Science & Technology

Magic Wand

Icy moon zaps Saturn with electron beams

© NASA/JPL/University of Iowa
Scientists working with data from NASA's Cassini mission - now in its sixth year of operations at Saturn - have discovered an electrical current running between Saturn and its moon Enceladus that creates an observable emission on the ringed planet.

Don Mitchell, Cassini science team co-investigator from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, first observed the current connection as a strong "bull's-eye" emission in the middle of images snapped by the APL-built ion and neutral camera, known as INCA, on Cassini.

"The ion beam seen by the camera appears at exceptionally high energy, between about 30,000 and 80,000 electron volts - surprising for an interaction with such a small moon," said Mitchell, co-author of a paper on the research appearing in the April 21 issue of the journal Nature.

This planet-moon connection also happens at Jupiter; Io, Europa and Ganymede all produce visible auroral footprints.

Did a Supernova Mark the Birth of the Merry Monarch?

© NASA/CXC/MIT/UMass Amherst/M.D.Stage et al.
An X-ray image of the Cassiopeia A supernova remnant made with the Chandra X-ray observatory.
The supernova remnant Cassiopeia A (Cas A) is the relic of the explosion of a massive star that took place around 11,000 years ago and is one of the brightest radio sources in the sky. Oddly, although the light from the explosion should have reached the Earth in the seventeenth century and been easily visible in the sky, it appears to have gone unnoticed.

Now astronomer Martin Lunn and historian Lila Rakoczy argue that the supernova was seen - as a 'new' star visible during the day at the birth of the future King Charles II of Great Britain. They will present their controversial idea on Monday 18 April, at the Royal Astronomical Society's National Astronomy Meeting in Llandudno, Wales.

Comment: Also, consider another candidate for a 'noon-day star' of 29th of May,1630. One of the corollaries of the Nemesis (Planet X, brown dwarf) theory is that the dark companion might well become visible as a second sun in the sky when it was closest to the sun.

From Independence Day by Laura Knight-Jadczyk:
A second sun was seen on and around May 29, 1630, and 20 or 30 years later a lot of new comets showed up just as we would expect - the first wave to have been flung in by a companion star that briefly lit up to scare the bejeebies out of everyone at the time. And we do see that the effects of this event were exactly as we would have expected them to be, only it seems to have been covered up and/or forgotten, for the most part in its historical context. Also, there have been attempts to describe this second sun as a "comet." It's possible, of course, but it seems that, in such a case, it would have been described as a "flaming star," which was equally portentous. The observers of the time had no problem distinguishing between comets and other observational anomalies.

So why it was described as a "second sun" is an interesting question. Could it have been a supernova?

Checking the records of the various supernovae, nothing fits this period - either Cass A or Kepler's SN or Tycho's SN... How this relates to Flamsteed's star, when he actually observed it, and other details remain to be determined by collecting data.

Later on, John Dryden suggested that the comets of 1664 and 1665 were related to the Sun that was seen at the birth of Charles II. He described this apparition as "That bright companion of the sun...."

All kinds of comparisons were made suggesting that Charles' birth was similar to the birth of Jesus, and it was conjectured that just such a sun had appeared at that event also. So, even if we have very little to go on, we might take these interpretations as indicative that this "noon-day sun" was in view for a while.

What IS interesting is how, other than this sort of commentary, all other records of this phenomenon have sort of disappeared - unless, of course, the author of this book found them to be too crazy and just omitted a lot of them.

So, it seems that we have found some descriptive evidence that may "fit" with the hypothesis that the companion sun was at perihelion on May 29, 1630, or close enough for horseshoes. And that the comets that followed 20 or 30 years later were an initial group that was flung in or pushed in with this star. If we are correct and the disturbance in the Oort cloud was prolonged for hundreds of years as the star passed through, and that the disturbance resulted in masses of comets entering the solar system in a spiraling motion, it just may be that there are some really big ones out there on their way in to the "target" from ALL directions.
Of course, the mentioned article was written over 8 years ago, and prior to the recent research by Martin Lunn and historian Lila Rakoczy. But it's SOTT editors current assessment that the hypothesis of the companion sun being a "noon-day sun" remains worthy of consideration.


Neuroscientists discover new 'chemical pathway' in the brain for stress

brain stress neuropathway
© University of Leicester
Nerve cells (red) reach out and communicate with each other at junctions called synapses (green) that release chemicals to promote anxiety.
A team of neuroscientists at the University of Leicester, UK, in collaboration with researchers from Poland and Japan, has announced a breakthrough in the understanding of the 'brain chemistry' that triggers our response to highly stressful and traumatic events.

The discovery of a critical and previously unknown pathway in the brain that is linked to our response to stress is announced today in the journal Nature. The advance offers new hope for targeted treatment, or even prevention, of stress-related psychiatric disorders.

