Science & Technology


Images taken by 'New Horizons' spacecraft showing Pluto's icy terrain compiled into animation

© Video / YouTube
If a flying space safari over Pluto's ice-covered mountains sounds like a trip you'd like to embark on, you can now do so. New animation gives a bird's-eye view of the dwarf planet's stunning terrain, using images snapped by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft.

The animation was put together by Stuart Robbins, a research scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. The project was created using a mosaic of images snapped during the spacecraft's flyby of Pluto in July, which were beamed by New Horizons this month.

"Over the past two weeks, New Horizons has returned to Earth dozens of images at up to 400 meters per pixel (m/px) of the flyby hemisphere, and this has given scientists and the public an unprecedented view of this mysterious world,"Robbins said on NASA's blog.

The newest pictures, which reveal new details about Pluto's atmosphere, weather patterns, and streams of frozen nitrogen, have been referred to as a "scientific bonanza" by NASA.


Converging black holes found in Virgo constellation

Black Holes Merging
Earlier this year, astronomers discovered what appeared to be a pair of supermassive black holes circling toward a collision so powerful it would send a burst of gravitational waves surging through the fabric of space-time itself.

Now, in a study in the journal Nature, astronomers at Columbia University provide additional evidence that a pair of closely orbiting black holes is causing the rhythmic flashes of light coming from quasar PG 1302-102.

Based on calculations of the pair's mass--together, and relative to each other--the researchers go on to predict a smashup 100,000 years from now, an impossibly long time to humans but the blink of an eye to a star or black hole. Spiraling together 3.5 billion light-years away, deep in the Virgo constellation, the pair is separated by a mere light-week. By contrast, the closest previously confirmed black hole pair is separated by 20 light-years.

"This is the closest we've come to observing two black holes on their way to a massive collision," said the study's senior author, Zoltan Haiman, an astronomer at Columbia. "Watching this process reach its culmination can tell us whether black holes and galaxies grow at the same rate, and ultimately test a fundamental property of space-time: its ability to carry vibrations called gravitational waves, produced in the last, most violent, stage of the merger."

Comment: See also:
Black Holes Are The Rhythm At The Heart Of Galaxies
New Panorama Reveals More Than a Thousand Black Holes


NASA researching how gut microbiome changes predict other immune function changes

Bugs are winning out, and that's a good thing according to NASA's Human Research Program. As part of NASA's One-Year Mission, researchers are studying how microbes living on astronauts' skin, inside their bodies and on the International Space Station impact their health. To prepare for a journey to Mars, it is important to understand how long-duration spaceflight affects microorganisms because changes to this complex ecosystem could be detrimental to future missions.

There are 10 times more microbial cells than human cells in and on the human body, weighing up to five pounds. Hundreds of species inhabit the body, and some have a beneficial effect on health. They protect humans by competing with other organisms and guarding against pathogens. They also aid in absorption of nutrients and digestion, and can even impact moods and mental states. The absence of these microbes can be harmful.They are reintroduced into the body with fresh fruits, vegetables and probiotics like yogurt; food sources not readily available in space. Literally, the phrase, "you are what you eat," is important to future crews. Loss of these species can lead to altered metabolic function, and in conjunction with reduced immune response, may increase the chance of infection by microorganisms that normally do not harm their host but can when resistance is low.

Comment: Study suggests preventing changes in gut microbiota with antibiotics may prolong life, prevent disease


New advances allow scientists to view electron cloud holding molecules together

© IBM Research
In 2009, IBM researchers stunned the world with their AFM image of pentacene (bottom), shown here next to a ball and stick sketch of the same molecule
  • Researchers used a technique known as Kelvin probe force spectroscopy
  • It used fine probe to measure the minute electric forces around atoms
  • This allowed them to unpick what the bonds between atoms look like
  • Scientists usually rely upon theoretical models to understand these bonds
They are the invisible glue that hold molecules, the world around us and our own bodies together. Now researchers have managed to see the electron bonds which bind atoms to each other for the first time.This chemical bond - known as a covalent bond - forms as the electrons which orbit around each atom's nucleus are shared between two atoms at they come together.

