Science & Technology


Rosetta's comet shows spectacular increase in dust emissions

comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko
Two views of the same region on the “neck” of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The right image was taken with an exposure time of less than a second and shows details on the comet’s surface. The left image was overexposed (exposure time of 18.45 seconds) so that surface structures are obscured. At the same time, however, jets arising from the comet’s surface become visible. The images were obtained by the wide-angle camera of OSIRIS, Rosetta’s scientific imaging system, on 20 October, 2014 from a distance of 7.2 kilometers from the surface.

Rosetta's comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is beginning to show a clearly visible increase in activity. While in the past months most of the dust emitted from the body's surface seemed to originate from the neck region which connects the two lobes, images obtained by Rosetta's scientific imaging system OSIRIS now show jets of dust along almost the whole extent of the comet.

"At this point, we believe that a large fraction of the illuminated comet's surface is displaying some level of activity", says OSIRIS scientist Jean-Baptiste Vincent from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany. During the past few weeks, the OSIRIS team has witnessed a gradual but qualitative change. "In the first images from this summer that showed distinct jets of dust leaving the comet, these jets were limited to the neck region", says OSIRIS Principal Investigator Holger Sierks from the MPS. Now, jets appear also on the "body" and "head" of the comet.

Currently, still more than 450 million kilometers are separating 67P from the Sun. Based on a rich history of ground-based observations scientists expect a comet's activity to pick-up noticeably once it comes within 300 million kilometers of the Sun. "Being able to monitor these emissions from up close for the first time gives us much more detailed insights", says Sierks. From the OSIRIS images, the team now wants to derive a better understanding of the evolution of cometary activity and the physical processes driving it.

Since under normal circumstances, the comet's nucleus would outshine the jets, the necessary images must be drastically overexposed. "In addition, one image alone cannot tell us the whole story", says Sierks. "From one image we cannot discern exactly where on the surface a jet arises." Instead, the researchers compare images of the same region taken from different angles in order to reconstruct the three-dimensional structure of the jets.
Fireball 4

Asteroid 2014 SC324 zips by Earth Friday afternoon

Asteroid 2014 SC324
© Gianluca Masi/Software Bisque
Here comes another asteroid! 2014 SC324 will miss Earth by 1.5 times the distance to the Moon early Friday afternoon October 24, 2014.
What a roller coaster week it's been. If partial eclipses and giant sunspots aren't your thing, how about a close flyby of an Earth-approaching asteroid? 2014 SC324 was discovered on September 30 this year by the Mt. Lemmon Survey high in the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, Arizona.

Based on brightness, the tumbling rock's size is estimated at around 197 feet (60-m), on the large side compared to the many small asteroids that whip harmlessly by Earth each year.

Illusions in the cosmic clouds: New image of spinning neutron star

Pareidolia is the psychological phenomenon where people see recognizable shapes in clouds, rock formations, or otherwise unrelated objects or data. There are many examples of this phenomenon on Earth and in space.

Do you see any recognizable shapes in this nebulous region captured by NASA's WISE and Chandra missions?
When an image from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory of PSR B1509-58 -- a spinning neutron star surrounded by a cloud of energetic particles --was released in 2009, it quickly gained attention because many saw a hand-like structure in the X-ray emission.

In a new image of the system, X-rays from Chandra in gold are seen along with infrared data from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) telescope in red, green and blue. Pareidolia may strike again as some people report seeing a shape of a face in WISE's infrared data. What do you see?

NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, also took a picture of the neutron star nebula in 2014, using higher-energy X-rays than Chandra.

PSR B1509-58 is about 17,000 light-years from Earth.

NASA identifies ice cloud above cruising altitude on Titan

NASA scientists have identified an unexpected high-altitude methane ice cloud on Saturn's moon Titan that is similar to exotic clouds found far above Earth's poles.

This cloud in the stratosphere over Titan's north pole (left) is similar to Earth's polar stratospheric clouds (right). NASA scientists found that Titan's cloud contains methane ice, which was not previously thought to form in that part of the atmosphere. Cassini first spotted the cloud in 2006.
This lofty cloud, imaged by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, was part of the winter cap of condensation over Titan's north pole. Now, eight years after spotting this mysterious bit of atmospheric fluff, researchers have determined that it contains methane ice, which produces a much denser cloud than the ethane ice previously identified there.

"The idea that methane clouds could form this high on Titan is completely new," said Carrie Anderson, a Cassini participating scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the study. "Nobody considered that possible before."

Methane clouds were already known to exist in Titan's troposphere, the lowest layer of the atmosphere. Like rain and snow clouds on Earth, those clouds form through a cycle of evaporation and condensation, with vapor rising from the surface, encountering cooler and cooler temperatures and falling back down as precipitation. On Titan, however, the vapor at work is methane instead of water.

