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'Starry Night' solar powered bike path unveiled in the The Netherlands

Van Gogh-Roosegaarde bicycle path

Van Gogh-Roosegaarde bicycle path
In The Netherlands, solar-powered paths seems to be all the rage. There's SolaRoad, which we blogged about yesterday. And now today, we bring you the Van Gogh-Roosegaarde bicycle path, which opened to the public this week in the Dutch town of Nuenen, where Van Gogh lived in 1883.

The path, created by local artist and designer Daan Roosegaarde in collaboration with Heijmans Infrastructure, was inspired by Van Gogh's iconic Starry Night painting.

The path is made of thousands of stones that absorb sunlight during the day and then glow at night. Embedded in concrete, the bikeway should last the lifetime of any cement path.
Snowflake Cold

New study suggests hailstones form around a biological embryo

© SCMP Pictures
'freak' giant hailstones - which are becoming more common. A 'sign of the times'?
Hailstones from three Rocky Mountain storms formed around biological material, then bounced around the clouds picking up layers of ice, according to a new Montana State University study.

The discovery of a biological embryo extends previous findings about the formation of snow and rain, applies to hailstones globally and provides basic information about a little-studied topic, said the researchers who published their findings Nov. 6 in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres.

"This is the first paper to really show that biological material makes hailstones," said John Priscu, a renowned polar scientist and professor in MSU's Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences. "Despite the millions in dollars of damage the storm caused in Bozeman (Mont.), the damaging hailstones provided us with a better understanding of hailstone formation, which will help us understand the role of aerosol particles in the formation of precipitation."

Alex Michaud - MSU doctoral student and first author of the paper - normally studies Antarctic microorganisms with Priscu, but he took on a side project after hailstones pummeled Bozeman, Mont., on June 30, 2010.

"If it weren't for his inquisitive nature of how things work, no good would have come from the devastating storm," Priscu said.

Once the storm subsided, Michaud collected hailstones and stored them in an MSU freezer at minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit. The hailstones averaged 1.5 inches in diameter. Then Michaud gathered hailstones from two more area storms that occurred in 2010 and 2011. Those averaged about half an inch in diameter.

Examining some 200 hailstones in MSU's Subzero Science and Engineering Research Facility showed that the hailstones formed around a biological embryo, Michaud said. Analyzing stable isotopes of water in an Ohio State University laboratory showed that most of the hailstone embryos froze at relatively warm temperatures, generally above 6.8 degrees Fahrenheit, which corroborates freezing temperatures of biological embryos recovered from the middle of hailstones.

Two different research methods showed that a warm temperature of ice nucleation indicates biological material is the likely nuclei, Michaud said. He added that hailstones grow in such a way that makes them a nice model system for studying atmospheric ice nucleation and cloud processes.

Comment: In order to gain a "better understanding of hailstone formation" and other phenomena, researchers really ought to consider the winning 'Electric Universe' model - see Earth Changes and the Human-Cosmic Connection, available here.

Question

Extreme storms erupt on Uranus, baffling astronomers

Uranus Storm
© Imke De Pater(UC Berkeley) & W. M. Keck Observatory Images
These infrared images of the planet Uranus show a white spot that is actually a massive storm on the planet. This image was recorded by the Keck II telescope atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii on Aug. 6, 2014 in the 2.2-micron wavelength.
Uranus is finally having some summer storms, seven years after the planet reached its closest approach to the sun, leaving scientists wondering why the massive storms are so late.

The usually quiet gas giant now has such "incredibly active" weather that some of the features are even visible to amateurs, said Imke de Pater, the project's lead researcher and an astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley. Astronomers first announced the extreme storms on Uranus in August, and have been trying to understand them ever since.

