Jumat, 30 Maret 2012

Electric Car from Rolls-Royce



Rolls-Royce's CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös has said that the automaker won't be building a production version of its 102EX electric Phantom concept any time soon.

The car was unveiled with a great fanfare in February 2011, fulfilling a two-year-old promise that the company would experiment with battery power. At the time Müller-Ötvös said that the experiment was crucial for informing future decisions on alternative technologies. It even set up a dedicated website to debate whether you could have a super luxury electric vehicle.




After letting members of the media and potential customers test drive the vehicle, it appears to have decided that Rolls-Royce's future isn't going to be electric. At least not for now.

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The company says that demand for such a car - that could end up costing as much £600,000, double the price of a petrol-fuelled vehicle -- isn't sufficient to warrant its production.

Müller-Ötvös told Car and Driver that the car's acceleration and silence were praised but the charging times (several hours) and the range (120 miles) were not acceptable. He was open to alternative powertrains, and admitted that a hybrid could work.

Flap Your Arms And Fly Like a Bird!



Jarno Smeets has been working for several months on his Human Bird Wings project -- assembling long nylon wings powered by outrunner motors, rigging up a complicated Android + Arduino + Wii arm-waving control system -- and now -- according to the video he's just published -- they work! Man can fly!


Some people are somewhat skeptical that little motors, shallow flapping, and trotting along a flat field are enough to launch a tall Dutchman into the air. You can watch the video and let us know what you think.


Snowing with Microbes on Enceladus?


Aside from ancient Mars, the moons of Saturn might be one of the best places to look for life outside this planet. The methane lakes of Titan are promising places, but so are the spewing plumes of ice on Enceladus — and the latter would be an easy one to check, as it turns out. The Cassini orbiter just flew through them, and Cassini scientists want to go back and take a longer look.

Cassini has been examining Enceladus‘ ghostly, icy plumes for several years now, tasting the water, ice and organic material flying out of them. (Organic meaning carbon-based compounds, not necessarily living material.) The plumes are also piping hot, at least in distant solar system terms — about -120 degrees F, which equates to lots of thermal energy. And perhaps the most tantalizing part? The icy particles are salty, possessing the same salinity as Earth’s oceans.


Enceladus might have a vast interior sea, and it also has an energy source in the form of massive tidal forces courtesy of its planet. Saturn’s wrenching gravitational pull flexes Enceladus’ interior, generating heat. Heat and salty water sounds a lot like environments on Earth — like subterranean microbe communities in places like Yellowstone, or perhaps the thriving ecosystems that exist in hydrothermal vents in the absence of sunlight. Could Enceladus host any such life forms?

Enceladus Jets Dramatic plumes spray water ice from many locations near the south pole of Saturn's moon Enceladus. More than 30 individual jets of different sizes can be seen in this image captured during a flyby from NASA's Cassini spacecraft on Nov. 21, 2009. NASA/Cassini Imaging Science Team

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It would be fairly simple to find out, according to Carolyn Porco, a renowned Cassini scientist and leader of the spacecraft’s imaging science team. All you’d need to do is fly by and take a whiff.
“It sounds crazy, but it could be snowing microbes on the surface of this little world,” she says in an interview with NASA’s science news portal. “It’s the most promising place I know of for an astrobiology search. We don't even need to go scratching around on the surface. We can fly through the plume and sample it. Or we can land on the surface, look up and stick our tongues out.  And voilà…we have what we came for.”

Simply flying through the plume would be easier than designing an interplanetary boat, at least.


 Enceladus: Cassini flew just 46 miles above Enceladus' south pole on March 27, 2012, cruising right through the spewing plumes seen here. This image is from 2009.  NASA/Cassini Imaging Science Team

First Living Animal Captured via Scanning Electron Microscopy



Bombarded with electrons and sealed in a vacuum, the noble tick survived the ordea. You didn’t wake up this morning thinking that a tick under a scanning electron microscope was going to be the coolest thing you saw all day, and yet here you are. After discovering some ticks alive inside a vacuum drying chamber, Yasuhito Ishigaki of Kanazawa Medical University decided to see if the hardy little bloodsuckers could stand up to the electron bombardment and vacuum conditions inside a scanning electron microscope (SEM). They could, and he’s got the video to prove it.




SEM rigs are great for capturing very fine detail of very small things, but they aren’t easy on their subjects. They work by bombarding a sample with electrons and recording how they scatter to create an image. Air interferes with this electron beam, so all this takes place inside a vacuum. And samples are often stained or even coated with metal beforehand to enhance the resolution of the microscopy.


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All said, life is not good for a SEM sample. In fact, putting anything living into an SEM sample chamber pretty much ensures that it won’t be living when you take it out. But this clearly isn’t true for ticks. In the video below, you can clearly see the tick moving its legs. Ishigaki did this with 20 different ticks, and all of them survived, making them the first animals to ever be scanned with SEM.



VIrgin Sends Humans Back into Mariana Trench


If you thought space was the only frontier Virgin has an interest in tackling, you’ve been missing out on Virgin Oceanic’s drive to pilot the first manned submersible all the way to the very bottom of the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench--and thus dive deeper than any solo human has ever dived before. It’s a cool story that is still ongoing, and PopSci favorite IEEE Spectrum has an amazing semi-long read from its March issue up online today.

