Europe against GMO crops! Please, sign the Avaaz petition! I already did.
It's us who decide, not Monsanto!!!

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

How old technologies can learn new tricks, may, 2009

Today:

  1. Batteries grown from 'armour-plated' viruses
  2. Ancient diatoms lead to new technology for solar energy
  3. DNA 'tricked' to act as nano-building blocks
  4. Breathing batteries could store 10 times the energy
  5. Alcohol makes autos more climate-friendly
Short stories:
  1. Solar car aims to put rivals in the shade
  2. Honda Connects Your Brain to a Robot
  3. Five-Dimensional DVD Could Hold Data of 30 Blu-ray Discs

Ok, today it's hard to say which one is a short story and which ins't but I guess the last three are the short stories since they don't have comments. But all of the articles are quite shortened, so don't worry. And they are quite fun too. What's common for all of them? They show a clever new use of an old technolgy with surprising results. Of course, I'm most intruiged by the lithium batteries (and the solar energy), because they are such a pain for every laptop-person on the world.
But it's not only about batteries. It's about cool new engines, cool new cars and cool new robots. I hope you enjoy it, it's an easy read, nothing too dramatic, but yet quite optimistic.

Ancient diatoms lead to new technology for solar energy

April 8th, 2009

Engineers at Oregon State University have discovered a way to use an ancient life form to create one of the newest technologies for solar energy, in systems that may be surprisingly simple to build compared to existing silicon-based solar cells.

The secret: diatoms.

These tiny, single-celled marine life forms have existed for at least 100 million years and are the basis for much of the life in the oceans, but they also have rigid shells that can be used to create order in a natural way at the extraordinarily small level of .

By using biology instead of conventional semiconductor manufacturing approaches, researchers at OSU and Portland State University have created a new way to make "dye-sensitized" , in which photons bounce around like they were in a pinball machine, striking these dyes and producing electricity. This technology may be slightly more expensive than some existing approaches to make dye-sensitized solar cells, but can potentially triple the electrical output.

Dye-sensitized technology, for instance, uses environmentally benign materials and works well in lower light conditions. And the new findings offer advances in manufacturing simplicity and efficiency.

The new system is based on living diatoms, which are extremely small, single-celled algae, which already have shells with the nanostructure that is needed. They are allowed to settle on a transparent conductive glass surface, and then the living organic material is removed, leaving behind the tiny skeletons of the diatoms to form a template.

A biological agent is then used to precipitate soluble titanium into very tiny "nanoparticles" of titanium dioxide, creating a thin film that acts as the semiconductor for the dye-sensitized solar cell device. Steps that had been difficult to accomplish with conventional methods have been made easy through the use of these natural biological systems, using simple and inexpensive materials.

The physics of this process, Rorrer said, are not fully understood - but it clearly works. More so than materials in a simple flat layer, the tiny holes in diatom shells appear to increase the interaction between photons and the dye to promote the conversion of light to electricity, and improve energy production in the process. source

My comment: Ok, that certainly sounds fun! For a moment I was worried that they actually keep the little guys alive on the glass, but it turned out they kill them after all.

Batteries grown from 'armour-plated' viruses

GENETICALLY engineered viruses that assemble into electrodes have been used to make complete miniature rechargeable batteries for the first time. The new lithium ion batteries are as powerful as existing devices but smaller and cleaner to make, claim the team behind the work. The technology could improve the performance of hybrid electric cars and electronic gadgets.

Lithium ion batteries exploit the reactivity of lithium to produce a current. Inside the battery, lithium ions move from the anode to the cathode, forcing electrons in the opposite direction around an external circuit. This process is reversed when the battery is recharged.

Making these batteries takes a tough manufacturing process because of the highly reactive components, aggressive solvents and high temperatures used in construction, as well as the dangers of handling lithium.

Viruses could make this process much safer and cleaner, says Angela Belcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her team converted a harmless virus called M13 into a cathode by inserting a gene that causes the virus to produce proteins that bond with iron and phosphate ions in a surrounding solution. As a result, the long, tubular virus particles become sheathed in an "armour plating" of iron phosphate, turning them into nanowires.

The resultant batteries were not as good as commercial models, however - the cathodes turned out to be good at conducting lithium ions but not electrons.

To solve this, the team inserted a second gene that creates a protein at the tip of the virus that bonds to a carbon nanotube. The nanotube increases the electron conductivity of the combined structure.

The resulting battery turned out to be as good as the best commercially available that use crystalline lithium iron phosphate materials . And since the team had previously used the same viral technique to produce anodes it has now been able to make a full virus-based 3-volt lithium ion battery.

Compared to conventional lithium ion batteries, the biologically grown battery is environmentally friendly because much of the materials can now be made at room temperature or on ice and without harsh solvents. ". source

My comment: That is also very cool! If you think about it, this gives a whole new sense of the word "biotechnology". And it really offer a good opportunity for perfecting the technology, since it's already on commercial level. I just hope the viruses inside are safe (ly kept inside forever).

