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Thu, 25 May 2017
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See the Full 'Flower Moon' rise tonight

© Space
With the nights getting warmer, skywatchers will have a fine show tonight (May 10) from the May full moon, known as the Full Flower or Milk Moon.

The moon will appear in the constellation Libra, rising at 7:49 p.m. on May 10 for observers in New York City. The moon's exact moment of fullness will occur at 5:42 p.m. EDT (2142 GMT) as calculated by timeanddate.com, so most East Coast residents won't be able to see that exact moment — but the moon will still appear full in the sky over the course of the night. In New York City, the moon sets at 6:28 a.m. the morning of May 11. (These times will vary a bit as one moves farther south or north).


Death by asteroid may come in unexpected ways - from gusting winds and shock waves

Here’s an artist’s rendering of a large asteroid breaking up as it begins to plow through Earth’s atmosphere. If it lands it could do a lot of damage, but how much would depend on its size and collision site
Every now and then a really big rock from space comes careening through Earth's atmosphere. Depending on its size, angle of approach and where it lands, few people may notice — or millions could face a risk of imminent death.

Concern about these occasional, but potentially catastrophic, events keeps some astronomers scanning the skies. Using all types of technologies, they're scouting for a killer asteroid, one that could snuff out life in a brief but dramatic cataclysm. They're also looking for ways to potentially deter an incoming biggie from an earthboard path.

But if a big space rock were to make it to Earth's surface, what could people expect? That's a question planetary scientists have been asking themselves — and their computers. And some of their latest answers might surprise you.

For instance, it's not likely a tsunami will take you out. Nor an earthquake. Few would need to even worry about being vaporized by the friction-heated space rock. No, gusting winds and shock waves set off by falling and exploding space rocks would claim the most lives. That's one of the conclusions of a new computer model.

Alarm Clock

Experts: Massive sinkholes are now appearing in the wrong places

© AP/Matt Rourke
In this Jan. 9, 2017, file photo, workers inspect a sinkhole in Philadelphia.
Dora Linda Nishihara, 68, was driving in San Antonio one dark evening in early December when she suddenly disappeared from sight. Later, her car, with her body inside, was found at the bottom of a 12-foot-deep (3.7-meter), water-filled sinkhole that had swallowed the road ahead of her. Two days later, a school bus driver in Brooklyn, New York, ran into an 8-foot-wide (2.4-meter) crater on his route. Luckily, no children were on board and the driver survived with minor injuries.

Just last week, massive holes opened up in New York City's lower Manhattan, suburban Atlanta and San Francisco.

Sinkholes are not a new phenomenon in the United States, especially in a half dozen states where the geology makes them more likely. But a recent spate of huge, sudden-appearing caverns is prompting alarm because they're happening in places where they shouldn't, and now seem to be proliferating nationwide. The usual cause: crumbling water, drain and sewer pipes, often neglected by cities with budget problems.

Comment: Failing infrastructure is just one possible cause. Sinkholes are also linked to other earth changes and weather events. See Sinkholes: The groundbreaking truth for more details on how these events connect to current day cosmic and earth changes.

Cloud Lightning

What lightning does to rock quantified

© Reto Gieré
The study examined a rock fulgurite -- a thin layer of glass that forms when lightning strikes a rock's surface. The sample was collected from northern Italy's Mount Mottarone.
Benjamin Franklin, founder of the University of Pennsylvania, is believed to have experimented with lightning's powerful properties using a kite and key, likely coming close to electrocuting himself in the process. In a new set of experiments at Penn, researchers have probed the power of lightning in a less risky but much more technologically advanced fashion.

Chiara Elmi, a postdoctoral researcher in Penn's Department of Earth and Environmental Science in the School of Arts & Sciences, led the work, which used a suite of techniques to examine a fulgurite, a thin layer of glass that forms on the surface of rock when lightning hits it. Among other findings, the study discovered that, based on the crystalline material in the sample, the minimum temperature at which the fulgurite formed was roughly 1,700 degrees Celsius.

"People have been using morphological and chemical approaches to study rock fulgurites, but this was the first time a rock fulgurite was classified from a mineralogical point of view," Elmi said. "I was able to adapt an approach that I've used before to study the effects of meteorite impact in rocks and sediments to analyze a tiny amount of material in order to understand the phase transitions that occur when a lightning hits a rock."

Solar Flares

NASA footage captures sun shooting giant strands of plasma (VIDEO)

The strands were several times the size of Earth.
Giant strands of plasma several times the size of earth danced on the surface of the sun in a spectacular solar show. The beautiful display was captured by a NASA camera capable of filming the intense light emitted by the star.

The 40-second video consists of a series of images captured over a 22-hour period between May 2 and 3. Magnetic forces pulled at the strands, turning them into twisting lines that stretched across the surface of the sun.

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory used a camera which isolates ultraviolet light to capture the mesmerizing show. Despite being several times the size of the earth, according to NASA, the strands are not expected to cause any havoc elsewhere in the solar system.


Stunning! Hubble image captures hundreds of galaxies 6 billion light-years away

© NASA, ESA/Hubble, HST Frontier F
Abell 370 is one of the first galaxy clusters in which astronomers observed gravitational lensing, the warping of space-time by the cluster’s gravitational field that distorts the light from galaxies far behind it. Arcs and streaks in the picture are the stretched images of background galaxies.
In a breathtaking image of hundreds of galaxies, the Hubble Space Telescope provides an incredible display of a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing.

