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Cassiopaea

Possible supernova in M61 (NGC 4303)

Following the posting on the Central Bureau's Transient Object Confirmation Page about a possible Supernova in the barred spiral galaxy Messier 61 (or NGC 4303 - TOCP Designation: PSN J12215757+0428185) we performed some follow-up of this object through a 0.10-m f/5.0 astrograph + CCD from MPC Code H06 (iTelescope, New Mexico).

On our images taken on October 30.5, 2014 we can confirm the presence of an optical counterpart with unfiltered CCD magnitude 13.2 and at coordinates:

R.A. = 12 21 57.61, Decl.= +04 28 17.8 (equinox 2000.0; UCAC-3 catalogue reference stars).

Our confirmation image (click on it for a bigger version)
Supernova in M61
© Remanzacco Observatory
An animation showing a comparison between our confirmation image and the archive POSS2/UKSTU plate (IR Filter - 1991).
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Seeing dinosaur feathers in a new light

© thawats / Fotolia
Feathers close up. The researchers' hypothesis: The evolution of feathers made dinosaurs more colorful, which in turn had a profoundly positive impact on communication, the selection of mates and on dinosaurs' procreation.
Why were dinosaurs covered in a cloak of feathers long before the early bird species Archaeopteryx first attempted flight? Researchers from the University of Bonn and the University of Göttingen attempt to answer precisely that question in their article "Beyond the Rainbow" in the latest issue of the journal Science.

The research team postulates that these ancient reptiles had a highly developed ability to discern color. Their hypothesis: The evolution of feathers made dinosaurs more colorful, which in turn had a profoundly positive impact on communication, the selection of mates and on dinosaurs' procreation.

The suggestion that birds and dinosaurs are close relatives dates back to the 19th century, the time when the father of evolutionary theory, Charles Darwin, was hard at work. But it took over 130 years for the first real proof to come to light with numerous discoveries of the remains of feathered dinosaurs, primarily in fossil sites in China. Thanks to these fossil finds, we now know that birds descend from a branch of medium-sized predatory dinosaurs, the so-called theropods. Tyrannosaurus rex and also velociraptors, made famous by the film Jurassic Park, are representative of these two-legged meat eaters. Just like later birds, these predatory dinosaurs had feathers -- long before Archaeopteryx lifted itself off the ground. But why was this, particularly when dinosaurs could not fly?
Light Saber

Synthetic biology wild west days over as 194 countries agree to regulate industry

synthetic biology
The United Nations' Convention on Biological Diversity recently announced a decision on the part of 194 countries to regulate synthetic biology technology.

Jim Thomas of the ETC Group stated that, "Not only do countries now have to set up the means to regulate synthetic biology, but those regulations need to be based on precaution and not harming the environment."

As more synthetically engineered products are being developed, many see a potentially dangerous impact on the environment and human health from the expanding technology.

Synthetic biology is an advanced form of genetic engineering that, according to a 2005 European Commission paper, is "...the engineering of biology... the synthesis of complex, biologically based (or inspired) systems which display functions that do not exist in nature."

Comment: For more background information about this frightening new trend in genetic modification and the reasons it needs to be regulated, read:


Star

Planet-forming lifeline discovered in binary star system

double star system GG Tauri-A
© Credit: ESO/L. Calçada
This artist's impression shows the dust and gas around the double star system GG Tauri-A. Researchers using ALMA have detected gas in the region between two discs in this binary system. This may allow planets to form in the gravitationally perturbed environment of the binary. Half of Sun-like stars are born in binary systems, meaning that these findings will have major consequences for the hunt for exoplanets.
Scientists using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have detected a streamer of dust and gas flowing from a massive outer disk toward the inner reaches of a binary star system. This never-before-seen feature may be responsible for sustaining a second, smaller disk of planet-forming material that otherwise would have disappeared long ago.

A research group led by Anne Dutrey from the Laboratory of Astrophysics of Bordeaux, France, and the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) observed the distribution of dust and gas in a binary star system called GG Tau-A. It was recently discovered that one of GG Tau-A's components is itself a double star. This object is only a few million years old and lies approximately 460 light-years from Earth in the constellation Taurus.

