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Comet

Where's the ice: 3 surprising comet facts we've already learned from Rosetta

Comet 67P August 7
© ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team
Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko imaged by Rosetta's OSIRIS narrow angle camera on 7 August from a distance of 104 km.
Today, after 10 years of space travel, the Rosetta explorer became the first to orbit a comet. The best is yet to come - the scientists behind the satellite are preparing to land a harpoon-like probe on the surface this November. Yet new information is already pouring in. What scientists have discovered is already starting to transform our understanding of Rosetta's target comet, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (C-G for short), and cometary science.

Here are three surprising facts we've already learned:
Meteor

Asteroid defense - Casualty in chilled US-Russia relations

Space cooperation and even asteroid defense agreements between the United States and Russian governments have been sacrificed as a result of poor international relations, but according to a spokeswoman for the private space foundation, B612, those political tensions will not change the future possibility of the pursuit of private partnerships with Russia.

"Russia has a great space program. Currently, as a private entity, we don't have any collaboration but it doesn't mean we might not in the future," Diane Murphy of B612 told RIA Novosti on Friday. "We have not had discussions with any Russian entity, not that we might not want to."

The B612 Foundation is working towards the launch of its Sentinal Mission, a deep space telescope that will be capable of identifying asteroids that may threaten Earth. In late July, as a result of political tensions over Ukraine and Crimea, the governments of Russia and the United States called off an agreement signed last September for increased cooperation in nuclear and energy-related science research. The agreement included defense from asteroids.

Comment: More on this : Astronauts reveal sobering data on asteroid impacts: Since 2001, 26 atomic-bomb-scale explosions have occurred in remote locations around the world

Eye 1

Will CGI actors replace human ones?

Robin Wright
© Drafthouse Films/Everett/REX
Robin Wright is turned into a digital scan in Ari Folman's The Congress.
Robin Wright is standing in the middle of a huge geodesic dome of LEDs and cameras, giving her very last performance. As she sobs bitterly, her every move and micro-expression is scanned. Later an artificial version of the actress will be created to take her place in all of her future films; the real Robin Wright will be redundant.

Princess Bride fans needn't panic just yet, though. The scene is from Ari Folman's new film The Congress - a trippy, dystopian vision of a future in which artifice has displaced reality. But it is a future that may be closer than we think.

Virtual characters in films are nothing new. The first - a computer-generated knight - appeared in The Young Sherlock in 1985, and since then we've seen everything from artificial extras in Titanic to detailed motion-capture characters such as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. And while some virtual human faces still creep us out (Polar Express, anyone?), a few have graced our screens without us even realising. Brad Pitt's reverse-ageing process in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, for example, was created not with prosthetics but with computer-generated imagery (CGI).
Fireball

Are governments ready to respond to a real asteroid threat?

© ESA/P. Carril
Asteroids have pounded Earth in the past and will continue to do so in the future. If a big one lines the planet up in its crosshairs, civilization itself could be imperiled.

Now, the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space has taken a step toward combating the asteroid threat. A special U.N. action team on near-Earth objects (NEOs) has recommended the creation of an International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN), which is designed to gather and analyze NEO data and provide timely warnings to national authorities if a potentially hazardous NEO were to threaten Earth.

A number of components of an IAWN already exist and are working together. Now, the objective is to pool together the expertise of the world's many relevant scientific organizations, to discover and track objects and generate early warnings of potential impacts.
Bulb

Brain notes: Neurons in the brain tune into different frequencies for different spatial memory tasks

© Laura Colgin/University of Texas at Austin
Researchers recorded gamma waves in the brains of rats navigating through a simple environment to understand how current and past locations are represented in the brain.
Your brain transmits information about your current location and memories of past locations over the same neural pathways using different frequencies of a rhythmic electrical activity called gamma waves, report neuroscientists at The University of Texas at Austin.

The research, published in the journal Neuron on April 17, may provide insight into the cognitive and memory disruptions seen in diseases such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer's, in which gamma waves are disturbed.

Previous research has shown that the same brain region is activated whether we're storing memories of a new place or recalling past places we've been.

"Many of us leave our cars in a parking garage on a daily basis. Every morning, we create a memory of where we parked our car, which we retrieve in the evening when we pick it up," said Laura Colgin, assistant professor of neuroscience and member of the Center for Learning and Memory in The University of Texas at Austin's College of Natural Sciences. "How then do our brains distinguish between current location and the memory of a location? Our new findings suggest a mechanism for distinguishing these different representations."
Airplane

Get panoramic views from this windowless jet

IXION Windowless Jet
© Technicon Design
You don't need a window for these views. Paris-based design company Technicon Design recently won an award for their IXION Windowless Jet Concept. The idea is to provide a 360-degree view using cameras mounted on the plane's exterior to capture the scenery and then project that on high-res screen on the interior cabin walls and ceiling.

And actually any scene could be displayed on the interior. Let's say the view is mostly clouds or ocean. How about displaying a rainforest? A flight through the Grand Canyon? A trip to the Moon?

Solar panels on the exterior would help power the displays.

