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Thu, 23 Feb 2017
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Artificial auroras created and studied in Alaska

© KTUU
Anchorage - This week at the High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) about a half dozen scientists are running experiments, including Chris Fallen, Assistant Research Professor with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute.

Over the course of four nights, Fallen has been attempting to create and study the artificial aurora.

"The more we understand about the artificial aurora, it helps us understand the natural aurora and vice versa," says Fallen.

Natural aurora occurs because high speed electrons hit the upper atmosphere and collide with gases there. The resulting light appears as aurora to the human eye and camera lens.

Fallen is trying reproduce that using radio waves from HAARP as the energy source. "We're accelerating the electrons with radio waves through processes that are not fully understood and those electrons are accelerated to high velocities and collide with the gases in the atmosphere and create air-glow in basically the same colors as the natural aurora."

Fallen says part of his scientific objective during this campaign is to clarify the best conditions in the ionosphere to create a relatively bright artificial aurora. The first two nights of the campaign were impacted by space weather. Fallen says it's rather windy from the solar wind and it led to "ionospheric absorption."

"The radio waves from HAARP are being absorbed in lower regions of the atmosphere," says Fallen. "So they're not getting up to the higher regions where these artificial aurora and long distance propagation occur."

Photographers in the area of Gakona might get the chance to photograph the artificial aurora if clear skies prevail.

This is the first HAARP experiment campaign for the Geophysical Institute. Fallen says there are scientists from UAF and across the country on site doing a variety of experiments.

Galaxy

NASA announces discovery of 'Earth-sized' planets habitable enough to support life

© AFP
The newly-discovered 'exoplanets' could have life-supporting liquid water under the right atmospheric conditions, according to the space agency, but the chances of finding water in its liquid state are highest with the three in their star's 'habitable zone'.

NASA revealed the new findings about the exoplanets, meaning planets outside our solar system, at a special press event in Washington, DC.

The exoplanets circle the star TRAPPIST-1, which lies just 39 light-years from Earth. The discovery sets a new record for the greatest number of habitable-zone planets found around a single star outside our solar system.

"This discovery could be a significant piece in the puzzle of finding habitable environments, places that are conducive to life," Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said in a statement.

"Answering the question, 'Are we alone?' is a top science priority and finding so many planets like these for the first time in the habitable zone is a remarkable step forward toward that goal."

Jupiter

Mars collapsing moons could form rings, research claims

© NASA / Reuters
New research suggests that Mars has begun building Saturn-like rings using the destroyed fragments of two of its moons.

In a new paper published in the journal Icarus, researchers from the Physical Research Laboratory in India put forward the idea that some of the dust that surrounds Mars may one day accumulate into a set of rings encircling the Red Planet.

Astronomers have long speculated that Mars will one day be encircled by rings made of bits of rock from its two moons, Phobos and Deimos, similar to how Saturn is now.

Galaxy

Tune your radio: Galaxies sing when forming star

© Credit: Maud Galametz.
The compilation shows composite infrared images of these galaxies created from Spitzer (SINGS) and Herschel (KINGFISH) observations.
A team led from the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) has found the most precise way ever to measure the rate at which stars form in galaxies using their radio emission at 1-10 Gigahertz frequency range.

Galaxy

NASA to unveil new exoplanet discovery at news conference

© NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle
This artist's concept depicts one possible appearance of the planet Kepler-452b, the first near-Earth-size world to be found in the habitable zone of a star that is similar to our sun.
NASA is holding a news conference tomorrow (Feb. 22) to discuss "new findings on planets that orbit stars other than our sun, known as exoplanets," according to a statement from the agency.

The news conference begins at 1 p.m. EST (1800 GMT). No other specifics about the "new findings" have been made public, but "details ... are embargoed by the journal Nature" until 1 p.m. EST, according to the statement.

The news conference will feature five speakers: Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters; Michaël Gillon, astronomer at the University of Liège in Belgium; Sean Carey, manager of NASA's Spitzer Science Center at Caltech/IPAC in Pasadena; Nikole Lewis, astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore; and Sara Seager, professor of planetary science and physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Sara Seager is a leading exoplanet scientist who, among other things, is working on the problem of how to identify bio signatures in exoplanet atmospheres. The Space Telescope Science Institute is an astronomical research center as well as the mission operations center for the Hubble Space Telescope and NASA's planet-hunting Kepler telescope.

Bulb

Introducing the Robobee, science's answer to bee decline

© Dr. Eijiro Miyako
As the bee population in the United States continues to decline, some scientists are working on a backup option which many people are calling the Robobee.

A recent announcement coming out of the journal Chem, in an article by Eijiro Miyako, a chemist that the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Japan, involves the combination of a drone and a gel to create a robot version of the endangered pollinators.