DNA 'tricked' to act as nano-building blocks

April 13th, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- McGill researchers have succeeded in finding a new way to manufacture nanotubes, one of the important building blocks of the nanotechnology of the future. Their building material? Biological DNA.

A team of researchers, led by Prof. Hanadi Sleiman in collaboration with Prof. Gonzalo Cosa, both of McGill University's Department of Chemistry, can now tailor different geometries, rigidities and porosities into these nanotubes through the clever introduction of non-DNA molecules. This work is to be reported in the April 13 edition of the journal .

Nanotubes are infinitesimally small, measuring six or seven nanometers across. (A nanometre, one-billionth of a metre, is one ten-thousandth the diameter of a human hair.) One of the important features of these tubes is their extreme length, at about 20,000 nanometres. While they are tiny, they offer an incredibly versatile potential to solve a number of key problems facing nanotechnology researchers. This includes the design of drug delivery vehicles, the manufacture of electronic nanowires, medical implants and scaffolds for solar energy conversion among others.

Nanotechnology's tremendous potential to affect social and economic development is dependent on scientists first being able to make the necessary molecules and materials. To make this happen, nanotechnologists are now using nature's code of life, DNA. With its simple A, T, C and G alphabet, DNA is able to direct the formation of an astounding array of proteins that work collectively to create life. It is precisely this property of chemical information stored in DNA that nanotechnology is now exploiting.

In this case, are programmed to assemble into complex one- two- and three-dimensional structures. By incorporating synthetic molecules into such strands of DNA, the Sleiman group provided nature's workhorse with further specific dialed-in structural and functional properties.

Using this method, Faisal Aldaye, Peggy Lo, Pierre Karam and Chris McLaughlin in the Sleiman and Cosa laboratories have demonstrated the first examples of DNA nanotubes with deliberately controlled geometry. Remarkable triangular and square-shaped tubes spontaneously form using these new techniques.

These nanotubes offer great potential, for example, for the construction of metal nanowires of different geometries. The DNA tube can be used as a mold into which metals are grown, creating microscopically thin wires that may have a wide variety of applications. source

My comment: This sounds kind of abstract, but in fact, it's quite cool (even if somewhat creepy). If not else, they offer a way to make new stuff with those DNA tubes. What I see as a disadvantage, however, is the strength of the tubes. If they are made from organic material, they are not very likely to be tough, right? But from the other point of view, I think they would be perfect for neurons of an organic computer.


Breathing batteries could store 10 times the energy

The lithium ion batteries used in laptops and cellphones, and tipped for future use in electric cars, are approaching their technological limits. But chemists in the UK say that there's a way to break through the looming energy capacity barrier – let the batteries "breathe" oxygen from the air.

A standard lithium ion battery contains a negative electrode of graphite, a positive electrode of lithium cobalt oxide, and a lithium salt-containing electrolyte. Lithium ions shuttle between the two electrodes during charging and discharging, sending electrons around the external circuit to power a gadget in the process.

The problem with that design, says Peter Bruce at the University of St Andrews, is that the lithium cobalt oxide is bulky and heavy.

The answer, he thinks, is to borrow an idea from the zinc-air batteries used in hearing aids, which get their power reacting zinc with oxygen from air.

The new battery has a higher energy density than existing lithium ion batteries because it no longer contains dense lithium cobalt oxide. Instead, the positive electrode is made from lightweight porous carbon, and the lithium ions are packed into the electrolyte which floods into the spongy material.

When the battery is discharged, oxygen from the air also floods through a membrane into the porous carbon, where it reacts with lithium ions in the electrolyte and electrons from the external circuit to form a solid lithium oxide.

The solid lithium oxide gradually fills the pore spaces inside the carbon electrode as the battery discharges. But when the battery is recharged the lithium oxide decomposes again, releasing lithium ions again and freeing up pore space in the carbon. The oxygen is released back to the atmosphere.

The team's prototype device has a capacity-to-weight ratio of 4000 milliamp hours per gram – eight times that of a cellphone battery. Even a 10-fold improvement is possible, but tweaking conventional lithium-ion designs will likely offer only a doubling in capacity, Bruce estimates. source

My comment: That one sounds also very promising. It's interesting how you find new developments of the same issue in a certain period of time. I can't wait for the new batteries, because the old one clearly suck!


Alcohol makes autos more climate-friendly

DRIVING and alcohol don't usually mix, but giving a petrol engine an occasional slug of the hard stuff could make it as fuel-efficient as a petrol-electric hybrid.

So says the Ford Motor Company, which on 19 May revealed test results on a novel ethanol-assisted engine. Called a direct-injection ethanol engine, the unit runs primarily on petrol. When it needs to deliver maximum power - to climb a hill or overtake, for example - the engine management computer adds a little ethanol to the fuel injected into the combustion chambers.

This arrangement allows the engine to operate at a much higher compression ratio - a measure of the amount by which the fuel-air mixture is compressed before being ignited - than normal. As a result, an average car engine can be "downsized" to one that should have around 23 per cent better fuel efficiency, Ford says.

