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Fri, 21 Oct 2016
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Science & Technology


Spy Satellites Turn Their Gaze Onto Each Other

Spy satellites have a new role: as well as watching us they are now spying on each other.

The Pentagon admitted last week that it is using two covert inspection satellites developed for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to assess damage to a failed geostationary satellite - something no one suspected the US could do. If such satellites can get that close to a target, they could probably attack it.

The Department of Defense says its Mitex micro-satellites, which were launched in 2006, have been jetting around the geostationary ring and have now jointly inspected DSP 23, which was designed to pinpoint clandestine missile launches and nuclear tests, but which stopped working a year after its November 2007 launch. The micro-satellites are trying to nail the problem.


NASA Sees Far Side of the Sun

The STEREO (Ahead) spacecraft observed this visually stunning prominence eruption on Sept. 29, 2008 in the 304 wavelength of extreme UV light. It rose up and cascaded to the right over several hours, appearing something like a flag unfurling, as it broke apart and headed into space. The material observed is actually ionized Helium at about 60,000 degrees. Prominences are relatively cool clouds of gas suspended above the sun and controlled by magnetic forces.

NASA's twin STEREO spacecraft are offering the first glimpse of the far side of the sun, the space agency announced today.

The two spacecraft, launched Oct. 25, 2006, are beaming back over-the-horizon images "that have researchers and forecasters glued to their monitors," according to a statement.

"This is a perspective we've never had before," says STEREO mission scientist Lika Guhathakurta of NASA headquarters. "We're now monitoring more than 270 degrees of solar longitude - that's 3/4ths of the star."


Ruins Hint at the Benefits of Volcanic Catastrophe

Wupatki ruins north of Flagstaff bear witness to the paradoxical blessings the region reaped from.

The earth trembled. The rock smoldered. The forest burned. And the holy man danced, his turquoise and coral beads bouncing on the chest of his finely woven tunic. The low wall of glowing lava rolled inexorably toward him at a slow walk, swallowing everything in its path with a gulp of flame and smoke.

The shaman danced up to the edge of the molten rock, feeling its heat on his face. Then he bent down before the molten rock, with the grace of a bow, and arranged three ears of corn in front of it - an offering, a frail prayer.

Then he danced backward, chanting - as the lava took the corn in a gulp, then rolled on toward the holy man's doomed village - unappeased.


C1XS Catches First Glimpse of X-ray From the Moon

© Unknown
The C1XS X-ray camera, jointly developed by the UK's STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), has successfully detected its first X-ray signature from the Moon. This is the first step in its mission to reveal the origin and evolution of our Moon by mapping its surface composition.

In orbit around the Moon on the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, C1XS detected the X-ray signal from a region near the Apollo landing sites on December 12th 2008 at 02:36 UT. The solar flare that caused the X-ray fluorescence was exceedingly weak, approximately 20 times smaller than the minimum C1XS was designed to detect.

"C1XS has exceeded expectations as to its sensitivity and has proven by its performance that it is the most sensitive X-ray spectrometer of its kind in history," said Ms. Shyama Narendranath, Instrument Operations Scientist at ISRO.

The X-ray camera collected 3 minutes of data from the Moon just as the flare started and the camera finished its observation. The signal reveals the X-ray fingerprint of a part of the lunar surface. As the mission continues, C1XS will build up a detailed picture of the ingredients that have gone into the Moon - our eighth continent.


Scientists use Brownian Motion to Explore How Birds Flock Together

© Quarkfolio
Inspired by recent research on locust swarms, scientists have used Brownian motion to model how individuals form swarms through escape and pursuit interactions.
How do thousands of fish swim together in giant schools, seemingly moving as a single body? Flocks of birds, herds of beasts, and a variety of other animals in nature seem to share this same "property" of coming together and moving in unison.

The phenomenon, called collective motion, is common in nature, exhibited by groups that fly, run, and swim, such as swarms of insects and colonies of bacteria. In collective motion, groups move together to form patterns as an organized (but not necessarily cooperative) single body. Scientists aren't sure exactly what mechanisms cause the emergence of collective motion. However, the natural phenomenon has attracted the interest of researchers in diverse fields such as physics and computer science.

