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Wed, 20 Feb 2019
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Ghostly planetary nebula glows in stunning new VLT image

ESO 577-24 nebula
ESO 577-24 was imaged by the FOcal Reducer/low dispersion Spectrograph 2 (FORS2) on ESO’s Very Large Telescope. The FORS2 instrument captured the bright, central star, Abell 36, as well as the surrounding planetary nebula. The red and blue portions of this image correspond to optical emission at red and blue wavelengths, respectively. An object much closer to home is also visible in this image — an asteroid wandering across the field of view has left a faint track below and to the left of the central star. And in the far distance behind the nebula a glittering host of background galaxies can be seen.
The European Southern Observatory (ESO) has released an absolutely beautiful photo taken by its Very Large Telescope (VLT) of a planetary nebula called ESO 577-24.

ESO 577-24, also known as IRAS F13378-1937 or 2MASS J13404134-1952553, resides approximately 1,400 light-years away from Earth.

It was discovered as part of the National Geographic Society-Palomar Observatory Sky Survey in the 1950s, and was recorded in the Abell Catalogue of Planetary Nebulae in 1966.

The dazzling nebula is the remains of a dead giant star that has thrown off its outer layers, leaving behind a small, intensely hot dwarf star.

This diminished remnant will gradually cool and fade, living out its days as the mere ghost of a once-vast red giant star.


Scientists decode Great White Shark genome

Great white Shark
© Composite adapted from Pixabay
Fort Lauderdale/Davie, Fla. - The great white shark is one of the most recognized marine creatures on Earth, generating widespread public fascination and media attention, including spawning one of the most successful movies in Hollywood history. This shark possesses notable characteristics, including its massive size (up to 20 feet and 7,000 pounds) and diving to nearly 4,000 foot depths. Great whites are also a big conservation concern given their relatively low numbers in the world's oceans.

In a major scientific step to understand the biology of this iconic apex predator and sharks in general, the entire genome of the white shark has now been decoded in detail.

A team led by scientists from Nova Southeastern University's (NSU) Save Our Seas Foundation Shark Research Center and Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI), Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, and Monterey Bay Aquarium, completed the white shark genome and compared it to genomes from a variety of other vertebrates, including the giant whale shark and humans.

The findings are reported in the 'Latest Articles' section of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA.

Decoding the white shark's genome revealed not only its huge size - one-and-a-half times the size of the human genome - but also a plethora of genetic changes that could be behind the evolutionary success of large-bodied and long-lived sharks.

The researchers found striking occurrences of specific DNA sequence changes indicating molecular adaptation (also known as positive selection) in numerous genes with important roles in maintaining genome stability ­­- the genetic defense mechanisms that counteract the accumulation of damage to a species' DNA, thereby preserving the integrity of the genome.


Isotopes found in Neanderthal bones suggest they were meat eaters

Neandertal Tooth
© MPI f. Evolutionary Anthropology/ A. Le Cabec
Tooth of an adult Neandertal from Les Cottés in France. Her diet consisted mainly of the meat of large herbivore mammals.
An international team of researchers has found evidence that suggests at least some Neanderthals were mainly fresh meat eaters. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the group describes testing protein samples discovered in Neanderthal bones and what they found.

Ever since scientists discovered the extinct species of human we now know as Neanderthal, our view of them has been changing. Initially, it was believed they were much less intelligent than us, had few if any skills, and in general, were more ape-like than human. And that included their diet-big apes are vegetarian, so it seemed logical to conclude that Neanderthal were, as well. But research over the years has shown them to be far more sophisticated than researchers first realized-they even managed to mate with modern humans. One remaining mystery is why they vanished. In this new effort, the researchers have not found any evidence to solve that mystery, but they have found evidence that suggests Neanderthals were neither vegetarians nor scavengers content to eat meat killed by other animals.

Comment: Considering the many similarities between Neanderthal and Homo sapien, it probably shouldn't be so surprising that, like humans (up until very recently anyway), meat constituted the primary source of nutrition in their diet:


Garnets found to be honeycombed with intricate tunnel patterns - researchers speculate they are biologically caused

tunnels in garnets
© Ivarsson et al, 2018
Garnet crystal with distinct tubular structures. and Microphotograph of network of tubular structures originating at garnet surface.
Experts discovered strange tunnel-like patterns inside the gem stones - used in rings and necklaces - that they believe may have been created by a form of fungus.