If you’re short on context, the context is this: the Mariana Trench is the deepest subsea place on the planet, reaching a known depth of more than six-and-three-quarters miles (some measurements are deeper but unconfirmed). Only two people have been down there, together, back in 1960 aboard what’s known as a bathyscaphe. The pressure there is something like 1,100 times greater than that at sea level--enough to crush most submersibles like an empty beer can. The temperatures down there are absolutely frigid. So naturally, Virgin is going to send a lone human down there.

The short video trailer below provides a bit more background, but we highly recommend a click through to the IEEE Spectrum piece, which takes you aboard the expedition paving the way for the manned dive. It’s worth perusing.





Find the Nex Image for NASA


Nasa wants you to help search for spectacular but overlooked images from the Hubble space telescope.
Hubble has made more than a million observations during its two decades in orbit. Astronomers working with Hubble data have created amazing, iconic images of gaseous nebulae, forming stars, and massive galaxies.



Only a handful of researchers have looked at much of the Hubble archive, which is stored in an online public database. Nasa and the European Space Agency, which jointly run Hubble's website, want people to discover what's been overlooked.

The agencies are now running two contests for the best hardly-before-seen Hubble pictures. Because the multifaceted images are scientific data and not normal digital photographs, they contain far more information than is visible to the naked eye. By manipulating the images, members of the public may potentially reveal a different side of a famous picture such as the one above or uncover something completely new.

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For Hubble's Hidden Treasures Contest, amateur astronomers can use simple online tools to adjust the zoom, contrast, and color balance on images, and save the work in a standard JPEG form. Upload the pictures to a special Flickr page and they may be featured as future Hubble images of the week (or perhaps find their way onto Wired.com's space photo of the day collection). The user who submits the best photo will win an iPod touch.

If you want to dig deeper and learn how to use some astronomical image processing software, try Hubble's Hidden Treasures Image Processing Contest. Users can download raw Hubble data and manipulate the files to produce beautiful new results. Several different software options exist for the interested amateur image processor, including a free Photoshop plugin called Fits Liberator. Participants can upload their images to the competition's Flickr page and the winner will receive an iPad.

Selasa, 28 Februari 2012

Cold Fusion Race: NASA, MIT, DARPA and CERN

Four months ago, Andrea Rossi demonstrated what he claims was a one-megawatt "Energy Catalyser" -- or E-Cat -- which produces power by cold fusion. This technology, also known as Low Energy Nuclear Reaction (LENR), had been consigned to the deepest cellar of fringe science.

Now it's hammering on the cellar door, and Nasa, MIT, Darpa and Cern are among those peering through the keyhole, wondering if it should be allowed back in with respectable science. As part of Wired.co.uk's continued coverage of progress in this controversial field, we have investigated recent developments.

Nasa

Nasa has started giving very mixed signals on cold fusion. After years of silence on the issue, a piece appeared on its website stating that LENR tests carried out at Nasa's Glenn Research Centre "consistently show evidence of anomalous heat," indicating that cold fusion was taking place. There is also a link to a paper given at an LENR Workshop held at Glenn in September 2011. However, when questioned, a Nasa spokesman stated out that there was no Nasa cold fusion project, and no budget for it. The work appears to be carried out on the side by interested Nasa scientists.




Even more dramatically, on 16 January a video appeared on Nasa's Technology Gateway site, essentially a marketplace for commercialising technology developed at Nasa. This featured Dr Joseph Zawodny talking about his "Method for Enhancement of Surface Plasmon Polaritons to Initiate & Sustain LENR." In this Dr Zawodny says the technology has the potential to provide home heating and electricity, cleanly and without nuclear waste.

The video release was quickly followed by a long post on Dr Zawodny's blog explaining that he was expressing his own views on LENR and not those of Nasa. In response to the clamour from Rossi's fans, he stressed that he was not yet convinced the E-Cat works: "I am unaware of any clear and convincing demonstrations of any viable commercial device producing useful amounts of net energy."
Steven Krivit of New Energy Times used the Freedom of Information Act to get details of more Nasa LENR presentations and clearly there's quite a fan club there.

Cern

Meanwhile Cern is holding a colloquium on LENR, scheduled for 22 March. This will be available live via webcast, and will be given by Francesco Celani from the Italian National Institute of Nuclear Physics.
Cern is of course a major bastion of mainstream science; a search of Cern's site shows just eight papers on cold fusion compared to over 8,000 on conventional hot fusion. The colloquium seems like inviting a heretic to preach in a cathedral. A recent presentation shows that Celani is a strong advocate for LENR, suggesting that the challenge now is understanding exactly how it works. (He also states that Rossi's claims, though not impossible, need independent verification)


MIT

MIT, which played a key role in discrediting the original cold fusion studies in 1989, might also be shifting its position a little. This January for the first time there was a short course called "Cold Fusion 101." This was taught by Peter Hagelstein, who has been working on LENR for many years. According to a report in Cold Fusion Times, the course included a working demonstration of LENR showing measurable excess of heat.