This is by far the most active weather de Pater's team has seen on Uranus in the past decade, examining its storms and northern convective features. It also paints a different picture of the quiet planet Voyager 2 saw when the NASA spacecraft flew by in 1986.
Comet 2

Philae records audio of comet 67P that sounds a lot like alien "Predator"

© ESA/Rosetta/NavCam
Artist's impression of the 'singing comet' 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko
The Rosetta spacecraft and its Philae lander have a lot to teach scientists about what Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko looks like, is composed of, and even what it smells like, but what does the comet sound like? The day before Philae made history by landing on the surface of the comet, ESA released an audio clip of 67P/C-G singing. Unfortunately, its song is creepy as hell and sounds a lot like Predator, the alien that tried to kill Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Of course, sound waves can't travel through space, so it isn't a direct audio recording. Instead, Rosetta's Plasma Consortium (RPC) picked up variations in the magnetic field around the comet, due to interactions between 67P/C-G's coma and the plasma from the Sun, better known as solar wind. These variations resulted in frequencies between 40 to 50 millihertz, about 10,000 times lower than can be detected by humans. ESA scientists altered the frequency of the comet's song into human hearing range, and discovered it was a series of clicks that are very reminiscent of Predator's growl.
Magic Wand

Dutch designer creates new font to help dyslexic readers navigate text

opendyslexic type face
A designer who has dyslexia has created a font to help dyslexic readers navigate text, designing letters in a way that avoids confusion and adds clarity. And in England, two researchers are compiling a dictionary that favors meaning over alphabetical order.

Roughly 10 percent of the world's population is dyslexic. And as NPR's Nancy Shute reported in 2012, "People with dyslexia are often bright and verbal, but have trouble with the written word."

The people behind two new projects hope they can help change that.

Dutch designer Christian Boer's Dyslexie font has been around for a while, but it's been getting new attention thanks to being featured in the Istanbul Design Biennial.
Comet 2

Rosetta: Concerns for robot probe Philae after uneven landing on comet


Some radio data suggests the probe may be about 1km from the intended landing site
After a historic but awkward comet landing, the robot probe Philae is now stable and sending pictures - but there are concerns about its battery life.

After two bounces, the first one about 1km back out into space, the lander settled in the shadow of a cliff, 1km from its intended target site.

It may now be problematic to get enough sunlight to charge its battery systems.

Launched in 2004, the European Space Agency (ESA) mission hopes to learn about the origins of our Solar System.

It has already sent back the first images ever taken from the crumbling, fractured terrain of a comet.

Philae got to the icy 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on the back of Esa's Rosetta satellite after a 10-year, 6.4 billion-km (4bn-mile) journey, which reached its climax on Wednesday with a seven-hour drop to the surface.


Comment: Icy? All the pictures show a rocky surface devoid of any ice.


After showing an image that indicates Philae's presumed location - on the far side of a large crater that was earlier considered but then rejected as a landing site - the head of the lander team, Dr Stephan Ulamec, said: "We could be somewhere in the rim of this crater, which could explain this bizarre... orientation that you have seen."
Galaxy

Solar-system-wide climate change: Yet more extreme storms on Uranus

infrared images of Uranus
© Credit: Imke de Pater (UC Berkeley) & Keck Observatory images.
These are infrared images of Uranus (1.6 and 2.2 microns) obtained on Aug. 6, 2014, with adaptive optics on the 10-meter Keck telescope. The white spot is an extremely large storm that was brighter than any feature ever recorded on the planet in the 2.2 micron band. The cloud rotating into view at the lower-right limb grew into the large storm that was seen by amateur astronomers at visible wavelengths.
The normally bland face of Uranus has become increasingly stormy, with enormous cloud systems so bright that for the first time ever, amateur astronomers are able to see details in the planet's hazy blue-green atmosphere.

"The weather on Uranus is incredibly active," said Imke de Pater, professor and chair of astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley, and leader of the team that first noticed the activity when observing the planet with adaptive optics on the W. M. Keck II Telescope in Hawaii.

"This type of activity would have been expected in 2007, when Uranus's once every 42-year equinox occurred and the sun shined directly on the equator," noted co-investigator Heidi Hammel of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy. "But we predicted that such activity would have died down by now. Why we see these incredible storms now is beyond anybody's guess."

In all, de Pater, Hammel and their team detected eight large storms on Uranus's northern hemisphere when observing the planet with the Keck Telescope on August 5 and 6. One was the brightest storm ever seen on Uranus at 2.2 microns, a wavelength that senses clouds just below the tropopause, where the pressure ranges from about 300 to 500 mbar, or half the pressure at Earth's surface. The storm accounted for 30 percent of all light reflected by the rest of the planet at this wavelength.