Complex systems of microscopic tunnels found inside garnet crystals from Thailand are most likely the result of microorganisms making their homes inside these minerals, according to a study published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Magnus Ivarsson of the University of Southern Denmark and colleagues.

Endolithic organisms are those that live inside a substrate, be it mineral, wood, bone, or some other material. Some microbes move into pre-existing cavities while others dig their own way in, but this behavior is unexpected in highly resistant minerals like garnet.


New map of the Universe reveals 300,000 more galaxies

© AFP/File / Joseph EID
The study used radio astronomy to look at a segment of sky and found 300,000 previously unseen light sources thought to be distant galaxies
The known Universe just got a lot bigger.

A new map of the night sky published Tuesday charts hundreds of thousands of previously unknown galaxies discovered using a telescope that can detect light sources optical instruments cannot see.

The international team behind the unprecedented space survey said their discovery literally shed new light on some of the Universe's deepest secrets, including the physics of black holes and how clusters of galaxies evolve.

"This is a new window on the universe," Cyril Tasse, an astronomer at the Paris Observatory who was involved in the project, told AFP.

"When we saw the first images we were like: 'What is this?!' It didn't look anything at all like what we are used to seeing."


Exotic spiraling electrons discovered

Spiraling Electrons
© Hsiang-Hsi (Sean) Kung / Rutgers University-New Brunswick
The two types of chiral surface excitons are on the right and left side of the image. They are generated by right- and left-handed light (photons in blue). The excitons consist of an electron (light blue) orbiting a ‘hole’ (black) in the same orientation as the light. The electron and hole are annihilated in less than a trillionth of a second, emitting light (photons in green) that could be harnessed for lighting, solar cells, lasers and electronic displays.
Rutgers University's Professor Girsh Blumberg and colleagues have discovered an exotic form of electrons that spin like planets. Named chiral surface excitons, it consists of particles and anti-particles bound together and swirling around each other on the surface of solids.

"Chiral refers to entities, like your right and left hands, that match but are asymmetrical and can't be superimposed on their mirror image," said team member Hsiang-Hsi (Sean) Kung, a graduate student at Rutgers University.

"Excitons form when intense light shines on solids, kicking negatively charged electrons out of their spots and leaving behind positively charged 'holes'."

The electrons and holes resemble rapidly spinning tops.

The electrons eventually spiral towards the holes, annihilating each other in less than a trillionth of a second while emitting a kind of light called photoluminescence.

Chart Pie

The impossible protein: Research confirm's Doug Axe on the rarity of functional proteins

Saraha desert
© Luca Galuzzi, via Wikimedia Commons
In a previous article I described the evidence that cooption faces insurmountable mathematical challenges in explaining the origins of such complex molecular machines as the bacterial flagellum. Some of my argument relies on the evidence that novel proteins are exceedingly difficult to evolve. In discussions with critics, several important questions were raised which led me to further research studies addressing the effect of mutations on protein stability. I found that the consistent results of key studies decisively confirm the conclusion of Doug Axe that most natural proteins are too rare to evolve through an undirected search.

Accumulating Mutations

As I noted earlier, evolutionists argue that each protein comprising a flagellum resulted from the duplication of an existing gene which then continuously mutated until it stumbled upon a new flagellar function. However, research over the past several years has shown this claim to be implausible. Understanding why will require a few steps of analysis. To begin, experiments on such model proteins as β-lactamase and HisA demonstrate that their activity declines increasingly rapidly as mutations that change amino acids accumulate, and the mutations' deleterious effects also increase.