The telescope, run jointly by NASA and the European Space Agency, imaged a region six billion light-years away containing the galaxy cluster Abell 370.

Gravitational lensing, first proposed by physicist Albert Einstein in his general theory of relativity, warps space-time, bending light. In the case of this image, galaxies beyond the cluster spread out along multiple paths and appear in a few locations.

The longest streak in the image is the most dramatic display of lensing: there are four separate images of the single galaxy as the stretches and bends in an arc. In fact, all the arcs in this image are galaxies being bent through gravitational lensing.


Homo naledi, a newly added species to human family tree may have lived alongside our early ancestors

© Mark Thiessen
This reconstruction of Homo naledi by paleoartist John Gurche was crafted from skull remains from the Rising Star cave system's Dinaledi and Lesedi Chambers. H. naledi had primitive skeletal features, but the face, skull, and teeth show enough modern features to justify its placement in the genus Homo.
A year and a half after adding a puzzling new member to the human family tree, a team of researchers working in South Africa have offered an additional twist: the species is far younger than its bizarrely primitive body would suggest, and may have shared the landscape with early Homo sapiens.

First discovered in 2013 by two cavers exploring the Rising Star cave system near Johannesburg, a stunning trove of hominin remains—the single richest fossil site of its kind ever found in Africa—revealed a tiny-brained species with shoulders and a torso like an ape's, but with some unshakably humanlike features as well. The mosaic's name: Homo naledi, after the Sesotho word for "star."

Now, the species's star shines that much brighter. In papers published Tuesday in eLife, the team—led by University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) paleoanthropologist Lee Berger—provides an age range for the remains first reported in 2015: between 236,000 and 335,000 years old. The team also describes a second chamber within Rising Star that contains yet-undated H. naledi remains.

Eggs Fried

Turning chicken poop and weeds into biofuel

© Subversify Magazine
"Say what?"
Chicken is a favorite, inexpensive meat across the globe. But the bird's popularity results in a lot of waste that can pollute soil and water. One strategy for dealing with poultry poop is to turn it into biofuel, and now scientists have developed a way to do this by mixing the waste with another environmental scourge, an invasive weed that is affecting agriculture in Africa. They report their approach in ACS' journal Energy & Fuels.

Poultry sludge is sometimes turned into fertilizer, but recent trends in industrialized chicken farming have led to an increase in waste mismanagement and negative environmental impacts, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Droppings can contain nutrients, hormones, antibiotics and heavy metals and can wash into the soil and surface water. To deal with this problem, scientists have been working on ways to convert the waste into fuel. But alone, poultry droppings don't transform well into biogas, so it's mixed with plant materials such as switch grass.

Samuel O. Dahunsi, Solomon U. Oranusi and colleagues wanted to see if they could combine the chicken waste with Tithonia diversifolia (Mexican sunflower), which was introduced to Africa as an ornamental plant decades ago and has become a major weed threatening agricultural production on the continent.

The researchers developed a process to pre-treat chicken droppings, and then have anaerobic microbes digest the waste and Mexican sunflowers together. Eight kilograms of poultry waste and sunflowers produced more than 3 kg of biogas -- more than enough fuel to drive the reaction and have some leftover for other uses such as powering a generator. Also, the researchers say that the residual solids from the process could be applied as fertilizer or soil conditioner.


Sound advice: Human noise pervasive even in US protected areas, threatens endangered species

© US National Park Service
An acoustic recording station at Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, Golden Gate National Park, California.
Protected areas in the United States, representing 14 percent of the land mass, provide places for respite, recreation, and natural resource conservation. However, noise pollution poses novel threats to these protected areas, according to a first-of-its-kind study from scientists at Colorado State University and the U.S. National Park Service.

Researchers found that noise pollution was twice as high as background sound levels in a majority of U.S. protected areas, and caused a ten-fold or greater increase in noise pollution in 21 percent of protected areas.

Comment: "Although plants can't hear..." Plants do respond to vibration, which is the main component of sound. One might be able to make a case that noise directly, rather than indirectly, affects plants.
...plants can discern the sound of predators through tiny vibrations of their leaves — and beef up their defenses in response. ... When pure tones are played, some experiments have seen changes in plant growth, germination or gene expression. For instance, one recent study showed that young roots of corn will grow toward an auditory source playing continuous tones and even responded better to certain frequencies. ... Although it has not been proved, the suspicion is that plants can perceive sound through proteins that respond to pressure found within their cell membranes. Sound waves cause their leaves to vibrate ever so slightly, causing the plant to respond accordingly.

Life Preserver

Icelandic babies who can stand at four months make science headlines

© Iceland Monitor/ Eva Björk Ægisdóttir
A baby at a swimming class in Iceland. This class is at Ungbarnasund Erlu in Reykjavik.
Results of research conducted by Icelandic professor of neuropsychology, Hermundur Sigmundsson, have been published in a respected science magazine called Frontiers of Psychology and have gained much attention. This was reported by today's Morgunblaðið.

According to his research, children as young as four months old can stand by themselves, if they receive the right stimulation and exercise.