Science & Technology


The red and blue planet: Mars once had massive ocean in N. hemisphere

© ESO/M. Kornmesser/N. Risinger
This artist’s impression shows how Mars may have looked about four billion years ago. The young planet Mars would have had enough water to cover its entire surface in a liquid layer about 140 meters deep, but it is more likely that the liquid would have pooled to form an ocean occupying almost half of Mars’s northern hemisphere.
Mars was once a small, wet and blue world, but over the past 4 billion years, Mars dried up and became the red dust bowl we know today.

But how much water did Mars possess? According to research published in the journal Science, the Martian northern hemisphere was likely covered in an ocean, covering a region of the approximate area as Earth's Atlantic Ocean, plunging, in some places, to 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) deep.

"Our study provides a solid estimate of how much water Mars once had, by determining how much water was lost to space," said Geronimo Villanueva, of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the new paper, in an ESO news release. "With this work, we can better understand the history of water on Mars."

Over a 6-year period, Villanueva and his team used the ESO's Very Large Telescope (in Chile) and instruments at the W. M. Keck Observatory and the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility (both on Mauna Kea in Hawaii) to study the distribution of water molecules in the Martian atmosphere. By building a comprehensive map of water distribution and seasonal changes, they were able to arrive at this startling conclusion.


Brain ages less than previously thought

Older brains may be more similar to younger brains than previously thought.

In a new paper published in Human Brain Mapping, BBSRC-funded researchers at the University of Cambridge and Medical Research Council's Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit demonstrate that previously reported changes in the aging brain using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) may be due to vascular (or blood vessels) changes, rather than changes in neuronal activity itself.

Given the large number of fMRI studies used to assess the aging brain, this has important consequences for understanding how the brain changes with age and challenges current theories of aging.

A fundamental problem of fMRI is that it measures neural activity indirectly through changes in regional blood flow. Thus, without careful correction for age differences in vasculature reactivity, differences in fMRI signals can be erroneously regarded as neuronal differences.


Leidenfrost-based engine could fuel human life on Mars

© YOUTUBE/MarsOneProject (Screenshot)
Thanks to groundbreaking research at Northumbria University in Newcastle, England, those who wish to one day colonize Mars have a new technique at their disposal to harvest energy from carbon dioxide.

Researchers want to power a new kind of engine using a phenomenon known as the "Leidenfrost effect."


Second exoplanet with four stars discovered

© Karen Teramura/UH IfA
Artists conception of the 30 Ari star system. In the foreground is the primary star about which the massive exoplanet orbits. The primary's newly-found binary partner, a red dwarf, can be seen in the upper left and the secondary binary system can be seen to the upper right.
For only the second time, an exoplanet living with an expansive family of four stars has been revealed.

The exoplanet, which is a huge gaseous world 10 times the mass of Jupiter, was previously known to occupy a 3-star system, but a fourth star (a red dwarf) has now been found, revealing quadruple star systems possessing planets are more common than we thought.

"About four percent of solar-type stars are in quadruple systems, which is up from previous estimates because observational techniques are steadily improving," said co-author Andrei Tokovinin of the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.

The whole 4-star family is collectively known as 30 Ari, located some 136 light-years from Earth — in our interstellar backyard. The exoplanet orbits the primary star of the system once every 335 days. The primary star has a new-found binary partner (which the exoplanet does not orbit) and this pair are locked in an orbital dance with a secondary binary, separated by a distance of 1,670 astronomical unit (AU), where 1 AU is the average distance between the Earth and sun.

Comment: Based on data from NASA's Chandra X-ray observatory, it's estimated that over 80% of all stars may be either binary or multiple-star systems. If our own solar system was part of such a binary star system, it could account for many of the 'anomalies' exhibited by the conventional single-star hypothesis. And it's possible that our own sun has a 'dark companion' - Nemesis.

For more on Nemesis - Sol's dark companion - see Pierre Lescaudron and Laura Knight-Jadczyk's book, Earth Changes and the Human-Cosmic Connection.


Menopausal killer whales hold key to family's survival

© David Ellifrit Center for Whale Research
Killer whale family: a menopausal mother and son.
Old female killer whales use their ecological wisdom to help their families through tough times, a new study has found.