Real-life tractor beam pulls in particles

The Millennium Falcon
© Fair Use, Screengrab/Lucas Film
The Millennium Falcon in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.
The invisible force that pulls in the Millennium Falcon spacecraft to the Death Star in Star Wars movies is still far from becoming a reality, but physicists have developed a miniature version of sorts: a tractor beam that can reel in tiny particles.

The laser-based retractor beam pulled the particles a distance of about 8 inches (20 centimeters), which is 100 times farther than any previous experiments with tractor beams.

"Because lasers retain their beam quality for such long distances, this could work over meters," study researcher Vladlen Shvedov, research fellow at the Australian National University, said in a statement. "Our lab just was not big enough to show it."

During the experiment, the researchers used a laser that projected a doughnut-shaped beam of light with a hot outer ring and cool center. They used the light beam to suck in tiny glass spheres, each of which measured about 0.2 millimeters (0.008 inches) wide.

Not only did the researchers move the glass spheres farther than had been demonstrated in previous experiments, but they used a different technique altogether. Other retractor beams rely on the momentum of light particles in the laser beam to reel in mass. In those experiments, the momentum from the light particles shooting out of the laser is transferred to the target that the laser is hauling in. However, that technique works well only in a vacuum that is shielded from other free-floating particles that can interfere with the momentum transfer.

Two comet families found around nearby star Beta Pictoris

© Credit: ESO/L. Calçada
This artist's impression shows exocomets orbiting the star Beta Pictoris. Astronomers analysing observations of nearly 500 individual comets made with the HARPS instrument at ESO's La Silla Observatory have discovered two families of exocomets around this nearby young star. The first consists of old exocomets that have made multiple passages near the star. The second family, shown in this illustration, consists of younger exocomets on the same orbit, which probably came from the recent breakup of one or more larger objects.
Beta Pictoris is a young star located about 63 light-years from the Sun. It is only about 20 million years old and is surrounded by a huge disc of material - a very active young planetary system where gas and dust are produced by the evaporation of comets and the collisions of asteroids.

Flavien Kiefer (IAP/CNRS/UPMC), lead author of the new study sets the scene: "Beta Pictoris is a very exciting target! The detailed observations of its exocomets give us clues to help understand what processes occur in this kind of young planetary system."

For almost 30 years astronomers have seen subtle changes in the light from Beta Pictoris that were thought to be caused by the passage of comets in front of the star itself.

Perhaps 'something wicked this way comes'?

Comets are small bodies of a few kilometres in size, but they are rich in ices, which evaporate when they approach their star, producing gigantic tails of gas and dust that can absorb some of the light passing through them. The dim light from the exocomets is swamped by the light of the brilliant star so they cannot be imaged directly from Earth.

Rosetta update: Dirty snowball is "dry like hell"

"It is nothing like the so-called dirty snowball or fluffy ice ball that mainstream astronomers have long envisioned. Most astonishingly,scientists have reported they have not found a single trace of water ice on the comet surface. It is, in the words of mission scientist Holger Sierks, "dry like hell."

To study the Beta Pictoris exocomets, the team analysed more than 1000 observations obtained between 2003 and 2011 with the HARPS instrument on the ESO 3.6-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile.

The researchers selected a sample of 493 different exocomets. Some exocomets were observed several times and for a few hours. Careful analysis provided measurements of the speed and the size of the gas clouds. Some of the orbital properties of each of these exocomets, such as the shape and the orientation of the orbit and the distance to the star, could also be deduced.

Comment: As the British astronomer Victor Clube said:
"We do not need the celestial threat to disguise Cold War intentions; rather we need the Cold War to disguise celestial intentions!"
Beware of PTB propaganda / information warfare: As cometary/fireball activity intensifies (Brazil (twice), Alabama, the Netherlands, Iowa, and probably Northwestern Louisiana too), expect more blaming of cyclical celestial events on their enemies; such as Russian military satellite, EMP and baiting conspiracy theorists with chemtrails disinformation.

For more on Sol's dark companion and accompanying cometary swarm and much more, read Earth Changes and the Human-Cosmic Connection.


Electrostatic force microscopy (EFM) shows electric charge propagating along microbial nanowires

© Credit: UMass Amherst
UMass Amherst researchers recently provided stronger evidence than ever before to support their claim that the microbe Geobacter produces tiny electrical wires, called microbial nanowires, along which electric charges propagate just as they do in carbon nanotubes, a highly conductive man-made material.
The claim by microbiologist Derek Lovley and colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Amherst that the microbe Geobacter produces tiny electrical wires, called microbial nanowires, has been mired in controversy for a decade, but the researchers say a new collaborative study provides stronger evidence than ever to support their claims.

