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Tue, 25 Jul 2017
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Comet 2

NASA unveils its asteroid defense plans

Humanity could face one less doomsday scenario if NASA has its way.

On Friday, the space agency announced plans to redirect the course of a small asteroid approaching Earth, as part of the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), according to a NASA press release.

The release notes that asteroids hit Earth nearly every day, but most are small enough to burn up in the atmosphere.

But the DART project -- a joint effort between NASA and the John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland -- is for the asteroids that are too big to break up -- those that could have severe consequences for the Earth if they hit.
"DART would be NASA's first mission to demonstrate what's known as the kinetic impactor technique -- striking the asteroid to shift its orbit -- to defend against a potential future asteroid impact," said Lindley Johnson, NASA's planetary defense officer in Washington, in the press release.
"This approval step advances the project toward an historic test with a non-threatening small asteroid."

Arrow Up

CERN's Large Hadron Collider: Unprecedented number of particles reached in record time

This plot shows the values of the luminosity reached during the last few weeks by the LHC, with the record of 1.58x1034 cm-2s-1 achieved on Wednesday 28 June.
An unprecedented number of particles has been reached in record time. Just five weeks after physics resumed, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is already running at full throttle. On Wednesday 28 June 2017 the LHC established yet another record-breaking high, with 2556 proton bunches circulating in each direction of the accelerator.

The beams in the LHC are made up of bunches of protons, spaced seven metres (25 nanoseconds) apart, with each one containing more than 100 billion protons. 2556 is the maximum possible number of bunches that can be reached with the beam preparation method currently used.

The particle bunches that are delivered to the LHC are prepared and accelerated by a chain of four accelerators. Since last year, a new method to group and split the bunches enables the particles to be squeezed even closer together. With an equal number of protons, the beam diameter was reduced by 40 per cent. Denser bunches means a higher probability of collisions at the centre of the experiments.


Cassini captures rare photos of Saturn's polar 'hexagon' storm

The lifespan of NASA's Cassini is coming to an end, but in one of its final acts the space probe has captured images of an incredible vortex that experts believe has been raging on Saturn for centuries.

In 1981, the US space agency's Voyager 2 spacecraft discovered a mass of clouds on the north pole of the gas giant that appeared to be permanently swirling.

Comet 2

Bizarro comet challenging researchers

© Florida Space Institute at UCF
llustration of Echeclus.
Scientists pursue research through observation, experimentation and modeling. They strive for all of these pieces to fit together, but sometimes finding the unexpected is even more exciting. That's what happened to University of Central Florida's astrophysicist Gal Sarid, who studies comets, asteroids and planetary formation and earlier this year was part of a team that published a study focused on the comet 174P/Echeclus. It didn't behave the way the team was expecting.

"This is another clue that Echeclus is a bizarre solar system object," said University of South Florida physics research Professor Maria Womack, who leads the team.

Comets streak across the sky and as they get closer to the sun look like bright fuzz balls with extended luminous trails in their wake. However, comets are actually bulky spheres of mixed ice and rock, many of them also rich in other frozen volatile compounds, such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrogen cyanide and methanol.

Comets heat up as they get closer to the sun, losing their icy layers by sublimation and producing emission jets of water vapor, other gases and dust expelled from the comet nucleus, Sarid said. Once they move away from the sun, they cool off again. But some comets start showing emission activity while still very far from the sun, where heating is low.


Two veterans get DARPA-developed prosthetic "LUKE arms" after 40yrs (VIDEOS)

© Timothy A. Clary / AFP
US Army veteran Fred Downs smiles as US Army Veteran Artie McAuley(R) is shown with his LUKE prosthetic arm, New York June 30, 2017.
Two retired army veterans who lost their arms more than 40 years ago have received revolutionary prosthetic limbs developed by the Pentagon. Their new futuristic arms, which are named after Luke Skywalker, can pick up small objects as fragile as an egg.
"Stirring with this, I'm cutting with that, dicing," Fred Downs said, as cited by CBS news. Downs lost his left arm below the elbow after being injured in the Vietnam War.

"It's the fun part of being able to use two hands to get all the vegetables prepared, and the meat prepared, and start the grill, and hold plates," he continued.
The second recipient, Artie McAuley, a retired Army captain who lost his left arm in a car accident, was also thrilled to receive his new limb. In order to lift the arm, an amputee has to lift his foot. Sensors in the wearer's shoes then pick up the motion and put the prosthetic limb into action.
"You have to be smart to do this," McAuley said, as cited by AFP. "Once in a while, I make a mistake!"