Normally, the downside of a high compression ratio is that it encourages premature ignition or "knocking", which drastically cuts down the power output. Adding ethanol to the fuel suppresses knocking.

Test results on a pickup truck fitted with the new engine were presented at the US Department of Energy's annual vehicle technology review meeting in Arlington, Virginia. They showed a 23 per cent improvement in fuel efficiency for the same performance levels. The ethanol from a 40-litre auxiliary tank would last about 30,000 kilometres, Ford says.

source

My comment: So, there is a way after all. It's amazing how much improvements one can make to an old technology, if one looks in the right direction. Sometimes, I'm sorry I'm not an engineer, because they have so much fun and so many opportunities to make clever fixes.

Solar car aims to put rivals in the shade

April 6th, 2009
(PhysOrg.com) -- Plans for a solar-powered racing car which will cruise at 60mph using the same power as a hairdryer have been unveiled by students at Cambridge University.

The car, codenamed "Bethany", will be completed this summer and is being touted as Britain's brightest hope for the World Solar Challenge - a gruelling 3,000 km race across the Australian Outback.

Its power will come from solar energy captured by a 6m² covering of high-efficiency silicon cells. Underneath this solar "skin", however, the car will essentially be an ultra-efficient electric vehicle, which designers say could provide a model for other forms of green transportation.

Using computer simulation software, the car's aerodynamics, rolling resistance, weight and electrical efficiency have all been optimised to minimise its energy requirements. It will also be fitted with an energy-efficient hub motor, a control system to provide management and an electric braking system which generates energy.

It will weigh just 170kg and its creators estimate that it will require up to 50 times less power than a normal petrol-fuelled vehicle.source

Honda Connects Your Brain to a Robot

By Yuri Kageyama / Source: Associated Press

Honda Motor Co. (HMC) has developed a way to read patterns of electric currents on a person's scalp as well as changes in cerebral blood flow when a person thinks about four simple movements - moving the right hand, moving the left hand, running and eating.

Honda succeeded in analyzing such thought patterns, and then relaying them as wireless commands for Asimo, its human-shaped robot.

In a video shown Tuesday at Tokyo headquarters, a person wearing a helmet sat still but thought about moving his right hand - a thought that was picked up by cords attached to his head inside the helmet. After several seconds, Asimo, programmed to respond to brain signals, lifted its right arm.

Honda said the technology wasn't quite ready for a live demonstration because of possible distractions in the person's thinking. Another problem is that brain patterns differ greatly among individuals, and so about two to three hours of studying them in advance are needed for the technology to work.

The company, a leader in robotics, acknowledged the technology was still at a basic research stage with no immediate practical applications in the works.

Japan boasts one of the leading robotics industries in the world, and the government is pushing to develop the industry as a road to growth.

Research on the brain is being tackled around the world, but Honda said its research was among the most advanced in figuring out a way to read brain patterns without having to hurt the person, such as embedding sensors into the skin. source

Five-Dimensional DVD Could Hold Data of 30 Blu-ray Discs

May 21st, 2009 by Lisa Zyga

(PhysOrg.com) -- While many people think that Blu-ray will replace DVDs in the near future, a new study shows that DVDs may still have a lot to offer. Researchers have designed a five-dimensional DVD that can store 1.6 terabytes of data on a standard-size DVD, which is the equivalent of about 30 Blu-ray discs. The 5D DVDs could also be compatible with current DVD disc-drive technology.

The researchers, led by microphotonics researcher James Chon from the Swinburne University of Technology in Hawthorn, Australia, have presented the new DVD high-density data storage technique in a recent issue of Nature. While scientists have been considering 3D optical data storage for a while, this is the first time data has been recorded and read in five dimensions: three dimensions of stacked layers, and two new dimensions of wavelength (color) and polarization.

The new disc is made of three thin glass films stacked on top of each other, each coated with a solution containing gold nanorods of three different sizes. To record on the disc, the researchers focused a laser on the films, heating the nanorods so that they melted into spheres (marking the switch from 0 to 1). However, the rod-to-sphere transition depends on the wavelength and polarization of light. of the three different sizes absorb different wavelengths, and must be aligned with the direction of the light's polarization to turn into spheres.

These multiple variables mean that the same volume of space can hold multiple bits in multiple ways, the researchers explain. For instance, a space that responds to three different colors and two different polarizations can hold six bits. To read the bits, the researchers scanned the surface of the disc with a laser of lower energy but the same wavelength and polarization used during writing, identifying which areas had been previously melted with that light and which hadn't.

The researchers demonstrated the write and read technique on a small area of the disc, but predict that the disc could store 140 gigabytes of information per cubic centimeter. Since the volume of a typical DVD-sized disc was about 12 cm^3, the total data capacity would be 1.6 terabytes. Adding an extra dimension, say by using another , could increase the storage capacity to 7.2 terabytes - about 140 times the capacity of a Blu-ray, which can store around 50 gigabytes.