About 20% of the population experience some form of anxiety disorder at least once in their lives. The cumulative lifetime prevalence of all stress-related disorders is difficult to estimate but is probably higher than 30%.

Dr Robert Pawlak, from the University of Leicester who led the UK team, said: "Stress-related disorders affect a large percentage of the population and generate an enormous personal, social and economic impact. It was previously known that certain individuals are more susceptible to detrimental effects of stress than others. Although the majority of us experience traumatic events, only some develop stress-associated psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. The reasons for this were not clear."

Dr Pawlak added that a lack of correspondence between the commonness of exposure to psychological trauma and the development of pathological anxiety prompted the researchers to look for factors that may make some individuals more vulnerable to stress than others.

US: Dear Humans: We Want Your Brains

© Brain Observatory, UC San Diego
The human brain
Neuroscientists at UC San Diego hope to recruit 1,000 more prospective brain donors this year

The UC San Diego Brain Observatory would like your brain, please. Especially if you can provide a detailed life history--or, best-case scenario, have already had your biography written--and are just a little strange in the head.

Can't feel fear? Can't form memories? Can't smell? These are traits of the people the Observatory already has on its rosters (they have 20 brains and 7 still-living donors), but director Jacopo Annese of UCSD is looking to recruit 1,000 more prospective donors this year. Apparently one brain he'd love to get his custom-made brain-slicing machinery on is Donald Trump's: The guy's had an unusual life, he explains to Bloomberg News, and with more than 15 books and a reality show to his name, he is nothing if not well-documented.

The Observatory is the outfit that made news in 2009 when it added the brain of H.M., a famous amnesiac who could remember only the last 20 seconds, to its collection. (The slicing process, which took two days and was streamed live, was watched by 400,000 people.) Established to study how ephemeral characteristics like personality, memory, and emotion are reflected in the physical structure of the brain, the Observatory records vast tracts of data about donors, from MRI images to cognitive tests to questionnaires, and, once the brains themselves are freed up, slices them into thousands of thin sheets and reconstructs them into computer models for study.

Top Astronomers Warn the World Could End Within 90 Years

Prof. John Brown
Bleak outlook: Professor John Brown will speak during the debate.

The end of the world is nigh. That's what top astronomers will claim during a debate to end the 2011 Edinburgh International Science Festival.

Lord Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal, believes civilisation has only a 50 per cent chance of surviving to 2100 without suffering a man-made catastrophe.

And the Astronomer Royal for Scotland, Professor John Brown, has an equally bleak outlook, fearing a random event from outer space is the most likely cause of our demise.

They will take to the stage to put forward their stark predictions in the discussion "Fire in the Sky: Cosmic Threats to Earth".

Despite having widely differing views, these two titans of astronomy between them offer global warming, over-population, terrorism, an asteroid falling to earth and a solar blast as potential reasons to panic.

Asteroid or Planet? NASA Aims to Settle Vesta Debate

Scientists still aren't sure what to make of Vesta, a small body that orbits the sun. Is it an asteroid or a planet?

NASA's Dawn spacecraft could settle the matter.

Vesta was spotted 200 years ago and is officially a "minor planet" - a body that orbits the sun but is not a proper planet or comet. Yet, many astronomers call Vesta an asteroid because it lies in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

© Ben Zellner (Georgia Southern University) / Peter Thomas (Cornell University) / NASA
On its southern side the asteroid Vesta shows a huge crater. This picture shows the asteroid in an image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope (top, left), as a reconstruction based on theoretical calculations (top, right), and as a topological map (bottom).

Zap: Saturn, odd moon have electric link

The ringed planet and one of its strangest moons are linked by an electrical circuit, igniting an ultraviolet glow in a patch of Saturn's atmosphere, NASA scientists reported Wednesday.

The electrical connection, suspected by scientists and confirmed by the Cassini spacecraft, forms an enormous arc, from a "footprint" the size of California in Saturn's northern hemisphere to the moon Enceladus, some 150,000 miles away.

A corresponding arc from the moon to Saturn's southern hemisphere likely completes the circuit, but has not yet been seen.

Pluto's Atmosphere: Big, Poisonous and Comet-like

© NASA/ESA/M. Buie - Southwest Research Institute
Three views of Pluto as the dwarf planet rotates.

Pluto has an atmosphere? Shocking, right?

It may not have official planetary status, but the dwarf planet does have an atmosphere. In fact, it's the only dwarf planet with a known atmosphere. What's more, it has just been announced that its atmosphere reaches nearly one quarter of the way to Pluto's largest moon Charon and swept back -- like a cometary tail -- by the weak pressure of the solar wind.

Comment: Pluto's atmosphere is "like a cometary tail" because it is a cometary tail. All objects within the solar system discharge the solar capacitor in the method described here. According to James McCanney's model, comets acquire an atmosphere as they discharge, attracting positive ions to the anti-sunward side of the body and forming the comet coma (in small comets) or atmosphere (in large comets, like Pluto).