The research by Dr Lauren Brent from the University of Exeter's Centre for Research in Animal Behaviour and colleagues from both the United Kingdom and United States, also sheds new light on the role of menopause in human populations.

"Biologically-speaking, menopause is bizarre," Dr Brent explains, adding that most animals die around the same time they stop reproducing.

"Killer whales (Orcinus orca) are one of just three species - alongside humans and short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus) - where females continue to live for many years after giving birth to their last baby. Female killer whales stop reproducing in their 30s-40s, but can survive into their 90s."

Males, however, rarely live beyond 50.

It was believed that the benefit of menopause to both human and killer whale mothers lies in spreading their genes, which they do by helping their relatives survive and reproduce. But just how older females help their relatives was a mystery.

"One idea is that wisdom accumulates with age and that old females store vital information about the environment, which they share with their relatives to help them during environmental hardships," Brent says.

The researchers analysed more than 750 hours of video footage of resident killer whale family groups, whose relatedness and family history have been studied since 1976 in the coastal waters of British Columbia and Washington. In resident killer whales, family groups don't disperse, although males leave temporarily to breed with females from other populations.

They found that females who are past the age of last reproduction are more likely to lead their families as they travel around foraging grounds, compared with adult males, especially in years when Chinook salmon, their main food resource, is in short supply.

Males in the population were more likely to follow the experienced females than females. This supports other research showing that sons in a family group have a higher probability of dying following the death of their post-reproductively aged mother - and therefore have more to gain from her wisdom.

"These findings suggest that menopausal females may boost the survival of their relatives through the transfer of ecological knowledge, which may help explain why female killer whales continue to live long after they have stopped reproducing," Brent says.

The study was published today in Current Biology.


Snowflakes aren't like we think, 3D images reveal

© Credit: Calle Fallgatter
Using a two-camera system, the researchers can capture images in stereo. Even without special tools, if you look at the center of the image and unfocus your eyes, the two images merge into one, creating the illusion of a three dimensional ice crystal.
You've heard that no two snowflakes are alike, but it gets even more complicated: The two sides of the same snowflake aren't even alike. Now, researchers using a cutting-edge 3D camera are able to use these imperfections to update estimates of road slickness and other storm impacts, improving winter weather warnings in real time and saving lives.

VIDEO: In the late 1800's, Wilson Bentley and Gustav Hellmann began photographing snowflakes. However each of their photos revealed entirely different representations of snowflakes. How could nature present two different forms of snowflakes? Today, University of Utah engineer Cale Fallgatter and atmospheric scientist Tim Garrett are helping to solve that mystery with the use of a new camera system that photographs free-falling snowflakes.
The popular myth that snowflakes are symmetrical originated with Wilson Bentley in 1885. Only 20 years old, Bentley came up with the idea to connect a microscope and a camera to photograph the ice crystals of snowflakes. Those photos showed symmetrical snowflakes, but the technique was imprecise.

Comment: A snowflake revelation! Fluffy or sticky...we gotta know!

Fireball 2

Telescope observed rapid changes in a Comet Lovejoy's plasma tail

Figure 1:This GIF animation shows changes in the global structure of Comet Lovejoy's (C/2013 R1) plasma tail. There are three, 2-minute exposures taken in the I-band. The image is aligned so that the nucleus of the comet is at the same position and the tail lies vertically. The time stamp at the bottom right shows the start time of each exposure in Hawai'i time on the morning of December 4, 2013. Bright parts of the sky are shown as black, and dark parts are shown as white, allowing astronomers to see details in the object more clearly. The white tilted grid is a gap between CCD detectors. In the image, the tail narrows with time, especially downstream of the nucleus (which is at the bottom of the image). Moreover, two clumps were detected forming formed at about 0.3 million kilometers from the nucleus. They drifted toward downstream about 20 - 25 kilometers per second (Figure 2).
Images from a December 2013 observation of the comet C/2013 R1 (Lovejoy) reveal clear details about rapidly changing activity in that comet's plasma tail. To get this image, astronomers used Subaru Telescope's wide-field prime-focus Suprime-Cam to zero in on 0.8 million kilometers of the comet's plasma tail, which resulted in gaining precious knowledge regarding the extreme activity in that tail as the comet neared the Sun. Their results are reported this week in a paper in the March 2015 edition of the Astronomical Journal.