Darpa

Darpa, the Pentagon's Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, has been quietly pursuing LENR for some years. Its budget plans for next year, released earlier this month, listed some significant achievements: "Continued quantification of material parameters that control degree of increase in excess heat generation and life expectancy of power cells in collaboration with the Italian Department of Energy. Established ability to extend active heat generation time from minutes to 2.5 days for pressure-activated power cells."
However, when contacted Darpa were unable to comment on this work.
But what of Andrea Rossi and Defkalion?

Andrea Rossi

In the meantime, Andrea Rossi has been playing the tightrope walker, always appearing to be a whisker from tumbling into the abyss. The University of Bologna terminated an agreement to explore the E-Cat after he failed to make a progress payment; but a later statement indicated it was still keen to work with him.
As New Energy Times noted, the original one-megawatt device which was supposedly sold to a mystery customer months ago has not moved. When he has free heating, why is his Bologna factory so cold that Rossi needs an overcoat in one video? Rossi responded in terms of the size of the space and the available E-Cats.
More digging by New Energy Times suggested that Rossi was not in fact working in partnership with National Instruments as he has claimed. However, a later statement by the company confirmed that Rossi's account was substantially correct, even if he was not an actual customer.

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If Rossi has not produced anything tangible in the last few months, he has certainly come up with plenty of vapourware. The entire E-Cat design has been revamped and upgraded. Instead of costing thousands, the price of a ten-kilowatt domestic E-Cat will now be between 500-700 Euros. It will be the size of a desktop PC and able to directly replace existing boilers, and will be refuelled by changing a simple cartridge every six months. In a year or two's time, Rossi says it will also be possible to generate electricity from an E-Cat.
Rossi claims that almost 100,000 people have signed up to express interest in ordering an E-Cat: "You will be put in the waiting list and in Autumn you will receive a precise offer: at that point you will be free to cancel the order or confirm it. The deliveries could start within one year (could, not will)."

Rossi also claims that he will have a completely robotised production line which will churn out a million E-Cats in the first year alone. However, the very existence of the factory remains unproven, along with his mystery customer, mystery business partners, mystery suppliers and the mystery investors who now apparently control his company, Leonardo Corp.
Perhaps Rossi's "precise offer" might ask customers to make a deposit. It would take a very trusting soul to hand over cash without the sort of evidence that Zawodny and Celani seek.

Defkalion Green

While Rossi has declined to give any further public or scientific demonstrations, saying that he wants to leave it to the market, his rival Defkalion Green technologies has seemingly taken a much bolder approach. It has invited independent testers to carry out trials on its Hyperion LENR reactor.

We know that seven independent test groups will be involved, but there things get a bit murky. Non-disclosure agreements are in place, and it is not certain what information will be released or when: if the Very Big Oil Corporation finds the Hyperion works, it might prefer to talk to Defkalion itself rather than publicising it. (And big oil might just be interested -- the indefatigable Steven Krivit found that Royal Dutch Shell has started looking for opportunities to work with LENR experts.)

What we do know is that according to the test protocol, one live and one inert Hyperion will be tested side by side for 48 hours, with the inert machine acting as a control. Then the active component will be removed from the live and placed in the inert one, and the test will be run again, so the complete test will take a minimum of four days.
Defkalion has confirmed that the tests will start on 24 February. According to Sterling Allan of Peswiki, who visited Defkalion a couple of weeks ago, the first round of tests will be carried out by a Greek government organisation. Defkalion has not released anything about the identity of the testers.
So perhaps the Greek government will soon announce a fantastic new energy source, one that will solve the country's economic problems at a stroke and provide the world with unlimited cheap energy. No doubt they would love to do that… and the rest of us will also await test results with interest.


Clouds Closer to Earth


Chicken Licken was right, the sky really is falling. Nasa satellite data has shown that the Earth's cloud tops have been lowering over the last decade.


 Cloud-top height fell one percent on average between March 2000 and February 2010, according to measurements from the multi-angle imaging spectroradiometer mounted on Nasa's Terra satellite. That one percent means a reduction of 30 to 40 metres in the average maximum height of clouds, during the 00s.

While the short record means it's difficult to draw any strong conclusions from the data, it does hint towards a longer-term trend. Roger Davies, the lead researcher on the project, warns that it's something that should be monitored in the coming decades to determine how significant it is for global temperatures.




If there is indeed a consistent reduction in cloud height, and this isn't just natural variability, then Earth would begin cooling to space more efficiently, reducing the surface temperatures and slowing the effects of climate change. 

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"We don't know exactly what causes the cloud heights to lower," says Davies. "But it must be due to a change in the circulation patterns that give rise to cloud formation at high altitude." The Terra spacecraft, which launched in 1999 and records three-dimensional images of clouds around the globe, will continue gathering data in the coming years.

Hubble Telescope Spots Exoplanet Made of Water


GJ 1214b, a planet some 40 light-years from Earth, is a water world. It's almost entirely made of liquid, has an estimated temperature of 230C and is enshrouded by a steamy atmosphere.

"The high temperatures and high pressures would form exotic materials like hot ice or superfluid water: substances that are completely alien to our everyday experience," explains Zachory Berta of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.




It's classified as a super-Earth, as the planet is about 2.7 times Earth's diameter and weighs almost seven times as much. It orbits its star every 38 hours at a distance of just two million kilometres, resulting in those super-hot temperatures.