But before you start getting excited about breathing Plutonian air in the future, Pluto's atmosphere is very thin. And besides, it's composed of a poisonous gas. Calling it an "atmosphere" is a little on the generous side, but it's there (albeit tenuous), and astronomers have taken some fascinating measurements of it.

Speaking at the UK's Royal Astronomical Society's National Astronomy Meeting on Wednesday, Jane Greaves from the University of St Andrews presented her team's discovery of an extended carbon monoxide (CO) atmosphere.

The CO -- a gas that is poisonous to humans -- was detected using the 15-meter James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii, extending the height of Pluto's known atmosphere from around 100 kilometers (62 miles) thick to over 3,000 kilometers (1,860 miles) thick.

Another "Anomalous" Observation Scientists Having Trouble Explaining: Pluto's Expanding Atmosphere Confounds Researchers

Recent observations of Pluto reveal that the icy orb's atmosphere has expanded dramatically since 2000, and for the first time researchers have detected carbon monoxide. The findings may be evidence of seasonal changes in climate linked to Pluto's most recent close approach to the sun, but scientists still aren't sure about how those variations unfold over the course of each 248-year orbit.

© ESO/L. Calçada
Artist’s impression of how the surface of Pluto might look. The image shows patches of pure methane on the surface.
Pluto is the only object orbiting in the frigid realm beyond Neptune that is known to have an atmosphere. That tenuous sheath of gas was discovered in 1988 when the "dwarf planet" passed between Earth and a distant star, blocking some of the star's light. Although telescopic observations at various wavelengths since the early 1990s have since identified several substances in Pluto's surface ices - including nitrogen, methane, and carbon monoxide - only methane had been detected previously in its atmosphere.

Comment: Pluto's atmosphere "unexpected growth" may be a great puzzle to the scientists who are unable to let go of theories that evidently aren't working!

From the latest Connecting the Dots:
Buddha is quoted as saying, "This life of separateness may be compared to a dream, a phantasm, a bubble, a shadow, a drop of dew, a flash of lightning." But in our case, lightning, or electrical phenomena, is exactly the binding force that may explain many of the perceived mysteries and inconsistencies in weather, on Earth and in Space. Remember how "everything is made of stardust"? But what if everything is also highly electrical in nature? Radical thinking, you say? No, it's just one of the good hypotheses we abandoned, and now it's coming back to light after years of spinning wheels, and due to the necessity of explaining accumulating "anomalous" observations.

Donald E. Scott says, that it is becoming clear that 99% of the universe is made up not of "invisible matter", but rather, of matter in the plasma state.
Mainstream astrophysicists are continually "surprised" by new data sent back by space probes and orbiting telescopes. That ought to be a clue that something is wrong. New information always sends theoretical astrophysicists "back to the drawing board". In light of this, it is curious that they have such "cock-sure" attitudes about the infallibility of their present models. Those models seem to require major "patching up" every time a new space probe sends back data.

When confronted by observations that cast doubt on the validity of their theories, astrophysicists have circled their wagons and conjured up pseudo-scientific invisible entities such as neutron stars, weakly interacting massive particles, strange energy, and black holes. When confronted by solid evidence such as Halton Arp's photographs that contradict the Big Bang Theory, their response is to refuse him access to any major telescope in the U.S.
But if these theories that mainstream astronomers peddle are only ad-hoc then what is the real story here?

In light of the theories of J.M. McCanney, this influx of carbon monoxide into Pluto's atmosphere may hold special significance. What McCanney theorizes is that when a comet or protoplanet-like body passes by another planet, "the body with the greater 'surface gravity' will pull in the volatile elements from the atmosphere of the smaller body." Could this newly discovered carbon monoxide on Pluto's atmosphere be due to Pluto winning a "gravitational tug-a-war" with a grazing comet? If this event happened sometime within the last decade, then this implies that something wicked may indeed be headed our way.


Right-Handedness Prevailed 500,000 Years Ago

Right Hand
© Cpl. Paula M. Fitzgerald
USMC photo by Cpl. Paula M. Fitzgerald.

Right-handedness is a distinctively human characteristic, with right-handers outnumbering lefties nine-to-one. But how far back does right-handedness reach in the human story?

Researchers have tried to determine the answer by looking at ancient tools, prehistoric art and human bones, but the results have not been definitive.

Now, David Frayer, professor of anthropology at the University of Kansas, has used markings on fossilized front teeth to show that right-handedness goes back more than 500,000 years. He is the lead author (with colleagues in Croatia, Italy and Spain) of a paper published this month in the British journal Laterality.

His research shows that distinctive markings on fossilized teeth correlate to the right or left-handedness of individual prehistoric humans.

"The patterns seen on the fossil teeth are directly and consistently produced by right or left hand manipulation in experimental work," Frayer said.