbers by other fish. These chemicals then biomagnify up the food chain, meaning that top predators such as tuna and swordfish, which are consumed by humans, have high concentrations.


Arrow Down

Startup in biotech adds two base pairs to genetic code — and life on earth may never be the same

© Extreme Tech
Amidst the staggering diversity that is life on earth, there is a surprising thread of commonality. That shared ground is the language of genetics. Prior to the discovery of DNA, few suspected that a single molecular code could underpin such a panoply of biological forms - everything from viruses to talking apes.

Even more startling was the discovery that this code consisted of a molecular language only four base pairs in length. It took evolution a billion years to devise this four-letter chemical code. Now for the first time in recorded history, organisms with a new, expanded, genetic code are taking shape in the laboratory. It's no exaggeration to say that life on earth will never be the same.

While the playboy of biology, Craig Venter, has stolen many of the recent headlines in regards to synthetic biology, the more interesting advances in the field are occurring with surprisingly little fanfare. And not without good reason: many of the corporate labs pursuing synthetic biology have little cause to draw excess attention to themselves.

They've learned all too well from the disastrous backlash against genetically modified foods that the public is not necessarily the wisest arbiter of scientific advancement. If we were to ban GMO crops tomorrow, half the population of the world would starve in short order. Yet this seems to be precisely what a large percentage of the "well-fed" in places like the United States are angling for. But I digress.

In a development sure to have far reaching repercussions, scientists working at the drug discovery company called Synthorx quietly announced that it is using an expanded version of the genetic alphabet, one that includes two novel base pairs dubbed X and Y, to create a type of E. coli bacteria never before seen on the face of the earth.

While the potential for using these new, hybrid life forms to create wonder drugs is indeed enormous, that is merely the tip of the iceberg. The addition of two base pairs to the four letter DNA code effectively raises the number of possible amino acids an organism could use to build proteins from 20 to 172.

Info

Ants are able to 'self-medicate' by changing diet when they are unwell

© The Independent, UK
Findings of study raise questions over how ants 'know' they are sick.
It appears that ants, usually seen as the ultimate self-sacrificing workers, are also not bad at saving their own skins.

Scientists have shown that ants with a life-threatening fungus are able to "self-medicate", eating a normally harmful substance that treats the condition.

This form of "self-medication" in insects has been suspected in research circles but has never been proven until now, raising questions about how the ant "knows" it is sick.

Researchers at the University of Helsinki in Finland showed that ants infected with the fungus Beauveria bassiana would choose to eat small doses of hydrogen peroxide, which had been proven to reduce their deaths by at least 15 per cent.

The fact that most healthy ants gave the poison a wide berth - since it usually caused a 20 per cent mortality rate - appeared to show that sick ants knew the poison would help them recover.

Depending on how strong the toxic solution was, the infected ants would also either choose to eat the poison as often as normal food, or only a quarter of the time, showing they were "careful" about their selecting their doses.

Nick Bos, one of the researchers, said ants close to death in the wild also seem to know because they often leave the nest to die in isolation.