Removing windows has its advantages, too. It reduces the materials and cost needed as well as reducing the weight of the plane. Not having windows allows for a greater flexibility of the interior design of the aircraft, too.
Robot

Australian scientists invent 'tractor beam' that can manipulate floating objects

© AFP Photo
The oil slick from the grounded container ship 'Rena' stains Papamoa Beach near Tauranga
Australian scientists have created a water-based "tractor beam" - a wave generator that is able to manipulate floating objects. However, researchers say no mathematical model exists so far to explain this complex phenomenon.

Researchers at the Australian National University in Canberra have demonstrated the ability of simple wave generators to control things adrift in the water - and even move them against the direction of the waves.

In the research, published in Nature magazine, scientists claim that their discovery "would find a broad range of applications," from new solutions to oil spills or ways to rescue malfunctioning ships to a better understanding of dangerous rip tides that drag swimmers into the water even when waves are heading towards the shore.

The tractor beam barrows its name from science fiction, where it is successfully used to manipulate any object from a distance and move it towards an alien or future-human spacecraft.

To illustrate the principle of the technique, the team generated three-dimensional waves in a water tank, and found the very frequency and size of the waves necessary to keep a ping-pong ball floating in the tank, then moved the ball in whatever direction they wanted.
Stop

Keeping viruses at bay: How our organism definitively detects RNA viruses

© Claudia Siebenhener/UKB
This image depicts Marion Goldeck, Dr. Martin Schlee (sitting), Dr. Winfried Barchet, Thomas Zillinger and Prof. Dr. med. Gunther Hartmann, Director of the Institute of Clinical Chemistry and Clinical Pharmacology of the University of Bonn Hospital.
Researchers at the University of Bonn Hospital discover how our organism definitively detects RNA viruses.

Our immunosensory system detects virus such as influenza via specific characteristics of viral ribonucleic acid. Previously, it was unclear how the immune system prevents viruses from simply donning molecular camouflage in order to escape detection. An international team of researchers from the University of Bonn Hospital and the London Research Institute have now discovered that our immunosensory system attacks viruses on a molecular level. In this way, a healthy organism can keep rotaviruses, a common cause of diarrheal epidemics, at bay. The results have been published in the renowned journal Nature.

Every day our bodies are confronted with a variety of viruses and other pathogens. Our immune systems must constantly decide what is "foreign" and what is part of the body itself so that the body's own cells are not inadvertently attacked by its own defense troops. Viruses imitate the body's own structures and thus represent a special challenge for the immune system. In this way, the immune system works like a sensory organ which continuously detects dangers and initiates the appropriate defense mechanisms. This immunosensory system searches for viruses by surveilling the body's own ribonucleic acid (RNA) for RNA with characteristics typical of viruses. In RNA viruses, RNA is the carrier of the virus's genetic information. To reproduce, viruses must multiply their RNA, and this multiplication leads to the development of molecular patterns which are in turn used to detect the viruses themselves.
Arrow Down

Italian doc: I've found the key to head transplants

Head Transplant
© The Local, Italy
Science fiction? Or soon to be science fact?
An Italian scientist has claimed that head transplants could be possible, after what he says is a major breakthrough in the technique. But another expert told The Local said the whole idea was potentially unethical.

Neuroscientist Sergio Canavero, from the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group, was hit with a barrage of criticism after publishing his initial research last year, in which he said head transplants could be carried out by severing the heads of two patients at the same time, then cooling and flushing out the 'recipient' head before attaching it to its new body with polymer glue.

Some critics at the time said head transplants were "Frankenstein science," while others asked how Canavero proposed to connect the donors' and recipients' spinal chords.

But Canavero now says it is possible to merge bone marrow, surgically cut with an ultra-sharp knife, when fusing one person's head onto another person's spine.

He wrote in the Frontier of Neurology journal this month that the operation would be made possible using special membrane-fusion substances called fusogens, which would be injected between the two stumps cut in the spinal chord.

He backed up his claims by pointing to experiments on rats at the University of Dusseldorf, adding that the animals had fully recovered use of their limbs after the procedure.
Map

HealthMap algorithm predicted Ebola outbreak nine days before it was announced

ebola worker
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is focusing a spotlight on a unique online tool run by experts in Boston that flagged a "mystery hemorrhagic fever" in forested areas of southeastern Guinea nine days before the World Health Organization formally announced the epidemic.

HealthMap is an innovative tool that uses algorithms to scour tens of thousands of social media sites, local news, government websites, infectious-disease physicians' social networks, and other sources to detect and track disease outbreaks. Sophisticated software filters irrelevant data, classifies the relevant information, identifies diseases and maps their locations with the help of experts.

The site is run by a group of 45 researchers, epidemiologists, and software developers at BCH (Boston Children's Hospital). HealthMap was first introduced in 2006 with a core audience of public health specialists, but that changed as the system evolved and the public became increasingly hungry for information during the swine flu pandemic.

While public health workers still make up a large proportion of users, HealthMap has been adapted to be more user-friendly for the general public. It locates the outbreaks on a world map and creates a color-coding system that indicates the severity of an outbreak on the basis of news reportage about it. Users of the site can then analyze and visualize the data, gaining unprecedented views of disease outbreaks. Here's what the output looks like:
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