Scientists have managed to visualise the electron clouds that form covalent chemical bonds between atoms to hold molecules together. Two hydrocarbon molecules are shown in the image above with the position of the atom nuclei superimposed on top of the image

Until now it has only been possible to guess at what these structures looked like in molecules using theoretical models.

But a group of researchers have applied a pioneering technique, which uses an incredibly precise probe, to visualise the bonds between atoms.The technique allowed the scientists to probe the charge of an individual atom and distinguish different types of chemical bonds.

As not all electrons are shared equally between atoms, it can often result in them developing electrical charges known as polarity.
The technique, which used a metal probe with a point so fine it is tipped with a single molecule of carbon monoxide, can observe subtle imbalances in the bond between atoms.

Writing in the journal Physical Review Letters, Dr Pavel Jelinek, a physicist who led the research at the Institute of Physics of the Czech Academy of Science, said: 'It enables one to obtain charge-related maps at even closer tip-sample distances, where the lateral resolution is further enhanced.

'This enhanced resolution allows one to resolve contrast variations along individual polar bonds.'

Working with Professor Jascha Repp, a physicist at the University of Regensburg, Dr Jalinek and his team built on a technique used in 2009 to make out individual atoms in a molecule.

Arrow Down

Fukushima disaster was preventable: A result of 'arrogance and ignorance', design flaws, improper hazard analyses

© Desconocido
The worst nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown never should have happened, according to a new study.

In the peer-reviewed Philosophical Transactions A of the Royal Society, researchers Costas Synolakis of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and Utku Kâno?lu of the Middle East Technical University in Turkey distilled thousands of pages of government and industry reports and hundreds of news stories, focusing on the run-up to the disaster. They found that "arrogance and ignorance," design flaws, regulatory failures and improper hazard analyses doomed the costal nuclear power plant even before the tsunami hit.

"While most studies have focused on the response to the accident, we've found that there were design problems that led to the disaster that should have been dealt with long before the earthquake hit," said Synolakis, professor of civil and environmental engineering at USC Viterbi. "Earlier government and industry studies focused on the mechanical failures and 'buried the lead.' The pre-event tsunami hazards study if done properly, would have identified the diesel generators as the lynch pin of a future disaster. Fukushima Dai-ichi was a siting duck waiting to be flooded."

Comment: This horrific disaster has resulted in untold numbers of deaths of people and marine life, serious health problems as well as catastrophic effects on the environment which are ongoing. The cascade of failures can be attributed to gross negligence on the part of TEPCO executives, who were more concerned with cost-cutting measures, rather than safety. This type of corporate malfeasance is what results when psychopaths are in control, with their reckless disregard for the safety of others.

Bizarro Earth

Seismic waves from earthquake in Chile could trigger other faults up to 1000 kilometers away

© Martin Bernetti/AFP/Getty
Seismic waves from the recent earthquake in Chile will have shaken up other faults and possibly made them more likely to slip.

Seismic waves unleashed during Wednesday's magnitude 8.3 earthquake in Chile could have triggered aftershocks as far as 1000 kilometres away.

That's because they can shake up grains of rock wedged inside distant faults. According to computer models, even weak waves at the right frequency could be enough to start a new quake by vibrating that grist into a more slippery, liquid-like layer.

Earthquakes often happen when two tectonic plates that have been pressed together suddenly slip. But we've seen that major earthquakes like 1992's Landers earthquake in California can also send out waves that spark copycat quakes 1000 kilometres away, even though the waves get weaker as they travel.



Trust makes our hearts beat as one

People who trust each other often find their hearts beat in step with one another when collaborating on a task. Scientists are puzzled by the phenomenon.

© Shutterstock
When two people work together on a task and trust each other, their hearts beat faster and become synchronised.
Throughout human evolution, cooperation has always been a vital ingredient in our species' survival. When we work together, we can solve bigger and more complex tasks.