The planet was first discovered in 2009, by the ground-based MEarth Project. The next year, astronomers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) measured the exoplanet's atmosphere, and found that it could be composed mainly of water.

But those observations could also be explained if the planet just had a thick, hazy atmosphere. So, the team waited for GJ 1214b to cross in front of its host star (a red dwarf). When that happens, the star's light is filtered through the planet's atmosphere, giving hints to the mix of gases it contains.

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"We're using Hubble to measure the infrared colour of sunset on this world," explained the CfA team leader.
The team used Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) to watch the planet's transit, and found the spectrum of GJ 1214b to be featureless over a wide range of wavelengths. That's consistent with a dense atmosphere of water vapour, suggesting the planet is covered by steam -- not haze.

Because the team knows the planet's mass and size, they can calculate the density. It comes out at about about two grams per cubic centimetre -- seeing as water has a density of one gram per cubic centimetre, and the Earth's average density is 5.5 grams per cubic centimetre, GJ 1214b has much more water and much less rock than our so-called "Blue Marble".

The liquid planet has been flagged as a "prime candidate" for study by Hubble's successor: the James Webb Space Telescope, when it launches around 2018.

Solid Buckyballs in Space Found by Spitzer Telescope


After finding gaseous clouds of buckyballs in space last year, astronomers have now discovered the carbon balls in a solid form, around a pair of stars some 6,500 light-years from Earth.

Buckyballs are microscopic spheres, where 60 carbon atoms are arranged -- with alternating patterns of hexagons and pentagons -- into a football-like pattern. The unusual structure makes them incredibly strong, and ideal candidates for things like superconducting materials, medicines, water purification and armour.




They got their name because of their resemblance to the geodesic domes of the architect Buckminster Fuller.


So far, they've only been found in gas form in space. In 2010, astronomers using the Spitzer space telescope found the balls in a planetary nebula called Tc 1.
But with this latest discovery, again using data from Nasa's Spitzer space telescope, astronomers found particles consisting of stacked buckyballs. They had stacked together like oranges in a crate to form a solid shape.

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"The particles we detected are minuscule, far smaller than the width of a hair, but each one would contain stacks of millions of buckyballs," said the paper's lead author Nye Evans of Keele University in England.
The research team was able to identify the solid form of buckyballs in the Spitzer data because they emit light in a unique way that differs from the gaseous form. In all, the team detected enough solid buckyballs to fill the equivalent in volume to 10,000 Mount Everests.

"This exciting result suggests that buckyballs are even more widespread in space than the earlier Spitzer results showed," said Mike Werner, project scientist for Spitzer at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "They may be an important form of carbon, an essential building block for life, throughout the cosmos."

New Blood Types Discovered



You probably know your blood type: A, B, AB or O. You may even know if you're Rhesus positive or negative. But how about the Langereis blood type? Or the Junior blood type? Positive or negative? Most people have never even heard of these.
Yet this knowledge could be "a matter of life and death," says University of Vermont biologist Bryan Ballif.
While blood transfusion problems due to Langereis and Junior blood types are rare worldwide, several ethnic populations are at risk, Ballif notes. "More than 50,000 Japanese are thought to be Junior negative and may encounter blood transfusion problems or mother-fetus incompatibility," he writes.


 But the molecular basis of these two blood types has remained a mystery — until now.
In the February issue of Nature Genetics, Ballif and his colleagues report on their discovery of two proteins on red blood cells responsible for these lesser-known blood types.
Ballif identified the two molecules as specialized transport proteins named ABCB6 and ABCG2.
"Only 30 proteins have previously been identified as responsible for a basic blood type," Ballif notes, "but the count now reaches 32."

The last new blood group proteins to be discovered were nearly a decade ago, Ballif says, "so it's pretty remarkable to have two identified this year."

Both of the newly identified proteins are also associated with anticancer drug resistance, so the findings may also have implications for improved treatment of breast and other cancers.
As part of the international effort, Ballif, assistant professor in UVM's biology department, used a mass spectrometer funded by the Vermont Genetics Network. With this machine, he analyzed proteins purified by his longtime collaborator, Lionel Arnaud at the French National Institute for Blood Transfusion in Paris, France.

Ballif and Arnaud, in turn, relied on antibodies to Langereis and Junior blood antigens developed by Yoshihiko Tani at the Japanese Red Cross Osaka Blood Center and Toru Miyasaki at the Japanese Red Cross Hokkaido Blood Center.

After the protein identification in Vermont, the work returned to France. There Arnaud and his team conducted cellular and genetic tests confirming that these proteins were responsible for the Langereis and Junior blood types. "He was able to test the gene sequence," Ballif says, "and, sure enough, we found mutations in this particular gene for all the people in our sample who have these problems."

Beyond the ABO blood type and the Rhesus (Rh) blood type, the International Blood Transfusion Society recognizes twenty-eight additional blood types with names like Duffy, Kidd, Diego and Lutheran. But Langereis and Junior have not been on this list. Although the antigens for the Junior and Langereis (or Lan) blood types were identified decades ago in pregnant women having difficulties carrying babies with incompatible blood types, the genetic basis of these antigens has been unknown until now.