UMass Amherst physicists working with Lovley and colleagues report in the current issue of Nature Nanotechnology that they've used a new imaging technique, electrostatic force microscopy (EFM), to resolve the biological debate with evidence from physics, showing that electric charges do indeed propagate along microbial nanowires just as they do in carbon nanotubes, a highly conductive man-made material.

Physicists Nikhil Malvankar and Sibel Ebru Yalcin, with physics professor Mark Tuominen, confirmed the discovery using EFM, a technique that can show how electrons move through materials. "When we injected electrons at one spot in the microbial nanowires, the whole filament lit up as the electrons propagated through the nanowire," says Malvankar.

Yalcin, now at Pacific Northwest National Lab, adds, "This is the same response that you would see in a carbon nanotube or other highly conductive synthetic nanofilaments. Even the charge densities are comparable. This is the first time that EFM has been applied to biological proteins. It offers many new opportunities in biology."

Comment: see also: Forming new circuits - Meet the electric life forms that live on pure energy


Ten years on, scientists still debating the origins of Homo floresiensis - the 'Hobbit'

Homo floresiensis
© John Gurche/National Museum of Natural History
Homo floresiensis adult female - model of head.
It's been ten years since the bones of Homo floresiensis, aka, the "hobbit" were uncovered in Liang Bua, a cave, on the island of Flores in Indonesia, and scientists still can't agree on the diminutive hominin's origins.

This month, the journal Nature has printed a comment piece by Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London and two pieces by Ewen Callaway, one a retrospective with interviews with the central players, and the other a podcast with the four principle scientists involved in the find - Bert Roberts, Thomas Sutikna, Dean Falk, and Stringer.

Did H. floresiensis descend from Australopithecus, leaving Africa and somehow settling on Flores, or was it a case of an early member of our family tree finding its way to the island and then because of limited resources, evolving into a much smaller size? That's the central question in the debate.

The majority opinion has sided with the island effect, mostly because of the time frame - H. floresiensis existed a mere 13,000 years ago, which means it was alive when other Homo sapiens were about, thus it seemed to make sense that H. floresiensis was also a member that had become stranded on an island. But Stringer doesn't agree. In his commentary piece he notes the chin and jaw are more reminiscent of pre-human fossils, dating back approximately two million years.

Also, the body shape and tiny brain appear to be more primitive than humans. He says taken together, the evidence suggests a closer match with Australopithecus, a pre-human group living in Africa which also includes the remains of the famous "Lucy" - and which also date back to approximately 1.2 million years ago.

Sun unleashes massive X-class solar flare

solar flare
The Sun has fired off a massive X-Class solar flare which astronomers are suggesting could be the start of a huge increase in solar activity.

NASA's Solar Dynamic Observatory captured the X-class flare -- the most powerful there is -- erupting from a massive Active Region on the star's surface.

Since the solar flare the sun spot has apparently doubled in size and is now around 78,000 miles wide -- that's almost as wide as Jupiter.

Comment: One wonders if there is a correlation between this massive solar flare and recent fireball activity over Brazil (twice), Alabama, the Netherlands, Iowa, and probably Northwestern Louisiana too; and the recent close shave of Comet Siding Spring with one of our planetary neighbours, Mars?

To understand more about the Electric Universe theory, Plasma discharge modes, our Sun's companion and it's accompanying cometary swarm, and much more, read Earth Changes and the Human-Cosmic Connection.

For more relevant information, listen to:

SOTT Talk Radio show #70: Earth changes in an electric universe: Is climate change really man-made?

SOTT Talk Radio: The Electric Universe - An interview with Wallace Thornhill


"Missing" disaster led to all-time worst extinction

There were thought to be five mass extinctions in Earth history. Fossil evidence is now pointing to a sixth - and it's not the human-made Anthropocene

© New Scientist
Could five big extinctions become six... or seven?
They always get you when you're down. Life's biggest-ever disaster - the "great dying" 252 million years ago - was helped by another mass extinction just 8 million years before that.

If confirmed, it would mean that life in the Permian period was hit by a double whammy that made the extinction of the dinosaurs look like a tea party. This newly discovered second Permian extinction could have left ecosystems fatally vulnerable to the final knockout punch.

The great dying put paid to more than 90 per cent of all marine species as well as 70 per cent of land animals. It is widely considered the most comprehensive extinction event of all time, and the only one that caused mass extinction of insects. It marked the end of the Palaeozoic era, which had run for 288 million years, and seen the evolution of the first marine animals with hard shells, and the first land plants and animals.

Trilobites (bottom right of picture), which had thrived for 270 million years, were wiped out. Reptiles like the sail-backed dimetrodon and the massive dinocephalians disappeared, replaced by the reptile ancestors of dinosaurs, birds, pterosaurs, crocodiles - and mammals.