This applies to everything from chasing and catching prey, to building a new house.

A new study, published in the Journal of Physiology and Behavior, finds that when two people work together on a task--and trust each other--their hearts begin to beat in sync. The scientists behind the study are perplexed by the results.

Comment: Why don't we all just trust one another? And would it work as long as we live in pathological environment?


The 'Guevedoce' boys of the Dominican Republic grow testes, penis at puberty

© Telegraph
I hated going through puberty; voice cracking, swinging moods, older brother laughing at me. But compared to Johnny, who lives in a small town in the Dominican Republic, I had it easy.

We came across Johnny when we were filming for a new BBC2 series, "Countdown to Life", which looks at the consequences of normal, and abnormal, developments in the womb.

Johnny is known as a "Guevedoce", which literally means, "penis at twelve". And the reason he's called that is because, like 1 in 90 of the boys in the area, he first started to grow a penis when he was going through puberty.

Guevedoces are also sometimes called "machihembras" meaning "first a woman, then a man". When they're born they look like girls with no testes and what appears to be a vagina. It is only when they near puberty that the penis grows and testicles descend.

Johnny, who is now in his 20s, was once known as Felicita. He was brought up as a girl and remembers going to school in a little red dress.

When he was young he would happily play with other little girls, but after the age of seven he started to change

"I did not feel good, I no longer liked to wear a skirt, and I was no longer drawn to play with girls. All I wanted to do is play with toy guns and boys"


A massive object and tail caught on SOHO going around the sun

On Sept. 13, 2015, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory -- a joint project of the European Space Agency and NASA -- discovered its 3,000th "sun-grazing comet", cementing its standing as the greatest comet finder of all time.

Prior to the 1995 launch of the observatory, commonly known as SOHO, only a dozen or so comets had ever even been discovered from space, while some 900 had been discovered from the ground.

But SOHO is not only a comet finder it also photographs unknown objects near the Sun or flying through our solar system.

The latest SOHO images captured on September 18, 2015 show a massive unknown object with tail that goes around the Sun.

The force of this object must be enormous. Instead it plunges into the Sun like a comet the object can withstand the gravitational pull of the sun.

Of course it is possible that the phenomenon is caused by charged particles from the Sun, brought by the solar wind, which hit the filters on the lens causing an artifact but a closer look at the object shows that it is solid and spherical, something that cannot be explained as just an artifact.

What kind of object can survive a close encounter with the Sun, a UFO, a huge space rock or something else?

Comet 2

Comet storm: SOHO discovers its 3000th comet


The small dot in the cross-hairs (inset) is the 3,000th comet to be spotted by Nasa and Esa's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (Soho). The comet is pictured as of 14 September 2015.
Nasa's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (Soho) keeps watch on the outer layer of the sun's atmosphere and is used by a community of stargazers to spot comets.

These include 'sungrazers' which pass within 850,000 miles (1.38million km) of the sun's surface, often shattering or evaporating in its heat.

Comment: It's not the 'heat' that does that; it's the electric stress.

This week, Soho confirmed it had discovered its 3,000th comet of this kind and captured its final moments before it was said to have been destroyed by our star's epic energy field.

Although spotted using Soho images, this milestone was actually achieved by keen stargazer Worachate Boonplod, from Samut Songkhram, Thailand.

'I am very happy to be part of a great milestone for Soho's comet project,' he said.

Comment: Windsocks?! Yeah, they're that, and they're harbingers of cyclical catastrophes.

It seems like only yesterday when we posted this:
2000th Comet Spotted By SOHO
RedOrbit, 28 December 2010
It took SOHO ten years to spot its first thousand comets, but only five more to find the next thousand. That's due partly to increased participation from comet hunters and work done to optimize the images for comet-sighting, but also due to an unexplained systematic increase in the number of comets around the sun. Indeed, December alone has seen an unprecedented 37 new comets spotted so far, a number high enough to qualify as a "comet storm."
10 years for the first 1,000, then another 10 years for the next 2,000... day by day it's getting more and more crowded out there.