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Sat, 13 Feb 2016
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Big Bang experiment inaugurated despite glitch

Geneva - The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) officially inaugurated its experiment to probe the origins of the universe on Tuesday, even though a technical hitch last month shut it down within days of starting.

Amid massive security, top scientists and ministers went to CERN's sprawling site on the French-Swiss border to mark the start of the biggest scientific experiment ever launched, which will investigate the building blocks of matter to understand what makes the universe tick.

"The greatest philosophers, the greatest mystics, the greatest poets have never ceased meditating on these mysteries -- the mystery of matter and the mystery of the creation of the universe," French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said.

"These two intertwined questions have never stopped fascinating humanity," he told the inauguration ceremony.


Toxoplasma Parasite's Family Tree Traced

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist Ben Rosenthal is tracing the family tree of Toxoplasma gondii, one of the most widespread parasites of warm-blooded vertebrates. Understanding how T. gondii has evolved and disseminated will help parasitologists and public health officials improve methods for controlling the parasite in humans and animals.
© Jitender P. Dubey
Agricultural Research Service scientists are tracing the family tree of Toxoplasma gondii--one of the most widespread parasites of warm-blooded vertebrates to help improve methods for controlling the parasite.

Rosenthal is a zoologist at the ARS Animal Parasitic Diseases Laboratory in Beltsville, Md. He partnered with ARS microbiologist Jitender Dubey and biologist David Sibley at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine to analyze DNA snippets from 46 existing T. gondii strains found around the planet.

The team concluded that all of the current types arose from a common ancestor that lived at least 10 million years ago. This one strain gave rise to four ancient groups of T. gondii - two in South America, one in North America, and one with a global distribution.


Man's Best Friend Recruited In Hunt For Disease Genes

For centuries man has had a uniquely close relationship with dogs - as a working animal, for security and, perhaps most importantly, for companionship. Now, dogs are taking on a new role - they are helping in the hunt for genetic mutations that lead to diseases in humans.
© iStockphoto/Meelis Silem
A genetic mutation that results in a condition called day blindness that can affect dachshunds, and a similar condition can arise in humans.

"Dogs get very similar diseases to humans," said Kerstin Lindblad-Toh of Uppsala University in Sweden and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Cambridge, Massachusetts. "If you ask a dog owner what sort of conditions their pets get, they will say cancer, allergies, eye diseases."

Lindblad-Toh was speaking at the European Science Foundation's 3rd Functional Genomics Conference, held in Innsbruck, Austria, on 1-4 October. Functional genomics describes the way in which genes and their products, proteins, interact together in complex networks in living cells. If these interactions are abnormal, diseases can result. The Innsbruck meeting brought together more than 450 scientists from across Europe to discuss recent advances in the role of functional genomics in disease.


Vast Stellar Nursery: Claret-colored Cloud With A Massive Heart

A new image released by ESO shows the amazing intricacies of a vast stellar nursery, which goes by the name of Gum 29. In the centre, a small cluster of stars - called Westerlund 2 - has been found to be the home of one of the most massive double star systems known to astronomers.
This image, based on data obtained with the Wide Field Imager (WFI) camera attached to the 2.2-m Max-Planck/ESO telescope through four different filters (B, V, R, and H-alpha), shows the amazing intricacies of the vast stellar nursery Gum 29. At its centre lies the cluster of young stars Westerlund 2. One object at the bottom of the cluster is in fact a system of two of most massive stars known to astronomers.

Gum 29 is a huge region of hydrogen gas that has been stripped of its electrons (ionised) by the intense radiation of the hot young stars located at its centre. Astronomers call this an HII (pronounced "H-two") region, and this particularly stunning example stretches out across space for over 200 light-years. The name stems from the fact that it is the 29th entry in the catalogue published by Australian astronomer Colin Stanley Gum in 1955.

Embedded deep within the huge, nebulous expanse of Gum 29, the relatively little known cluster of Westerlund 2 is clearly seen in the centre of this image. The latest measurements indicate that it lies at a distance of some 26 000 light-years from Earth, placing it towards the outside edge of the Carina spiral arm of the Milky Way. The cluster's distance has been the subject of intense scrutiny in the past, as it is one of the parameters needed to understand this intriguing object. Westerlund 2 is very young too, with an age of only 1 - 2 million years.