Miyako and his team used a four-propeller drone to which they attached horse hairs in order to mimic the fuzzy body of a bee. They coated the horse hairs with the gel so that pollen would stick to the horse hairs which would then be carried from one plant to another.

Miyako said he doesn't believe that the drones would replace bees but that it could help bees with their pollinating duties. He said that the drones will need to become smarter, more energy efficient and have better maneuverability as well as better GPS and artificial intelligence before they can be realistically used.

Eye 1

Sony patents contact lenses that take pictures and record video when you blink

We can probably all agree on one thing: that technological gadgets are becoming smaller and smaller by the day. Now, contact lenses are getting smarter - well soon - and all thanks to nanotechnology.

The tech giant Sony has ramped up their technology from something that we've only seen in James Bond movies, to now being our reality. The company has filed for a patent that reveals how their smart contact lenses will take pictures and record videos just with a simple blink, storing them in a small memory space on the lens - or on the user's eyeballs.

Not only is Sony striving for this, but other tech giants such as Samsung and Google have made plans for their smart contact lenses, going public with their ideas of taking pictures, making videos and monitoring sugar intake; gamers will also experience enhanced gaming, and other possibilities are endless.

However, Sony's patent doesn't mean we'll be seeing them anytime soon. Nevertheless, Sony's release of the lens will contain a picture-taking unit, a central controlling unit, the main unit along with an antenna, a storage area and a piezoelectric sensor.

Telescope

Mapping the family tree of stars

© Institute of Astronomy
A family of trees in our solar system, including the Sun
Astronomers are borrowing principles applied in biology and archaeology to build a family tree of the stars in the galaxy. By studying chemical signatures found in the stars, they are piecing together these evolutionary trees looking at how the stars formed and how they are connected to each other. The signatures act as a proxy for DNA sequences. It's akin to chemical tagging of stars and forms the basis of a discipline astronomers refer to as Galactic archaeology.

It was Charles Darwin who in 1859 published his revolutionary theory that all life forms are descended from one common ancestor. This theory has informed evolutionary biology ever since but it was a chance encounter between an astronomer and a biologist over dinner at King's College in Cambridge that got the astronomer thinking about how it could be applied to stars in the Milky Way.

Writing in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Dr Paula Jofré, of the University of Cambridge's Institute of Astronomy, describes how she set about creating a phylogenetic "tree of life" that connects a number of stars in the galaxy. "The use of algorithms to identify families of stars is a science that is constantly under development. Phylogenetic trees add an extra dimension to our endeavours which is why this approach is so special. The branches of the tree serve to inform us about the stars' shared history," she says.

Eye 1

EU data protection authorities concerned over Windows 10 collection of user data

© Pixabay
European Union data protection authorities have expressed fresh concerns about the privacy of Microsoft's Windows 10 operating system, despite tweaks being made to the OS after questions were raised about its treatment of personal data last year.

In a letter, the Article 29 Working Group said it still has "significant concerns" about how Microsoft collects and processes users' personal data, and whether it obtains fully informed consent from users to do so.

"There is an apparent lack of control for users to prevent collection or further processing of such data. As a result, the Working Party specifically requests further explanatory information from Microsoft, as to how the opt-outs, default settings and other available control mechanisms presented during the installation of Windows 10 operating system provide a valid legal basis for the processing of personal data under the Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC. This is especially of concern where Microsoft would rely on consent as a legal basis for the processing of personal data," the statement said.

Windows 10 launched in July 2015, and almost immediately garnered criticism for the use of default settings to harvest voluminous amounts of user data, such as web browsing history, WIFI network names and passwords, in order to display personalized adverts as users browse the web or play games. User data is also fed in to train Microsoft's Cortana digital assistant.

People 2

New research finds that dopamine is involved in human bonding

The neurotransmitter dopamine is involved in human bonding, a new study has found for the first time. The finding, from Northeastern University psychology professor Lisa Feldman Barrett, brings the brain's reward system into our understanding of how we form human attachments.

The study, of 19 mother-infant pairs, has important implications for therapies addressing postpartum depression as well as disorders of the dopamine system such as Parkinson's disease, addiction, and social dysfunction.

Barrett, University Distinguished Professor of Psychology and author of the forthcoming book How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain, says:
"The infant brain is very different from the mature adult brain; it is not fully formed. Infants are completely dependent on their caregivers. Whether they get enough to eat, the right kind of nutrients, whether they're kept warm or cool enough, whether they're hugged enough and get enough social attention, all these things are important to normal brain development.

Our study shows clearly that a biological process in one person's brain, the mother's, is linked to behavior that gives the child the social input that will help wire his or her brain normally. That means parents' ability to keep their infants cared for leads to optimal brain development, which over the years results in better adult health and greater productivity."