Therefore, "very few people learn if they are Langereis or Junior positive or negative," Ballif says.
"Transfusion support of individuals with an anti-Lan antibody is highly challenging," the research team wrote in Nature Genetics, "partly because of the scarcity of compatible blood donors but mainly because of the lack of reliable reagents for blood screening." And Junior-negative blood donors are extremely rare too. That may soon change.

With the findings from this new research, health care professionals will now be able to more rapidly and confidently screen for these novel blood group proteins, Ballif wrote in a recent news article. "This will leave them better prepared to have blood ready when blood transfusions or other tissue donations are required," he notes.




"Now that we know these proteins, it will become a routine test," he says.

This science may be especially important to organ transplant patients. "As we get better and better at transplants, we do everything we can to make a good match," Ballif says. But sometimes a tissue or organ transplant, that looked like a good match, doesn't work — and the donated tissue is rejected, which can lead to many problems or death.

"We don't always know why there is rejection," Ballif says, "but it may have to do with these proteins."

The rejection of donated tissue or blood is caused by the way the immune system distinguishes self from not-self. "If our own blood cells don't have these proteins, they're not familiar to our immune system," Ballif says, so the new blood doesn't "look like self" to the complex cellular defenses of the immune system. "They'll develop antibodies against it," Ballif says, and try to kill off the perceived invaders. In short, the body starts to attack itself.

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"Then you may be out of luck," says Ballif, who notes that in addition to certain Japanese populations, European Gypsies are also at higher risk for not carrying the Langereis and Junior blood type proteins.
"There are people in the United States who have these challenges too," he says, "but it's more rare."
Ballif and his international colleagues are not done with their search. "We're following up on more unknown blood types," he says. "There are probably on the order of 10 to 15 more of these unknown blood type systems — where we know there is a problem but we don't know what the protein is that is causing the problem."
Although these other blood systems are very rare, "if you're that one individual, and you need a transfusion," Ballif says, "there's nothing more important for you to know."

No Men Extinction, We Will Always Be Here!



Over the last few decades, scientists and journalists have speculated that the end of man—men, that is—was nigh. The biological reason for this possibility is the ever-shrinking Y chromosome: 300-200 million years ago, the Y, like females’ X chromosome, had hundreds of genes, but it now contains less than 80, 19 of which code for specifically male traits such as sperm production. 


 This remarkable contraction set people’s imaginations spinning, especially after an opinion piece said in Nature 10 years ago that the Y chromosome might disappear, as it already has in voles, in 10 million years.




A Nature paper published this week, however, may indicate that the Y is sticking around. Biologists at the Whitehead Institute have compared the Y chromosome of rhesus monkeys with the human Y chromosome, and they’ve found that the two have the same number but one of key male-specific genes. This implies that the human Y chromosome’s shrinkage, at least when it comes to key genes, stopped at least around 25 million years ago, when the common ancestor of humans and rhesus monkeys was alive. 

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The team says that this 25 million years of stasis indicates that the Y’s days of sloughing genes are over, that the genes it carries now are the essential ones and cannot be removed without seriously impacting reproductive function, while the genes lost in the past were expendable.

It’s hard to say that evolution of the Y chromosome has categorically ceased, though—evolution doesn’t necessarily follow a straight line. And it’s worth remembering that we had males before we had the Y chromosome: the male genes, at that time, were just spread across the genome. Even if more shrinking events eventually do send the Y the way of the leisure suit, it doesn’t mean that males will follow suit.

Kamis, 09 Februari 2012

Huge Avalanche near Mars's North Pole



A Nasa spacecraft has captured an avalanche of fine ice and dust thundering over a cliff near Mars's north pole. 

It's not the first avalanche captured by the HiRISE camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter - Nasa first detected the phenomenon in 2008, believed to be caused by a thin 'crust' of frozen carbon dioxide (dry ice) which forms during the Martian winter. 

 Ice and dust cascade over a Martian cliff: The camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured the avalanche near Mars's north pole

The HiRISE high resolution camera took the amazing photograph at 85 degrees north on the planet.
The HiRISE camera is one of several hi-tech instruments on board Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. It's the largest camera ever carried into deep space.
Nasa's ground team says that the events are detectable by a cloud of fine material that erupts when avalanches collapse down slopes on the planet.




Some avalanches on Mars are caused by meteorite impacts, but others are thought to be the result of 'seasons' on the planet, which has winters, just like Earth.
Planetary scientist Ingrid Daubar Spitale of the University of Arizona, who first noticed the avalanches in photos taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter said, 'It's great to see something so dynamic on Mars. A lot of what we see there hasn't changed for millions of years.'


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Fine ice and dust cascades over a martian polar cliff in March 2010 in another picture captured by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's HiRISE camera.

Ancient Ocean on Mars


The European Space Agency's Mars Express has returned compelling evidence that the red planet once hosted an enormous ocean in its northern plains. The probe's radar detected sediments reminiscent of an ocean floor, within areas that have been suspected to be shorelines.
Jérémie Mouginot from the Institut de Planétologie et d'Astrophysique de Grenoble (IPAG), the University of California in Irvine, and colleagues analysed more than two years of data from Mars Express' Marsis (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding) radar.