The researchers are currently working with Samsung on the technology, and hope that it could be commercially available in the next 5 to 10 years. source

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Robotics extreme, may, 2009

Today:

  1. Robot scientist becomes first machine to discover new scientific knowledge
  2. Researchers Develop Wireless Method of Brain Stimulation
  3. Researchers regenerate axons necessary for voluntary movement
  4. Coming soon: An artificial skin!
Short stories:
  1. Artificial 'baby butter' accelerates healing
  2. Artificial cartilage performs better than the real thing
  3. Hand transplants seize back lost brain territory

Robot scientist becomes first machine to discover new scientific knowledge

April 2nd, 2009

Scientists have created a Robot Scientist which the researchers believe is the first machine to have independently discovered new scientific knowledge. The robot, called Adam, is a computer system that fully automates the scientific process.

Prof Ross King, who led the research at Aberystwyth University, said: "Ultimately we hope to have teams of human and scientists working together in laboratories".

The scientists at Aberystwyth University and the University of Cambridge designed Adam to carry out each stage of the scientific process automatically without the need for further human intervention. The robot has discovered simple but new about the genomics of the baker's yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, an organism that scientists use to model more complex life systems. The researchers have used separate manual experiments to confirm that Adam's were both novel and correct.

"Because biological organisms are so complex it is important that the details of biological experiments are recorded in great detail. This is difficult and irksome for human scientists, but easy for Robot Scientists."

Using artificial intelligence, Adam hypothesised that certain genes in baker's yeast code for specific enzymes which catalyse biochemical reactions in yeast. The robot then devised experiments to test these predictions, ran the experiments using laboratory robotics, interpreted the results and repeated the cycle.

Adam is a still a prototype, but Prof King's team believe that their next robot, Eve, holds great promise for scientists searching for new drugs to combat diseases such as malaria and schistosomiasis, an infection caused by a type of parasitic worm in the tropics. source

My comment: (the NewScientist article) Of course, Eve is the next evolutionary link. For you sexists :) Anyway, I find this new robot marvellous. Yes, there is something scary about machines doing the job that we connect with the ultimate level of humanity-creativity, intuition and invention, but in the end, it's scary how much we depend on machines at all. If you ask me, the worst thing is that instead of stimulating humans to explore more of the world while machines are working for them, we use machines to work on the place of humans while leaving humans to figure how to make a living. There is a leap our society simply refuses to make and that's very troubling. I mean, according to current economy, the cheaper workforce will replace the more expensive (and demanding) human workforce. If we're talking about agriculture, one may speculate that humans should re-qualify and find a more qualified work. But if robots can do science, well, that's like the top level of job you can do (in the sense of complexity and education and experience needed to do it). Then what humans should do? Well, I can tell you what they will do-they will oppose robots in any way they can, so that they can still make a living. Well, that's obviously not the most productive way to think. What we have to do is to figure how to adapt our society to the new opportunities robotics offer and to make sure that people can enjoy their life. After all, it's with humans money that the robots were researched, if we have to be fair, each and every one of us has to profit from patents rights for every robots manifactured. Of course, that's never going to happen. But it doesn't mean it has to be fair. After all, machines should be made to make our life easier not harder. And there must be a way to do it. A way that will make people use robots more and more, without leaving people worthless.

Researchers Develop Wireless Method of Brain Stimulation

March 16th, 2009
(PhysOrg.com) -- A new, wireless method of brain stimulation has the potential to activate specific regions of the brain or restore function to damaged or cut nerves, according to a study by Case Western Reserve University researchers.

Ben Strowbridge, an associate professor in the neurosciences department at Case Western Reserve’s School of Medicine, and Clemens Burda, an associate professor in chemistry, collaborated on the project. They say that by using as very tiny solar cells they can excite neurons in single cells or groups of cells with visible, or infrared, light.

In their study, the researchers embedded light-activated nanoparticles, which require neither wires nor electrical power, directly into non-human tissue and were able to activate neurons. A next step would be to use the technology to activate dispersed groups of neurons at the same time. This would represent a new way of re-creating the complex activity patterns that normally occur in the brain.

In contrast, the researchers say, traditional electrical stimulation of the brain requires arrays of metal electrodes to be implanted. The closer the traditional metal technique gets to re-creating “real” patterns, the more invasive it becomes. Burda adds that with conventional electrodes can have potentially damaging side effects, ranging from simple of cells to chemical reactions from exposure to the electrode materials.

The researchers expect to be able to implant nanoparticles next to nerves, eliminating the need for wired connections. They can then use light to activate the particles.

Clinical development of the technology could lead numerous biomedical applications. source

My comment: It's interesting how many applications of nanoparticles in human body scientists discover, while they seem not to care how safe those methods are. In the sense, they of course, account for the immediate dangers to the tissues and so on, but they seem to leave aside the problem of the circulation of those particles in the body and the accumulation of them in certain body organs. And I'm worried by this. If we have to leave to FDA to assess this danger, I think we're all as good as dead. This research has to be done and people simply have to stop avoiding it.