Comment: See also:


Hackers can target EEG headsets

© Michaela Rehle / Reuters
Electronic devices that harness the power of brain signals are one of the latest additions to the world of gaming. A new study has found, however, that hackers could also use such technology to access private information such as passwords and ATM pin codes.

A study by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham has provided an example of how devices that operate using brain signal monitoring, like electroencephalography (EEG), may be a future tool for cyber thieves.

Using two EEG headsets, one clinical and the other a commercial product available to consumers, lead researcher professor Nitesh Saxena was able to devise a way to eavesdrop on people's neural signals.

The study details an attack strategy known as PEEP, described as an advanced type of keylogging, where hackers surreptitiously record via a virus, or determine through sound analysis, strokes on a keyboard.


Chelyabinsk meteorite may have had previous collision or near-miss with other parts of solar system

© Victor Sharygin
Fragment of Chelyabinsk meteor currently being analyzed for mineral composition and signs of previous melting.
The meteor that starred in a thousand and one tweets as it shot across the Siberian sky last February apparently had a rough history.

The Chelyabinsk meteor, estimated to have been 55-65 feet in diameter before breaking up, may have had previous fiery encounters — either colliding into another body in the solar system or traveling too close to the Sun — before its spectacular crash to Earth, according to analysis of fragments from its crust and interior.

Hints of Heat

Presenting the new findings at a geochemical conference today in Florence, Italy, Victor Sharygin of Novosibirsk's Institute of Geology and Mineralogy said a detailed mineral analysis of fragments of the meteorite revealed some anomalies suggesting the rock had previously been melted.

Dividing the pieces into different gradations of color and structure, the team identified a concentration of dark fragments composed of fine-grained material formed by extremely intense melting. The dark fragments were distinct from the meteorite's fusion crust, a thin layer that melts and then solidifies as the rock travels through Earth's atmosphere. The dark fragments' structure included what the team described as "spherical bubbles," either encrusted with oxide, silicate and metal or filled with metal and sulfide.


Russian military lab unveils prototype Star Wars-like combat suit

© Ruptly
A major hi-tech Russian military research center has unveiled what appears to be a prototype of a next-generation combat suit. The stunning gear, resembling Star Wars outfits, will be worn by Russian soldiers on future battlefields.

The prototype features a helmet covering the soldier's face and cutting-edge body armor.

The next-generation combat gear also includes a powered exoskeleton to help increase performance and stamina while fighting.

The prototype was unveiled on Thursday at the opening of Russia's largest high-tech prototyping center at the National University of Science and Technology (MISIS) in Moscow.


Top astrophysicist warns that 'the next Tunguska will take us by surprise'

© Desconocido
A top astrophysicist says a city-destroying asteroid strike could take us by surprise.

Profressor Alan Fitzsimmons says that an event similar to the 1908 meteoroid explosion over the Tunguska region of Russia could happen again.

The meteor exploded above the Earth, levelling 80 million trees across an area of 800 square miles. China to send people to live on asteroids. Because of the remote location, no-one was killed - but if it had happened over a city the devastation would have been huge.

Comment: Further reading: Do asteroids present the 'greatest challenge' to humanity?


Uranus' magnetic fields flip open and closed on a daily basis

© Georgia Tech
Uranus is a strange place. Among many of its quirks is that it has the most unusual magnetic field in the solar system. Unlike Earth and many other planets, this field is not closely aligned with its rotational axis—it's tilted by 60 degrees. Added to this is the fact that Uranus rotates on its side as it circles the sun.

This strange arrangement causes Uranus's magnetic field, also known as its magnetosphere, to flip open and closed on a daily basis, new research suggests. When closed, it acts like an umbrella to deflect solar wind, the continual stream of charged particles produced by the sun that perpetually bombard Uranus and other planets. But when it's open, these energized particles rush in and get trapped there.

To help picture the arrangement, Georgia Institute of Technology professor Carol Paty suggests visualizing a child cartwheeling toward you—you'd see hands, then feet, then hands again, over and over. The hands represent an open magnetosphere, while the feet represents a closed orientation. And it keeps going like this, toggling back and forth about once every Uranian day, which lasts over 17 (earthly) hours.