The radar can penetrate deep into the planet's ground, and reveal the first 60 to 80 metres of the planet's subsurface. At these depths, the team found that the northern plains are covered in low-density material.
"We interpret these as sedimentary deposits, maybe ice-rich," says Mouginot. "It is a strong new indication that there was once an ocean here."



The notion of water on Mars and big ideas of oceans in the planet's ancient history are nothing new. But this research provides some of the best evidence yet that there were once large bodies of liquid water on Mars, and it is further proof that water played a role in martian geological history.
"Previous Mars Express results about water on Mars came from the study of images and mineralogical data, as well as atmospheric measurements," said Olivier Witasse, a Mars Express project scientist at the European Space Agency.


This data supports a proposed theory where Mars has had two oceans in its lifetime. One four billion years ago when warmer conditions prevailed, and another three billion years go when subsurface ice melted following a large impact.

This later ocean would have been very temporary. It would only have lasted about a million years or less, Mouginot estimates, and then the water would have either frozen back in place or turned into vapour and lifted gradually into the planet's weak atmosphere.

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"I don't think it could have stayed as an ocean long enough for life to form," Mouginot says.
A recent study from Imperial College London doesn't offer much good news for martian life-hunters, either. Soil analysis at the site of Nasa's Phoenix mission suggest that surface of Mars has dry as a bone for hundreds of millions of years, making it too hostile for any life to survive on the planet's surface

Cool Software Adds Realistically 3D Objects to Pictures

A simple programming tool can build a model of a scene in a two-dimensional photograph and insert a realistic-looking synthetic object into it. Unlike other augmented reality programs, it doesn’t use any tags, props or laser scanners to model a scene’s geometry — it just uses a small number of markers and accounts for lighting and depth. The result is an augmented scene with proper perspective, which looks so realistic that testers could not distinguish between an original photo and a modified one.

With just a single image and some annotation by a user, the program creates a physical model of a scene, as demonstrated in the video below.


Kevin Karsch, Varsha Hedau, David Forsyth and Derek Hoiem at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign developed a new image composition algorithm to generate an accurate lighting model. It uses geometry to build upon existing light-estimation methods, and it can work with any type of rendering software, the researchers explain. It works by breaking down the scene’s geometry and depth of field, and then determining how much of the scene’s overall illumination is a result of reflection (albedo) and how much directly emanates from light fixtures. This provides light parameters that can be transposed onto an inserted object. The team has developed algorithms for interior lights and for external light sources, typically light shafts from the sun.


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To test how well it worked, Karsch et al. showed some study participants a series of images — some with no synthetic objects, and some with synthetic objects inserted in one of three ways: either an existing light-derivation method, their new algorithm with a simplified lighting model, and their new algorithm in all its light-modeling glory. The subjects had computer science or graphics backgrounds.
“Surprisingly, subjects tended to do a worse job identifying the real picture as the study progressed,” the authors explain in a paper describing their method. “These results indicate that people are not good at differentiating real from synthetic photographs, and that our method is state of the art.”
The method could be used for video games, movies, home decorating or other uses. The work is slated to be presented at SIGGRAPH Asia 2011.


Future Astronauts Will be Able to Perform Surgery on Each Other


Astronauts traveling to Mars or other distant destinations will face all kinds of medical problems, but rocket science isn’t surgery. And vice versa. A new augmented reality system could help astronauts take care of each other, overlaying computer graphics over a real patient to guide diagnoses or even surgery. It could even improve telemedicine in developing countries or remote spots.

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For now, the Computer Assisted Medical Diagnosis and Surgery System, CAMDASS, only works with ultrasound, which is already available on the International Space Station. But the goal is to use it for any biomedical procedures future astronauts might need, according to the European Space Agency.






CAMDASS users don a 3-D display headcam, which includes an infrared camera to track the ultrasound device. Markers placed on a patient’s body denote sites of interest, and the system recognizes the patient and calibrates the display according to the CAMDASS wearer’s vision, an ESA news release explains. The headset displays little floating cue cards in the wearer’s field of vision, which match up with the markers on the real patient. Aligning the markers helps the user position the ultrasound probe, or whatever other device is needed. Then reference images show what the CAMDASS wearer should be seeing.

The ESA tested a prototype of this device with medical and nursing students, paramedics and Belgian Red Cross workers at Saint-Pierre University Hospital in Brussels. The CAMDASS testers could perform a “reasonably difficult” ultrasound procedure without any other help, the space agency said.
Augmented reality can be pretty fun to play with, but the practical applications of a real-life informational overlay are limitless. This is one reason why DARPA wants AR contact lenses that would require no bulky headgear. We've even seen an AR concept in which a would-be home mechanic can learn how to repair a car.

Similarly, this ESA device could be useful long before anyone takes it to Mars. It could help improve diagnostics in developing countries, for instance, or in remote locations like Antarctic research stations. Workers there have had to complete their fair share of self-diagnostics. The ESA now wants to conduct further tests.

A Non-Surgical Procedure can Heal Nerves Quickly


A simple new procedure could repair severed sciatic nerves in minutes and have the patient walking within days rather than months.

This relatively inexpensive treatment could dramatically increase the speed of post-surgery recovery while creating greater potential for full function of the injured area
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University of Texas scientists studied invertebrates’ ability to regenerate nerve axons much more quickly than mammals and mimicked the process.

Through operating on paralyzed rats, a UT research team discovered that preventing the body’s self-healing process keeps the nerve ends from sealing themselves off, making it more difficult to later reattach them.



UT professor George Bittner, who led the study, found that keeping the injured area calcium-free prevents the self-repairing process. Doing this makes for an easier surgery, in which he then begins the self-healing process himself by injecting a calcium-rich solution.


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Through this encouraging of the nerves to reattach themselves, Bittner springs the beginning of a healthy healing process.
Bittner has successfully performed this procedure on 200 rats, making a promising prospect for humans with damaged nerves.
Have tolerance for a little light surgery? Watch the amazing video of paralyzed rats walking again here.

You Will Never Guess How this Monkey Communicates


The Philippine tarsier is a tiny primate with a seriously high voice. The saucer-eyed mammal can let out (and listen to) squeaks and squeals at such a high frequency that it effectively gives the mammal a private communication channel.

A team of researchers, led by Marissa Ramsier of Humboldt State University in California, found that the tiny tarsier can hear and emit sounds in the ultrasound range -- that's above 20kHz.



Most humans can't hear in that range, and a dog whistle is pitched to be just inside ultrasound, somewhere between 22 and 23 kHz. A handful of mammals can make sounds in this range -- some whales, domestic cats and a few species of bats -- but few can match the Philippine tarsier.

When issuing warnings or ferreting out crickets for a nighttime snack, the nocturnal faunivores (that's a mix of carnivore and insectivore) can vocalise in a range around 70 kHz, and pick up frequencies above 90 kHz.
"Such values are among the highest recorded for any terrestrial mammal," the researchers note in their paper, which was published in Biology Letters.

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To get this reading, they captured six of the docile creatures and placed them inside custom-built sound chambers to test their sensitivity to high-pitched sounds. Then, they recorded another 35 specimens in the wild to measure the frequency of the tarsier's chatter.

In the paper, the researchers explain that, "ultrasonic alarm calls can be advantageous to both the signaller and receiver as they are potentially difficult for predators to detect and localise." Being able to hear in high ranges might let them eavesdrop on noises made by moths, crickets and birds.

Sabtu, 28 Januari 2012

The 51st State Should be The Moon


At the sunset of Newt Gingrich’s putative presidency, the moon would be the 51st state, colonized by permanent American settlers. Tourists would honeymoon in low-Earth orbit, space factories would manufacture goods in microgravity, and America would have a rocket powerful enough to send us to Mars.

This is all according to a discussion Gingrich hosted Wednesday in Florida, which holds its presidential primary next Tuesday and which lost thousands of jobs as the space shuttle program drew to a close last year. But this is Gingrich talking, so it’s safe to say this isn’t all politics. A self-professed space nut and fan of science, Gingrich has dreamt of a lunar colony for decades. Even if this dream is inherently irrational:

“The reason you have to have a bold and large vision is you don't arouse the American nation with trivial, bureaucratically rational objectives,” Gingrich said.

It's odd for a politician to trump his own ideas as grandiose and not rational. But hey, going back to the moon sure fires up the patriots! So America's space goals are once again a political football — one, incidentally, that seems to rev up Republicans more than it does Democrats. Gingrich has a long list of space dreams, which we'll get to in a minute. But this debate brings to light an interesting volley since the Reagan administration, between Democratic presidents who seem not to really dwell on America’s space ambitions and Republican presidents (and would-be presidents) who just love the idea of Americans on the moon.


Dubbing himself a “visionary” for his space plans, the former House speaker and GOP presidential hopeful compared himself to John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln and the Wright brothers. But he didn’t compare himself to another conservative Republican, George W. Bush, who also wanted the U.S. to go back to the moon as a launch pad for Mars. His new vision was gestated in the wake of the Columbia disaster, and centered on the retirement of the aging shuttles, but it also sought a more ambitious future for the space agency. The Constellation program never really got off the ground, however, and critics found plenty of faults.


But contrast this with Bill Clinton's presidency. While he was in the Oval Office, the U.S. partnered with Russia to build the International Space Station — certainly a major achievement, but it was arguably more impressive for its geopolitics than its science scope. Both countries already had space stations before, and the ISS took way more time and money to build than anyone had anticipated. Otherwise, Clinton apparently didn’t have much to say about the space program, even in his autobiography “My Life.”

Then, a while after taking office and organizing a blue-ribbon NASA review commission, President Obama harrumphed at the idea of returning to the moon — “we’ve been there before,” he famously said — and charted a bumpy course for a future NASA that will eventually visit an asteroid and someday Mars.
Now Gingrich has set his sights back on our natural satellite, with a much tighter timeline. But there is one catch — he favors private development, not necessarily NASA leadership.

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As Charles Houmans notes in Foreign Policy, the space program presents a conundrum for dedicated conservatives. It’s the most unassailably awesome achievement in American history, and as such it’s fertile ground for jingoists. But it’s also plagued by huge federal spending overruns, a risk-averse bureaucracy and — let us not forget — scientists, whose findings do not always comport with the conservative worldview. Gingrich seems able to toe this boundary carefully, coupling his love of science and space with his free-market beliefs. 


In a debate earlier this week, he said privately funded prizes spurred Charles Lindbergh and Burt Rutan to reach new milestones, and private incentives could do the same for lunar settlement and Mars exploration.

For his part, his rival Mitt Romney has been a little more vague and a little more NASA-centric, discussing a space agency with more partnerships with universities and commercial enterprises.


Wednesday’s talk is just the latest in a long list of Gingrich’s space ideas, some of which are wackier than others. In 1981 he sponsored an unsuccessful bill called the National Space and Aeronautics Policy Act, which set forth “provisions for the government of space territories, including constitutional protections, the right to self-government and admission to statehood,” the New York Times reported in 1995. He proposed a lunar mirror network that would illuminate highways and dark alleyways. He envisions space factories creating new opportunities for the unemployed. 


“If we’d spent as much on space as we’ve spent on farm programs, we could have taken all the extra farmers and put them on space stations working for a living ... in orbiting factories,” he told a science fiction convention in 1986.

But other predictions and desires have borne out. A quarter-century ago he said “space tourism is coming,” predicting Hiltons and Marriotts of the solar system. There are no space hotels yet, but space tourism is likely just around the corner.


So does anyone really think a president Gingrich would set up a successful moon base? Not really, especially given this country's economic situation and (depending on whose hyperbole you believe) debt crisis. Gingrich has given no indications of how he'd pay for it, incentives or otherwise, and the details are sparse. And most of the reaction from space observers has been tepid at best.


Space policy expert John Logsdon, professor emeritus at George Washington University, called it a "fantasy," according to Space.com. "It would be much better to set realistic goals, but that is not Mr. Gingrich's strong suit," he said.


But you can hand Gingrich one thing: At least he's talking about American leadership in space, something that's been sorely lacking of late. Maybe his grandiose visions will start a real conversation.

Cold Fusion Boiling Competition


It seems Defkalion is serious about independent testing. In a press release this week, the company invited "requests from internationally recognised and reputable scientific and business organisations interested to conduct their independent tests."


Would-be testers will have to visit Defkalion's laboratory in Athens, where the company is making available two Hyperion power units, one "live" and the other inert, for comparison. Defkalion say that the live unit will achieve a coefficient of performance of at least 20, in other words putting out 20 times as much energy as goes in to heat it. It's a bold move, especially compared to Andrea Rossi who has kept independent testers at arm's length from his demonstrations. It remains to be seen whether the tests really will dispel doubts or if they will raise more questions than they answer.

It's been an exciting few weeks since Andrea Rossi demonstrated his one-megawatt E-Cat power plant with apparent success. Critics still believe that the test was a sham, the mystery customer is a fake, and there is no concrete evidence the technology works. Rossi has been busy since then, and the E-Cat bandwagon is rolling onwards. But now he has rivals in the cold fusion business. Is this evidence that the technology is real and can be replicated? Or just that someone else wants a piece of a possible scam of the decade?



Cold fusion, otherwise known as "low energy nuclear reaction" (LENR) technology has yet to gain any scientific respectability. This hasn't stopped Greek company Defkalion Green Technologies launching its own range of cold fusion power plants, rivals to Rossi's E-Cat. In a press release (.pdf), the company announced they would be selling a range of units under the name Hyperion, from small domestic boilers to industrial power plants.
They have a detailed specification document for its product (.pdf) and say the launch is due early 2012. Unlike Rossi, it invites independent third parties to test its products and report the findings "under agreed protocol." Its customers will not be bound by non-disclosure agreements, whereas Rossi's dealings have been highly secretive.

Defkalion used to have a close working relationship with Rossi. Originally the company was to produce thousands of E-Cats a year from a factory on Xanthi using Rossi's design under licence. The relationship broke up in August, for reasons which have never been fully disclosed. The company has persevered with a cold fusion device of its own, which it insists has been developed independently and also that Hyperion is more stable than Rossi's E-Cat.


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Like the E-Cat, Hyperion will initially be used for producing heat only, with electricity generation following. The first will be a one-megawatt device, the same scale as the one in Rossi's demonstration in October.

Curiously, Rossi does not accuse Defkalion of stealing intellectual property. Instead, he insists that it has never known the details how the E-Cat works. He says it cannot make its device operate without his secret catalyst, which it was hoping to acquire. "There are clowns saying they have a technology copied from us, actually they have just a moke up (sic), waiting for the piece of info they need to make a real copy," Rossi wrote in his Journal of Nuclear Physics blog, congratulating himself for outwitting them.

However, Defkalion spokesman Alexandros Xanthoulis told Swedish science magazine NyTeknik that they know exactly what the catalyst is. In a piece of subterfuge, a spectroscopic examination was carried out on an E-Cat being while it was being tested without Rossi's knowledge. However, to maintain "fair play", Defkalion's scientists say they developed their technology without using this information.

The lack of a patent means that (if this is not a hoax) the secret is potentially worth billions. Hence Rossi does not want anyone to repeat his results or see the kernel of the E-Cat. So long as he has paying customers he is happy for the rest of the world to dismiss the technology as not worth investigating.