Researchers regenerate axons necessary for voluntary movement

April 6th, 2009

For the first time, researchers have clearly shown regeneration of a critical type of nerve fiber that travels between the brain and the spinal cord and which is required for voluntary movement. The regeneration was accomplished in a brain injury site in rats by scientists at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.

"This finding establishes a method for regenerating a system of nerve fibers called corticospinal motor axons. Restoring these axons is an essential step in one day enabling patients to regain voluntary movement after injury," said Mark Tuszynski, MD, PhD, professor of neurosciences, director of the Center for Neural Repair at UC San Diego and neurologist at the Veterans Affairs San Diego Health System.

The corticospinal tract is a massive collection of nerve fibers called axons - long, slender projections of neurons that travel between the of the and the spinal cord, carrying signals for movement from the brain to the body. Voluntary movement occurs through the activation of the upper motor neuron that resides in the frontal lobe of the brain and extends its axon down the spinal cord to the lower motor neuron. The lower motor neuron, in turn, sends its axon out to the muscle cells. In spinal cord injuries, the axons that run along the corticospinal tract are severed so that the lower , below the site of injury, are disconnected from the brain.

The UC San Diego team achieved corticospinal regeneration by genetically engineering the injured neurons to over-express receptors for a type of nervous system growth factor called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). The growth factor was delivered to a brain lesion site in injured rats. There, the axons - because they now expressed trkB, the receptor for BDNF- were able to respond to the growth factor and regenerate into the injury site. In the absence of overexpression of trkB, no regeneration occurred.

Although functional recovery in the animals was not assessed, the new study shows for the first time that regeneration of the corticospinal system - which normally does not respond to treatment - can be achieved in a brain lesion site.

"The next step will be to try this in a spinal cord injury site, once we get the injured neurons to send the growth factor receptor all the way down the axon and into the spinal cord," said Tuszynski, adding that the UC San Diego research team is now working on this. source

My comment: Erm, are they talking about gene therapy, because it certainly did sound like this to me. And as we know, gene therapy isn't really mastered at the moment. In any case, it's cool to think that one day, even people with major damages, as those on the spinal cord, can become once again independent.

Coming soon: An artificial skin!

19 May 2009, 1101 hrs IST, PTI

LONDON: Skin from a factory has long been the dream of dermatologists. Now, scientists are on track to develop what they claim is the "artificial
skin"

A team from four Fraunhofer institutes in Germany is developing the first fully automatic production system for two-layer "skin models" -- an almost perfect copy of human skin or artificial skin.

According to the scientists, in a multi-stage process, first small pieces of skin are sterilized. Then they are cut into small pieces, modified with specific enzymes, and isolated into two cell fractions, which are then propagated separately on cell culture surfaces.

The next step in the process combines the two cell types into a two-layer model, with collagen added to the cells that are to form the flexible lower layer, or dermis. This gives the tissue natural elasticity, they said.

In a humid incubator kept at body temperature, it takes the cell fractions less than three weeks to grow together and form a finished skin model with a diameter of roughly one centimetre.

The technique has already proven its use in practice, but until now it has been too expensive and complicated for mass production, according to the scientists.

The team is now handling the development of the biological fundamentals and validation of the machine and its sub-modules, taking care of prototype development, automation and integration of the machine into a complete system. source

My comment: Well, as anyone suffered from burns, I can be only extremely happy about this new situation. Although I have some doubts about the prices and the availability of this artificial skin I still find it awesome that they are so close to mass production.

Short stories:

Artificial 'baby butter' accelerates healing

  • 27 March 2009

AN ARTIFICIAL version of the buttery coating that protects and nurtures a fetus's developing skin could find a use outside the womb, in speeding up wound healing and treating eczema.

Natural vernix caseosa contains a mixture of fatty compounds that waterproof the fetus. Crucially, it also contains dead cells called corneocytes, which store large amounts of water and ensure that the fetus does not get dehydrated. Vernix may also act as a barrier to infections.

To mimic this versatile substance, Joke Bouwstra and Robert Rissman at Leiden University in the Netherlands mixed a range of fatty compounds including lanolin, fatty acids, ceramides and cholesterol with particles made of a water-storing hydrogel. When they rubbed this white cream on mice missing a patch of their outer skin, the mice healed three times faster than untreated ones, Bouwstra says. source

Artificial cartilage performs better than the real thing

The smooth cartilage that covers the ends of long bones provides a level of lubrication that artificial alternatives haven't been able to rival – until now. Researchers say their lubricating layers of "molecular brushes" can outperform nature under the highest pressures encountered within joints, with potentially important implications for joint replacement surgery.

With every step we take, bones at the knee and hip rub against each other. That would quickly wear them away if it wasn't for the protection afforded by the thick layer of smooth and slippery cartilage that covers their ends.

Like bone, artificial joints must be covered with a cartilage-like layer. However, while it's possible to match cartilage's slick properties at low pressure, at the high pressures found in joints synthetic alternatives "seize up".

Now Klein has discovered a possible solution. Working with colleagues in the UK, he's developed molecular brushes that slide past each other with friction coefficients that match those of cartilage. In some respects, they perform even better: the brushes remain highly effective even at pressures of 7.5 megapascals. Cartilage performs well only up to around 5 megapascals – a natural limit because joint pressure only rarely exceeds that level.

Each 60-nanometre-long brush filament has a polymer backbone from which small molecular groups stick out. Those synthetic groups are very similar to the lipids found in cell membranes, says Klein – although they're neutral overall, they are positively charged at one end and negatively charged at the other.

In a watery environment, each of these molecular groups attracts up to 25 water molecules through electrostatic forces, so the filament as a whole develops a slick watery sheath. These sheathes ensure that the brushes are lubricated as they rub past each other, even when firmly pressed together to mimic the pressures at bone joints.

Klein adds that it's not yet clear when the new brushes might be used in a clinical setting. source

Hand transplants seize back lost brain territory

Hand transplants are eventually "accepted" by the brain, a study shows, raising the prospect of full movement being recovered. Surprisingly, it seems that in right-handed people, the left hand is accepted sooner.

The motor cortex – the part of the brain responsible for muscular movement – maintains a physical map of the body, with different areas registering sensations in different body parts. When the brain is deprived of sensory input from a limb, such as after a hand amputation, that region goes unused. To stop prime real estate going to waste, the brain rewires itself, with areas representing the face and upper arm "creeping in" to take over the region formerly dominated by the hand.

To find out if a transplanted hand can reclaim these brain regions, Angela Sirigu and colleagues at the Institute for Cognitive Science in Lyon, France, used magnetic pulses to stimulate these areas in two people who had undergone double hand transplants. They found that muscles in the new hands responded to the stimulation, suggesting that the brain had fully accepted them.

Previous research had shown that stroking a transplanted hand triggered brain activity in the same region as in non-amputees, but this is the first demonstration that the hand muscles are actually represented in the brain. "We can see the brain directly activating the new transplanted muscles," says Sirigu.

In both patients, the left hand was quicker to get this space back – and regain movement – than the right. In one case, the left hand re-acquired a significant "presence" in the brain after 10 months; the right hand took 26 months.

One explanation, say the researchers, is the varying flexibility of the brain regions responsible for each hand.

Amputees waiting for a transplant should still use prosthetic limbs, though. Before the Връзкаtransplant, both patients had prosthetics, which Sirigu believes helped to keep the original brain representation of the hand alive. source


Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Neanderthals in the spotlight again! April, 2009

Today:

  1. Turkey’s Aegean Explored in Underwater Archaeology Excavations
  2. Early humans may have cared for disabled young
  3. 13,000 Clovis-era tool cache unearthed in Colorado shows evidence of camel, horse butchering
  4. Biodiversity Hotspot Enabled Neanderthals To Survive Longer In South East Of Spain
  5. Did modern humans eat Neanderthals?
Short stories:
  • Thousands of 6,000-year old cave paintings found in Peru’s Amazon region
  • Archaeologists find statue of ancient Yemeni queen

Turkey’s Aegean Explored in Underwater Archaeology Excavations

19 March 2009 | Archaeologists announced today they have begun underwater excavations of the prehistoric site of Limantepe in western Turkey.

The underwater research, headed by Professor Hayat Erkanal of the Archaeology Department of the Ankara University, explores the prehistoric settlement located in the coastal town of Urla near İzmir in western Turkey.

The harbour settlement was inhabited as early as starting from 6,000 years ago and, as such, it is one of the oldest known artificial harbours in the Aegean Sea. A big part of it, including a fortification wall, was submerged in the sea due to a massive earthquake which occurred in 700 BC, according to Erkenal.

Layers from three different periods have been found at Limantepe. The lowest layer belongs to the Early Bronze Age and dates from the third millennium BC onwards. The second one dates to the Middle Bronze Age from the first half of the second millennium BC onwards.

According to experts, evidence from these two early periods indicate cultural ties with the nearby prehistoric sites of Tepekule, Bayraklı within the city of İzmir and the Panaztepe site at the mouth of the River Gediz.

The third layer belongs to the Late Bronze Age and covers the time period from the fourteenth to the thirteenth century BC, with some artifacts discovered from this period suggesting a cultural proximity with the Mycenaean culture.

According to Erkanal, Limantepe was a major sea transportation centre with large political significant in the Aegean Region in 3000 BC. source

My comment: Ok, not much to say about this since it's too early to make any speculation about the civilisation that inhabited the city. An interesting question, however, is why this city is underwater, because the inundation after the melting of the glaciers are not supposed to have happened so late (the biggest should have been ~12500 year ago). I don't know why they don't mention in it this article. Maybe they are guessing it's an earthquake, but we saw an earthquake in the same place recently and it didn't lead to land going under the water....

Early humans may have cared for disabled young

A recently unearthed ancient human skull shows signs of a disorder that might have caused mental retardation. This offers the earliest evidence that ancestors of Homo sapiens did not abandon young with severe birth defects.

The 500,000-year-old skeleton belonged to a five to 12-year-old child who suffered from craniosynostosis. The rare congenital condition occurs when two of the flat bones that make up the skull fuse together along their margins (sutures) too early during fetal development, hindering brain growth.

Spanish researchers discovered the first pieces of the skull near Atapuerca, Spain, in 2001, but they only recently pieced enough of it together to make a conclusive diagnosis.

The child suffered from a form of craniosynostosis that occurs in about 1 in every 200,000 children. He or she was a member of the species Homo heidelbergensis, – early humans that lived in Europe up to 800,000 years ago and may have given rise to Neanderthals.

The discovery marks the earliest example of a human skeleton with signs of a physical deformity that that might have made the individual dependent on others for survival.

Most animals, including primates, sacrifice or abandon young born with crippling deformities, Gracia says. It's impossible to know whether the child suffered from any cognitive problems, but he or she would undoubtedly have looked different from family and friends, she says.

"The obvious conclusion is that [this child] was being helped by other members of the social group," says Erik Trinkaus, a paleoanthropologist at Washington University in Saint Louis, Missouri.

However, Matthew Speltz, a psychologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, says the link between craniosynostosis and cognitive problems is not so clear-cut. Speltz is leading an ongoing study to track the development of children born with various forms of the condition. source

My comment: That is unbelievable! Can you imagine that 500 000 years ago, the tribe helped that kid to survive? We don't even consider a tribe to have existed at that period. And yet, this child has survived 12 years somehow. I find this discovery for very crucial. We tend to underestimate our ancestors, but maybe we are very very wrong. If this happened 500 000 years ago, then what happened after 100 000 years. It's hard to imagine what happened at that time, at what pace, why, to what extent...

13,000 Clovis-era tool cache unearthed in Colorado shows evidence of camel, horse butchering

A biochemical analysis of a rare Clovis-era stone tool cache recently unearthed in the city limits of Boulder, Colo., indicates some of the implements were used to butcher ice-age camels and horses that roamed North America until their extinction about 13,000 years ago, according to a University of Colorado at Boulder study.

The study is the first to identify protein residue from extinct camels on North American stone tools and only the second to identify horse protein residue on a Clovis-age tool, said CU-Boulder Anthropology Professor Douglas Bamforth, who led the study. The cache is one of only a handful of Clovis-age artifact caches that have been unearthed in North America, said Bamforth, who studies Paleoindian culture and tools.

The Clovis culture is believed by many archaeologists to coincide with the time the first Americans arrived on the continent from Asia via the Bering Land Bridge about 13,000 to 13,500 years ago, Bamforth said.

In addition to the camel and horse residue on the artifacts, a third item from the Mahaffy Cache is the first Clovis tool ever to test positive for sheep, and a fourth tested positive for bear.

Dozens of species of North American mammals went extinct by the end of the Pleistocene, including American camels, American horses, woolly mammoth, dire wolves, short-faced bears, saber-toothed cats, woolly rhinos and giant ground sloths. While some scientists speculate ice-age mammals disappeared as a result of overhunting, climate change or even the explosion of a wayward asteroid, the reasons are still unresolved, Bamforth said.

"I was somewhat surprised to find mammal protein residues on these tools, in part because we initially suspected that the Mahaffy Cache might be ritualistic rather than a utilitarian," said Yohe. "There are so few Clovis-age tool caches that have been discovered that we really don't know very much about them.'

While the quality and patterns on several of the artifacts resemble Clovis stonework, "It was the camel and horse protein results that were the clincher for me," said Bamforth. "We haven't had camels or horses around here since the late Pleistocene." The artifacts that showed animal protein residues were each tested three times to ensure accuracy.

Bamforth believes the type of people who buried the Mahaffy Cache "lived in small groups and forged relationships over large areas." "I'm skeptical that they wandered widely, and they may have been bound together by a larger human network." A single individual could have easily carried all of the Mahaffy Cache tools a significant distance, he said.

One of the tools, a stunning, oval-shaped bifacial knife that had been sharpened all the way around, is almost exactly the same shape, size and width of an obsidian knife found in a Clovis cache known as the Fenn Cache from south of Yellowstone National Park, said Bamforth. "Except for the raw material, they are almost identical," he said.

"There is a magic to these artifacts," said Mahaffy. "One of the things you don't get from just looking at them is how incredible they feel in your hand --they are almost ergonomically perfect and you can feel how they were used. " . source

My comment: Yup-back on the article before. We really don't know so much. The last sentence is what is really striking me-he more or less said that the tools were VERY good. And note, the dating to 13 000 years ago is the earliest date this things were lastly used. They might be around from a lot more time. Reading this, I don't get how some people might believe that the Earth is only 5000 years old or that we're the best masters of the Earth. It's just...

Friday, 15 May 2009

News from Mars and around it, April, 2009

First of all, check this site-it's live video from the International Space Station. That's awesome!!!