As a specific example, the Tokuriki and Tawfik study demonstrated the following effects of accumulating mutations:
  • After only a few random mutations (1-2) under weak selection, around a third of subsequent changes to a protein completely disable it.
  • After several more mutations accumulate (5-6), the protein is inactivated by slightly under two-thirds of subsequent changes.
  • After random alteration of less than 10 percent of the protein's initial sequence, it becomes permanently nonfunctional (fitness approaches zero).
The corresponding rarity (ratio of functional to nonfunctional amino acid sequences) can be calculated working backwards. The number of sequences that differ from an optimal one by a given number of amino acids increases almost exponentially with the number, so a random search would find a barely functional sequence long before an optimized one. Therefore, estimating the upper limit for the probability of a successful trial must focus on this neighborhood of sequence space (map of all possible sequences).


Asteroid the size of Big Ben will skim past Earth today

A massive asteroid believed to measure 280ftin diameter is set to fly past Earth this afternoon at a dizzying speed of 30,422 miles per hour.

The asteroid, dubbed 2013 MD8, is expected to skim past Earth at just over 3 million miles away, or about 13 times the distance between Earth and the moon, at 12:55pm (ET) on Tuesday.

The huge space rock is expected to make a 'close approach' to Earth, but its trajectory should see it soar safely by.

The asteroid, dubbed 2013 MD8, is expected to skim past Earth at just over 3 million miles away, or about 13 times the distance between Earth and the moon, at 12:55pm (ET) on Tuesday

NASA considers an asteroid to be 'hazardous' if they come within 4,600,000 miles of our planet.

Comment: NASA has documented a sharp uptick in NEOs which potentially pose a threat to civilization, but more concerning are these that we have yet to detect. As noted in the article Earth enters densest stream of deadly Taurid meteor cluster this June:
But moving down the size scale, the census is far spottier. Only about 30 percent of medium-size objects - 140 meters (460 feet) in diameter or larger - have been spotted. And she said only about 1 percent of objects have been found that are the size of the Tunguska impactor, which was about 40 meters (130 feet) in diameter. She said she welcomed the idea of a special effort to look for objects during the Taurid swarm in June.
And if an asteroid the size of that in Tunguska struck over a major city it would cause mass mortality.

See also: And to hear what the historical records have to say on the matter, check out SOTT radio's: Behind the Headlines: Who was Jesus? Examining the evidence that Christ may in fact have been Caesar!


New 'shape' for coronal mass ejections revealed during observations

Coronal mass ejection
© LV4260/Getty Images
An artist's impression of a coronal mass ejection.
Astronomers using one of the most sensitive arrays of radio telescopes in the world have caught a huge storm erupting on the sun and observed material flung from it at more than 3000 kilometres a second, a massive shockwave and phenomena known as herringbones.

In the journal Nature Astronomy, Diana Morosan from the University of Helsinki in Finland and her colleagues report detailed observations of the huge storm, a magnetic eruption known as a coronal mass ejection (CME).

Unlike the herringbones a biologist might find while dissecting, well, a herring, the team found a data-based version while dissecting the radio waves emitted during the violent event.

The shape of the fish skeleton emerged when they plotted the frequencies of radio waves as the CME evolved. The spine is a band of emission at a constant frequency, while the vertical offshoot "bones" on either side were sudden short bursts of radiation at a much wider range of frequencies.

Herringbones have been found in the sun's radio-wave entrails before, but this is the first time that such a sensitive array of radio telescopes has recorded them. The detailed data enabled Morosan and colleagues for the first time to pin down the origin of the radiation bursts.

To their surprise, the bones were being created in three different locations, on the sides of the CME.

"I was very excited when I first saw the results, I didn't know what to make of them," Morosan says.

Blue Planet

Russia's private "space yachts" to fly tourists to near-Earth orbit in 5 years

Selena Space Yacht
© NPO Aviation and Space Technologies
Selena Space Yacht
Private space tourism is taking off in Russia with plans to send tourists to near-Earth orbit in spacecraft capable of launching from ordinary airfields, chief designer of NPO Aviation and Space Technologies Aleksandr Begak said.

He told Sputnik news agency the first flights may start in five years and will cost about $200,000 to $300,000 per person.

According to Begak, a number of private companies are currently working on the unmanned spacecraft dubbed Selena Space Yacht. The works are conducted with the support of the National Technology Initiative's (NTI) AeroNet and SpaceNet working groups.

Comment: See also: