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Coffee

"Grass Gas" Shows Promise as Superefficient, Clean Fuel



©USDA-ARS via PNAS
Switchgrass is farmed for ethanol production in Nebraska. The crop produces 540 percent more energy than it takes to grow and refine, a new study says.

Ethanol made from a prairie grass shows promise as a viable fuel that could be much more environmentally friendly and energy-efficient than corn ethanol, a new study says.

Ethanol is often touted as a cleaner-burning gasoline alternative that lessens dependence on oil.
Telescope

Comet Shoemaker-Levy Home Page

From July 16 through July 22, 1994, pieces of an object designated as Comet P/Shoemaker-Levy 9 collided with Jupiter. This is the first collision of two solar system bodies ever to be observed, and the effects of the comet impacts on Jupiter's atmosphere have been simply spectacular and beyond expectations. Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 consisted of at least 21 discernable fragments with diameters estimated at up to 2 kilometers.

©NASA JPL

Latest Images of Comet Shoemaker-Levy
Telescope

Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 About to Smash into Jupiter

For a period of about six days centered on July 19, 1994, fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 are expected to collide with Jupiter, the solar system's largest planet. Such an event has never before been available for study. The energy released by the larger fragments will be more than 10,000 times the energy released by a 100-megaton hydrogen bomb! Unfortunately for observers, the collisions will occur on the night side of Jupiter, the back side as seen from Earth. How did this comet fragment? And what do astronomers think will happen when it hits?

©D.A. Seal/JPL
Artist's conception of the collision of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter, as seen from the Galileo spacecraft. At the time of the first impact, the comet fragments will be much farther apart than shown in this illustration.
Bulb

Boreholes on the Moon could solve climate puzzle

Scientists have calculated that boreholes on the moon just 10 metres deep would provide a temperature record stretching back to the 1600s, which would help researchers gauge solar energy in the past more accurately.
Better Earth

Space rock risk underreported, researchers argue

A small but growing number of astronomers are arguing that the risks of comets or meteors hitting Earth are much higher than past estimates suggest.

Some of these objects may be going unnoticed in space, the researchers say, and scientists may need to begin new studies tailored to finding them.

But advocates of the earlier estimates are shooting back that the evidence doesn't warrant revising the figures drastically.

The traditional estimates, based on sky surveys and other techniques, vary.

But in general, they conflict with the number of objects actually found to have visited Earth's neighborhood, according to David J. Asher of the Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland and three colleagues.
Telescope

Meteors' mysterious origin traced to 1490 event

Last week's Quadrantid meteor shower was probably debris from a deep-space explosion that went off in the late 15th century, new observations reveal.
Bulb

Bees solve complex colour puzzles

Bees have a much more sophisticated visual system than previously thought, according to a new UCL (University College London) study in which bees were able to solve complicated colour puzzles. The findings shed light on how brains resolve one of the most difficult challenges of vision - namely, recognizing different surfaces under different colours of illumination - by suggesting that bees solve this problem using their experience with meaningful colour relationships between objects in a scene. The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may one day lead to the design of autonomous robotic systems.

©Unknown

In the UCL study, scientists from the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology trained bumblebees to find artificial flowers of a particular colour using a nectar reward. They then tested the bees' ability to find the same flowers in scenes that were simultaneously illuminated by four differently coloured lights - UV-yellow, blue, yellow and green. To solve this puzzle, the bees had to effectively segment the scene into its different regions of illumination, and then find the correct flowers within each region.
Sherlock

Russia to search for life on Jupiter's moon Europa: report

Russia plans to participate in a European mission to investigate Jupiter's moon Europa and search for simple life forms, the Interfax news agency reported on Monday, quoting a senior researcher.

The head of the Space Research Institute, Lev Zelyony, said a project to explore the giant gaseous planet Jupiter would shortly be included in the programme of the European Space Agency (ESA) for the years 2015 to 2025.

©NASA
NASA satellite image of Jupiter's moon Europa. The Interfax news agency has quoted a senior researcher as saying that Moscow plans to participate in a European mission to investigate Jupiter's moon Europa and search for simple life forms.
Magnify

Scientist captures images of life's essence

M.D. Anderson biochemist's work alters our view of cell division - and possibly disease.

For the first time, scientists have captured detailed images of life's essence.

The dazzling pictures reveal a key step in the process of cell division, which all organisms must undergo to survive. The moment occurs deep within a cell, as two proteins work in concert to unzip a strand of DNA to create two new cells.
Better Earth

The Hazard to Civilization from Fireballs and Comets

© SVM Clube
Having recently written a review of New Light on the Black Death: The Cosmic Connection by dendrochronologist Mike Baillie of Queen's University, Belfast, Ireland, I decided to go deeper into the subject. Over the past few weeks a whole case of books I ordered have been arriving and getting piled on my desk after a quick thumb-through... so much to do, so little time.

In the meantime, a friend of mine (who is a climate scientist at a major U.S. research facility) turned me on to an interesting find, a paper addressed to the European Office of Aerospace Research and development, dated June 4, 1996, entitled: "The Hazard to Civilization from Fireballs and Comets" by S.V.M. Clube. (For the uninitiated, Clube is an astrophysicist at the University of Oxford).

In this short (4 pages) letter and summary statement, Clube writes (emphases in the original, make of them what you will):
Asteroids which pass close to the Earth have been fully recognized by mankind for only about 20 years. Previously, the idea that substantial unobserved objects might be close enough to be a potential hazard to the Earth was treated with as much derision as the unobserved aether. Scientists of course are in business to establish broad principles (eg relativity) and the Earth's supposedly uneventful, uniformitarian environment was already very much in place. The result was that scientists who paid more than lip service to objects close enough to encounter the Earth did so in an atmosphere of barely disguised contempt. Even now, it is difficult for laymen to appreciate the enormity of the intellectual blow with which most of the Body Scientific has recently been struck and from which it is now seeking to recover.

Comment: Continue to Part Three: Cosmic Turkey Shoot

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