Team of researchers from National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, Stony Brook University (The State University of New York) and Tsuru University reported highly resolved find details of this comet captured in B-band in 2013 (Subaru Telescope's Image Captures the Intricacy of Comet Lovejoy's Tail). They used I-band filter which includes H2O+ line emissions and the V-band filter which includes CO+ and H2O+ line emissions. During the observations, the comet exhibited very rapid changes in its tail in the course of only 20 minutes (Figure 1). Such extreme short-term changes are the result of the comet's interactions with the solar wind, which consists of charged particles constantly sweeping out from the Sun. The reason for the rapidity of these changes is not well understood.

Dr. Jin Koda, the principal investigator of these nights, says "My research is on galaxies and cosmology, so I rarely observe comets. But Lovejoy was up in the sky after my targets were gone on our observing nights, and we started taking images for educational and outreach purposes. The single image from the previous night revealed such delicate details along the tail it inspired us further to take a series of images on the following night. As we analyzed the images, we realized that the tail was displaying rapid motion in a matter of only a few minutes! It was just incredible!"

Comment: Mainstream science still clings to its original conceptions about comets, despite increasing evidence coming in from Rosetta (see comment above) and other sources that indicate comets and other such bodies are 'electrical' in nature.

Electric Comet Theory: The Enduring - Yet Downplayed - Mysteries of Comets

The True Origins of Electric Comet Theory

Electric Universe: Where Do Asteroids Come From?


Scientists discover smallest lifeforms in existence

Scientists have taken the first ever extensive microscopy images of ultra-small bacteria, which are so far thought to be the smallest life forms in existence.

The bacteria have an average volume of 0.009 cubic microns (a micron is one millionth of a meter), 150,000 of which could be placed on the tip of a human hair.

Ultra-small bacteria's presence has been under debate for some twenty years, but until now they lacked a comprehensive electron microscopy and DNA-based description.

The research was carried out by a group of scientists from the US Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, and was published in the February 27 edition of the journal Nature Communications.

"These newly described ultra-small bacteria are an example of a subset of the microbial life on earth that we know almost nothing about," said the co-corresponding author of the research, Jill Banfield, a senior faculty scientist in the earth sciences division of Berkeley Lab.

Comment: This discovery makes one wonder - are there other planets that house these ultra-small organisms? There might not be such a slim chance of life on other planets as we are led to believe.


New research validates chronic fatigue sufferers

In new report, committee recommends name change to help erase the stigma associated with debilitating disease

© Jae S. Lee / The Tennessean
Esther Siebert, who has chronic fatigue syndrome, moved to Nashville from California a year ago. She still travels back to California for treatment, having no luck finding an internist locally who can help.
Esther Siebert, 67, has been living with a draining and debilitating disease for nearly 30 years, one that is only just recently being widely recognized as something real. Most commonly called chronic fatigue syndrome, it is a disease many doctors have been unable to diagnose, while many sufferers have been made to feel it was all in their head.

Siebert, who moved to Nashville from California a year ago, was lucky that her condition was recognized very early on by an understanding doctor. That isn't always the case.

Comment: The Stigma of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Hits Teens, Too


Space-walking astronaut tweets photos that reveal the breathtaking size of the space station

Astronaut Terry Virts
Two U.S. astronauts whipped through a third spacewalk outside the International Space Station on Sunday to rig parking spots for new U.S. space taxis.

Station commander Barry "Butch" Wilmore and flight engineer Terry Virts expected to spend about seven hours installing antennas, cables and navigation aides on the station's exterior truss. Instead, the astronauts, who were making their third spacewalk in eight days, were back inside the space station in 5.5 hours.

The purpose of the outings was to prepare berthing slips for spaceships being developed by Boeing and Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX.

Wilmore and Virts floated outside the Quest airlock shortly after 7 a.m., a NASA Television broadcast showed. Their job was to install more than 400 feet (122 meters) of cables, a pair of antennas and reflectors that the new spaceships will use to navigate toward and dock with the station, a $100 billion laboratory that flies about 260 miles (418 km) above Earth.