Archaeologists Find Unique, Early US Relic Of African Worship

University of Maryland archaeologists have dug up what they believe to be one of the earliest U.S. examples of African spirit practices. The researchers say it's the only object of its kind ever found by archaeologists in North America - a clay "bundle" filled with small pieces of common metal, placed in what had been an Annapolis street gutter three centuries ago.
© Brian Payne, University of Maryland
How the African bundle might have looked 300 years ago.

The bundle appears to be a direct transplant of African religion, distinct from hoodoo and other later practices blending African and European traditions.

"This is a remarkably early piece, far different from anything I've seen before in North America," says University of Maryland anthropologist Mark Leone, who directs the Archaeology in Annapolis project. "The bundle is African in design, not African-American. The people who made this used local materials. But their knowledge of charms and the spirit world probably came with them directly from Africa."


Cosmic Lens Reveals Distant Galactic Violence

By cleverly unraveling the workings of a natural cosmic lens, astronomers have gained a rare glimpse of the violent assembly of a young galaxy in the early Universe. Their new picture suggests that the galaxy has collided with another, feeding a supermassive black hole and triggering a tremendous burst of star formation.
© Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF
Imaging a distant galaxy using a gravitational lens.

The astronomers used the National Science Foundation's Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope to look at a galaxy more than 12 billion light-years from Earth, seen as it was when the Universe was only about 15 percent of its current age. Between this galaxy and Earth lies another distant galaxy, so perfectly aligned along the line of sight that its gravity bends the light and radio waves from the farther object into a circle, or "Einstein Ring."

This gravitational lens made it possible for the scientists to learn details of the young, distant galaxy that would have been unobtainable otherwise.


Archaeologists Uncover Ancient Governor's Palace In Turkey

Within the scope of an international rescue excavation project, a team of four archaeologists specialized in Middle Eastern affairs headed by Dr. Dirk Wicke (Institute of Egyptology and Ancient Near Eastern Studies) have unearthed parts of a Neo-Assyrian governor's palace dating back to the 9th to 7th century BCE in a two-month excavation program amongst the ruins on Ziyaret Tepe. The discoveries were extraordinary.
© Ziyaret Tepe Archaeological Project
Discovery of a rare treasure trove of more than 20 bronze vessels under the paving stones in the courtyard.

The site in the south-east of Turkey (Diyarbakir province) is at risk from the construction of the Ilisu Dam. For several years now it has been investigated by teams from the universities of Akron (Ohio), Cambridge, Munich and Istanbul (Marmara University) in a joint excavation project. Sponsorship by the research funds of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in 2007 and 2008 gave its archaeologists the opportunity to become involved in this international and multi-disciplinary project. There are plans to continue the project for another three years.


Utah geologists discover 'dinosaur dance floor'

© AP Photo/University of Utah, Nicole Miller
In this undated photo released by the University of Utah, geologist Winston Seiler poses next a trackway, or set of prints made by the same dinosaur, as it walked through a wet, sandy oasis some 190 million years ago in what is now the Coyote Buttes North area straddling the Utah-Arizona border. Seiler and Marjorie Chan, chair of geology and geophysics at the University of Utah, published a new study in the October issue of the science journal Palaios showing that numerous impressions at the site are dinosaur tracks, not erosion-caused potholes as was believed previously.

SALT LAKE CITY - Utah geologists say they have discovered prehistoric animal tracks so densely packed on a 3/4-acre rock site, they're calling it a "dinosaur dance floor." The site along the Arizona-Utah border is offering a rich new set of clues about the lives of dinosaurs 190 million years ago.


Sun's protective 'bubble' is shrinking

The protective bubble around the sun that helps to shield the Earth from harmful interstellar radiation is shrinking and getting weaker, Nasa scientists have warned.
© AP
Data has shown that the sun's heliosphere is shrinking

New data has revealed that the heliosphere, the protective shield of energy that surrounds our solar system, has weakened by 25 per cent over the past decade and is now at it lowest level since the space race began 50 years ago.

Scientists are baffled at what could be causing the barrier to shrink in this way and are to launch mission to study the heliosphere.


Update 1: Spacecraft IBEX Will Study Boundaries Of Solar System

The U.S. space agency launches today a space probe that will keep an eye on the violence and turbulence at the very edge of the solar system.

NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) is due to begin its mission at Kwajalein Atoll, the largest coral atoll on the planet, where it will be launched aboard a Pegasus rocket that will be dropped from a jet.

According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, IBEX will orbit high above the Earth to photograph the interstellar boundaries that separate our heliosphere from the local interstellar medium of our Galaxy. The region is an enormous stretch of turbulent gas and twisting magnetic fields. This mission of taking pictures and recording those baffling boundaries will last two years.