In a recent study, researchers have modeled collective motion using Brownian particles, and they observed as individual particles interact via escape and pursuit movements. Motivated by a previous study that observed cannibalistic interactions in locust and cricket swarms, the scientists found that both escape and pursuit movements can cause collective motion, but escape movements dominated the particular case of insect swarming. Pawel Romanczuk and Lutz Schimansky-Geier of Humboldt University Berlin, and Iain D. Couzin of Princeton University, have published their study in a recent issue of Physical Review Letters.


Ring of Fire: Indian Ocean to See Solar Eclipse

© Unknown
A few lucky people in the Indian Ocean will be treated to a rare event when an annular solar eclipse will transform the Sun into a dark disc with a blazing ring-shaped corona around its rim.

A few lucky people in the Indian Ocean will be treated to a rare event on Monday when an annular solar eclipse will transform the Sun into a dark disc with a blazing ring-shaped corona around its rim.

In solar eclipses, the Moon moves between the Sun and Earth, casting its shadow on the terrestrial surface.

In an annular eclipse, a tiny shift in distance that results from celestial mechanics means the Moon does not completely cover the Sun's face, as it does in a total eclipse.

Instead, for those directly under the alignment, the Moon covers most of the Sun's surface, and a ring-like crown of solar light blazes from the edge of the disk.


New Insight Into How Bees See

© Monash University
Faces can dramatically change appearance when seen from different viewpoints, since the relationship between elements like nose and eyes change depending upon viewing angle. Bees solve this difficult visual problem by averaging previously learnt views.
New research from Monash University bee researcher Adrian Dyer could lead to improved artificial intelligence systems and computer programs for facial recognition.

Dr Dyer is one of Australia's leading bee experts and his latest research shows that honeybees can learn to recognise human faces even when seen from different viewpoints.

Dr Dyer said the research could be applied in the areas of new technology, particularly the development of imaging systems.


Dark flow: Proof of another universe?

© Unknown
Edge of the Universe

For most of us the universe is unimaginably vast. But not for cosmologists. They feel decidedly hemmed in. No matter how big they build their telescopes, they can only see so far before hitting a wall. Approximately 45 billion light years away lies the cosmic horizon, the ultimate barrier because light beyond it not has not had time to reach us.

So here we are, stuck inside our patch of universe, wondering what lies beyond and resigned to that fact we may never know. The best we can hope for, through some combination of luck and vigilance, is to spot a crack in the structure of things, a possible window to that hidden place beyond the edge of the universe. Now Sasha Kashlinsky believes he has stumbled upon such a window.

Kashlinsky, a senior staff scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, has been studying how rebellious clusters of galaxies move against the backdrop of expanding space. He and colleagues have clocked galaxy clusters racing at up to 1000 kilometres per second - far faster than our best understanding of cosmology allows. Stranger still, every cluster seems to be rushing toward a small patch of sky between the constellations of Centaurus and Vela.


Mars and Mercury Formed From Planetary Scraps According to New Theory

Mars and Mercury were formed from the scraps of Earth and Venus, according to a radical new theory of rocky planet formation. The model could explain some characteristics of Mars and Mercury that have long puzzled scientists, said Brad Hansen, an astronomer at the University of California, Los Angeles.

"In this picture, Mars and Mercury are essentially byproducts" of Earth and Venus, said Hansen, who presented his research at a recent meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Long Beach, California.


Genetic study perfectly separates individuals with Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry among European Americans

Carl Zimmer pointed me to a new paper, "A genome-wide genetic signature of Jewish ancestry perfectly separates individuals with and without full Jewish ancestry in a large random sample of European Americans." The title is so informative that pasting the abstract is almost unnecessary, but here is the conclusion which gets to the point:
In conclusion, we show that, at least in the context of the studied sample, it is possible to predict full Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry with 100% sensitivity and 100% specificity, although it should be noted that the exact dividing line between a Jewish and non-Jewish cluster will vary across sample sets which in practice would reduce the accuracy of the prediction. While the full historical demographic explanations for this distinction remain to be resolved, it is clear that the genomes of individuals with full Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry carry an unambiguous signature of their Jewish heritage, and this seems more likely to be due to their specific Middle Eastern ancestry than to inbreeding.