Like a wheel in a wheel, GG Tau-A contains a large, outer disk encircling the entire system as well as an inner disk around the main central star. This second inner disk has a mass roughly equivalent to that of Jupiter. Its presence has been an intriguing mystery for astronomers since it is losing material to its central star at a rate that should have depleted it long ago.

While observing these structures with ALMA, the team made the exciting discovery of gas clumps in the region between the two disks. The new observations suggest that material is being transferred from the outer to the inner disk, creating a sustaining lifeline between the two.

Comment: see also:

New study supports binary star system hypothesis

Evidence that Earth like-worlds can form in two star solar systems

Astrophysicists find wide binary stars wreak havoc in planetary systems

Comet

Comet K1 PanSTARRS: an 'encore performance' soon?

Comet K1 PanSTARRS
© Credit: Ken Moore, used with permission.
Comet K1 PanSTARRS cruises through Hydra on October 1st. Note the twin opposing ion and dust tail.
Comet C/2012 K1 PanSTARRS, one of the most dependable comets of 2014, may put on its encore performance over the coming weeks for southern hemisphere observers.

First, the story thus far. Discovered as a +19th magnitude smudge along the borders of the constellations Ophiuchus and Hercules in mid-May 2012 courtesy of the Panoramic Survey Telescope And Rapid Response System (PanSTARRS) based atop Haleakala on the Hawaiian island of Maui, astronomers soon realized that comet C/2012 K1 PanSTARRS would be something special.

The comet broke +10th magnitude to become a visible binocular object in early 2014, and wowed northern hemisphere observers as it vaulted across the constellations of Boötes and Ursa Major this past spring.

NASA’s NEOWISE mission spies K1 PanSTARRS
© Credit: NASA/JPL.
NASA’s NEOWISE mission spies K1 PanSTARRS on May 20th as it slides by the galaxy NGC 3726 (blue).
The comet is approaching the inner solar system on a retrograde, highly-inclined orbit tilted 142 degrees relative the ecliptic. This bizarre orbit also assures that the comet will actually reach opposition twice in 2014 as seen from our earthly vantage point: once on April 15th, and another opposition coming right up on November 7th.

As was the case with comet Hale-Bopp way back in 1997, had C/2012 K1 PanSTARRS arrived six months earlier or later, we would've been in for a truly spectacular show, as the comet reached perihelion on August 27th, 2014, only 0.05 A.U.s (4.6 million miles or 7.7 million kilometres) outside the orbit of the Earth! But such a spectacle was not to be... back in '97, Hale-Bopp's enormous size - featuring a nucleus estimated 40 to 60 kilometres across - made for a grand show regardless... fast forward to 2014, and the tinier nucleus of K1 PanSTARRS has been relegated to binocular status only.

© Credit: NASA/JPL
The position of comet K1 PanSTARRS as it passes its second opposition of the year. .
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What happens to a dead body in the ocean?

© VENUS/Gail Anderson and Lynne Bell
Deep-sea scavengers made quick work of this pig's carcass.
When a dead body decomposes in the ocean, scientists know little about what happens to it. To find out, some researchers performed an unusual experiment that involved dropping pig carcasses into the sea and watching them on video.

Lots of human bodies end up in the sea, whether due to accidents, suicides or from being intentionally dumped there, but nobody really knows what happens to them, said Gail Anderson, a forensic entomologist at Simon Fraser University in Canada who led the unusual study.

Anderson and her team got a chance to find out, using the Victoria Experimental Network Under the Sea (VENUS), an underwater laboratory that allows scientists to take video and other measurements via the Internet. With that equipment, all they needed was a body.

"Pigs are the best models for humans," Anderson told Live Science. They're roughly the right size for a human body; they have the same kind of gut bacteria, and they're relatively hairless, she said.

In the study, published Oct. 20 in the journal PLOS ONE, Anderson and her team used a remotely operated submarine to drop three pig carcasses into the Saanich Inlet, a body of salt water near Vancouver Island, British Columbia, at a depth of 330 feet (100 meters).
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Nano ruffles in brain matter

Researchers have deciphered the role of nanostructures around brain cells in the central nervous system.

© Nils Blumenthal and Prasad Shastri
Scanning electron micrograph showing a neuron on a nanorough surface making intimate contact with the surface. Surfaces has been given a false color for visualization.
An accumulation of a protein called amyloid-beta into large insoluble deposits called plaques is known to cause Alzheimer's disease. One aspect of this illness that has not received much attention is which role the structure of the brain environment plays. How do macromolecules and macromolecular assemblies, such as polysaccharides, influence cell interaction in the brain?

In a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Prof. Prasad Shastri and graduate student Nils Blumenthal, in collaboration with Prof. Bernd Heimrich and Prof. Ola Hermanson, have discovered that macromolecules or support cells like astrocytes provide well-defined physical cues in the form of random roughness or ruffles that have a crucial role in promoting and maintaining healthy interactions between cells in the hippocampus.

This brain area is regarded as the brain's GPS system: It processes and stores spatial information. In Alzheimer's disease, this area degenerates. Shastri says, "It has been long thought that only biological signals have a role in health and function of brain cells, but here we show that the structure of the molecules that surround these cells may be equally important."
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Clean smell doesn't always mean clean air

Scientists are taking a closer look at aerosol formation involving an organic compound -- called limonene -- that provides the pleasant smell of cleaning products and air fresheners.

Some of the same chemical reactions that occur in the atmosphere as a result of smog and ozone are actually taking place in your house while you are cleaning. A researcher in Drexel's College of Engineering is taking a closer look at these reactions, which involve an organic compound -called limonene- that provides the pleasant smell of cleaning products and air fresheners. His research will help to determine what byproducts these sweet-smelling compounds are adding to the air while we are using them to remove germs and odors.

Secondary organic aerosols (SOAs) are microscopic particles created when ozone reacts with volatile organic gases such as limonene -the chemical name for the smell of oranges- or its cousin α-pinene, which is part of the smell of pine trees. Outdoors, this reaction happens all the time. It drives the formation of much of the atmospheric organic aerosol present in our environment. And in, population-dense urban areas -where enough suspended particles can be amassed- it contributes to the formation of the visible haze called smog.
Info

Grandma was right! Arthritic joints can detect changes in weather

bones
© Getty Images
Wrists are a common place people claim to feel pain related to weather changes.
When I was younger, my grandma would occasionally issue solemn prophesies for rain. These declarations would come after she'd spent a few minutes rubbing her arthritic wrists. With a pensive gaze, she'd credit the prediction to her aching joints.

I was reminded of this yesterday. I'd been working on my laptop when my ankle, titanium-braced from an old break, started throbbing. I thought nothing of it until I stepped outside, and into a surprise rainstorm. I'd always been skeptical of grandma's arthritic omens, but limping down the sidewalk in the wake of my own revelation gave me reason to reconsider. Could science have an answer for why some people seem to feel the weather in their bones?
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Study finds brain abnormalities in chronic fatigue patients

© Radiological Society of North America
This reconstructed MR image shows the right arcuate (blue tracks and arrows) and ILFs (yellow tracks and arrows) in a single representative subject. These two tracks are overlaid on their respective track profiles. The track profile is colored according to the T score of track-based FA, showing that the maximal increase in FA is in the anterior arcuate and ILFs. The red, blue, and green spheres correspond to size and locations of increased cortical thickness from Figure 1 in the right occipital, precentral, and middle temporal regions, respectively. The green arrows also point to the middle temporal region of increased thickness.
An imaging study by Stanford University School of Medicine investigators has found distinct differences between the brains of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome and those of healthy people.

The findings could lead to more definitive diagnoses of the syndrome and may also point to an underlying mechanism in the disease process.

It's not uncommon for CFS patients to face several mischaracterizations of their condition, or even suspicions of hypochondria, before receiving a diagnosis of CFS. The abnormalities identified in the study, to be published Oct. 29 in Radiology, may help to resolve those ambiguities, said lead author Michael Zeineh, MD, PhD, assistant professor of radiology.

"Using a trio of sophisticated imaging methodologies, we found that CFS patients' brains diverge from those of healthy subjects in at least three distinct ways," Zeineh said.

CFS affects between 1 million and 4 million individuals in the United States and millions more worldwide. Coming up with a more precise number of cases is tough because it's difficult to actually diagnose the disease. While all CFS patients share a common symptom - crushing, unremitting fatigue that persists for six months or longer - the additional symptoms can vary from one patient to the next, and they often overlap with those of other conditions.
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