When amateur astronomers heard about the activity, they turned their telescopes on the planet and were amazed to see a bright blotch on the surface of a normally boring blue dot.

Comment: As well as these "increasingly stormy" conditions on Uranus, this year we have seen increased volcanic activity on Jupiters moon Io, scientists have been puzzled by the wobble of Saturn's moon Mimas and a major increase in asteroid activity has seen MIT astronomers upgrade the solar system from stable to dynamic

What is causing these recent Solar system wide climate changes?

We have also seen deluges, meteor fireballs, 'thunder-snow', unseasonal tornadoes, 'super-storms' here on the BBM this month.

Could it be part of an overall 'grounding' of our solar system, caused perhaps by the close approach of the system's Twin Sun?

Perhaps something wicked this way comes:



Comet 2

Eight billion asteroids in the Oort cloud?

1996 PW
© JPL/Horizons
When discovered, the object 1996 PW looked like an asteroid but had the elongated, 5,900-year-long orbit of an Oort Cloud comet.
When a telescope atop Hawaii's Haleakala swept up a fast-moving object in August 1996, astronomers didn't know what to make of it. Designated 1996 PW, the little interloper had the highly elongated orbit of a comet that had ventured inward from the Oort Cloud, at the solar system's outermost fringe.

But it had no tail or coma - visually and spectroscopically, it looked like an asteroid.

At the time, dynamicists Paul Weissman (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) and Hal Levison (Southwest Research Institute) proposed that 1996 PW might actually be a rare hybrid: an asteroid from the Oort Cloud. Their suggestion ran completely counter to the consensus notion that only comets existed in that vast, distant reservoir. But Weissman and Levison had run the numbers: they calculated that, along with a trillion or so comets, roughly 8 billion asteroids could have been flung out into the Oort Cloud by close planetary encounters early in solar-system history.

When other researchers suggested that 1996 PW was probably just an "extinct" comet, having depleted the volatile ices that create a coma or tail, the notion of asteroids in the Oort Cloud got shelved - but not completely forgotten.

Comment:

Electric Universe: Tail discovered on long-known asteroid

Icy asteroids: Resident asteroids sprout comet-like dust tails

Beaker

Using human brainwaves to light up mouse gene expression

human brainwaves mouse genes

Researchers tested an implant containing human stem cells that had been engineered to produce a protein called secreted alkaline phosphatase.
A system that uses brain activity to switch on genes with light could give new meaning to the phrase 'mind over matter'. The set-up, which was tested in mice, might one day allow human patients to pre-empt pain or seizures by recognizing brain activity that signals the onset of these phenomena and intervening to stop them.

The findings, reported on 11 November in Nature Communications, are another advance in the burgeoning field of optogenetics, which uses light to control the activity of genes. But whereas many experimental systems still require an outside power source, the team led by Martin Fussenegger, a bioengineer at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, used the brain's own electricity - picked up by means of electroencephalography (EEG) - to provide power through a daisy-chain of signals.
Fireball 2

European spacecraft lands on comet

© AP Photo/ESA
The picture released by the European Space Agency ESA on Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014 was taken by Rosetta's lander Philae shortly after its separation from the mother spaceship with the lander’s CIVA-P imaging system and captures one of Rosetta's 14 metre-long solar wings. On Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014 the Philae lander detached from Rosetta and started it's descent to the 4-kilometer-wide (2.5-mile-wide) 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet.
The European Space Agency celebrated a cosmic touchdown Wednesday by successfully landing a spacecraft on a comet for the first time in history.

The agency said it has received a signal at 1603 GMT (11:03 a.m. EST) from the 100-kilogram (220-pound) Philae lander after it touched down on the icy surface of the comet named 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

"We definitely confirm that the lander is on the surface," said flight director Andrea Accomazzo.

While further checks are needed to ascertain the state of the lander, the fact that it is resting on the surface of the speeding comet is already a huge success. It marks the highlight of the decade-long Rosetta mission to study comets and learn more about the origins of these celestial bodies.

The head of the European Space Agency underlined Europe's pride in having achieved a unique first ahead of its U.S. counterpart NASA.
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