Update: I no longer can watch the ISS live, I don't know why. Eh, well...
Today:
  1. ESA designs its smallest ever space engine to push back against sunshine
  2. GOCE launch: Mapping the Earth’s gravity as never before
  3. Report: Images from Mars lander show liquid water
  4. Mars Orbiter's Computer Reboots Successfully
  5. Mars orbiter glitch stalls Red Planet science
The most intriguing are the last two articles which tell us that both Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey had problems?! Aliens, anyone :)

ESA designs its smallest ever space engine to push back against sunshine

March 10th, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- This month an ESA team is preparing to test the performance of the smallest yet most precisely controllable engine ever built for space, sensitive enough to counteract the force of incoming sunshine.

Measuring only ten centimetres across and emitting a faint blue glow as it runs, the (FEEP) engine produces an average equivalent to the force of a single falling hair. But despite its low power, FEEP's thrust range and controllability are far superior to more forceful thrusters, holding the key to future success of an ambitious ESA science mission.

"Most propulsion systems are employed to get a vehicle from A to B," explains Davide Nicolini of ESA's Scientific Projects Department, in charge of the FEEP project. "But with FEEP the aim is to maintain a in a fixed position, compensating for even the tiniest forces perturbing it to an accuracy that no other engine design can match."

Observing how objects behave when separated from all outside influences is a long-time ambition of physicists, but it is impossible to achieve within Earth's gravity field. So a next-decade mission called LISA Pathfinder will fly 1.5 million km to an area in space called Lagrange Point 1 (L1), where the Sun and Earth's gravities cancel each other out, so that the behaviour of a pair of free-floating test masses can be precisely monitored. However, to detach the experiment fully from the rest of the Universe there will still be some remaining to overcome, most notably the slight but continuous pressure of sunlight itself.

Which is where FEEP comes in. It operates on the same basic principle as other flown aboard ESA's SMART-1 Moon mission and other spacecraft: the application of an electric field serves to accelerate electrically-charged atoms (known as ions), producing thrust.

But while the thrust of other engines is measured in millinewtons, FEEP's performance is assessed in terms of micronewtons - a unit one thousand times smaller. The engine has a thrust range of 0.1 - 150 micronewtons, with a resolution capability better than 0.1 micronewtons in a time response of 190 milliseconds or better.

A total of three sets of four FEEP thrusters clustered together will be mounted on the hull of LISA (Laser Interferometer Space Antenna) Pathfinder. Operating together with a separate NASA-designed propulsion system, the FEEP thrusters should yield directional control at least two orders of magnitude more accurate than any spacecraft before it, down to a millionth of a millimetre. This month's ESTEC tests are intended to qualify the FEEP development model before the construction of the final flight hardware begins.

Nicolini says that ESA testing of the FEEP cluster assembly subsystem - developed over the last seven years under ESA contract by Italian companies Alta and Galileo Avionica and Astrium-Toulouse in France and Oerlikon in Switzerland - represents a kind of coming home for the technology: "FEEP was invented at ESTEC but the technology was put aside for a time due to its low power output, until interest in it revived for space applications that require very stable positioning. FEEP remains the sole space propulsion system entirely conceived and developed in Europe."

Once it has been proven, the FEEP technology has been earmarked for a broad range of other missions, including precision formation flying for astronomy, Earth observation and drag-free satellites for mapping variations in Earth's gravity. source

My comment:Cool. As a European lover, I love the idea of Europe-made systems. And this would be so useful for LISA. It's adorable how fundamental physics get along with sophisticated engineering. As I often say, investing in science is always beneficial for civilisation. Even when the experiment fails, the technology involved with it stays and finds thousands of uses.

GOCE launch: Mapping the Earth’s gravity as never before

March 9th, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- ESA is about to launch the most sophisticated of Earth Observation satellites to investigate the Earth’s gravitational field with unprecedented resolution and accuracy.

GOCE data will be crucial for obtaining accurate measurements of and sea-level change, both of which are affected by climate change. The data will help to better understand processes occurring inside the Earth which are linked to volcanoes and earthquakes.

ESA’s 1-tonne spacecraft carries a highly sensitive to measure the variations of the in three dimensions. The data collected will provide a high-resolution map of the 'geoid' (the reference surface of the planet) and of . Such a map will not only greatly improve our knowledge and understanding of the Earth’s internal structure, but will also be used to provide much better reference data for ocean and climate studies and ocean circulation. Practical mission applications will also include construction, planning & surveying as well as providing reference data on sea levels.

To make this mission possible, ESA, together with a consortium of 45 European companies led by Thales Alenia Space and the science community had to overcome some impressive technical challenges. The spacecraft had to be designed to orbit the Earth at close enough quarters to gather high-accuracy gravitational data while being able to filter out disturbances caused by the remaining traces of the atmosphere in low Earth orbit (at an altitude of only 260 km). This resulted in a slender 5-m long arrowhead shape for aerodynamics with low power ion thrusters to compensate for atmospheric drag.

GOCE is the first of a series of Earth Explorer satellites to be placed in orbit. The Earth Explorer missions have been designed by ESA to promote research on the Earth’s atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere and interior.

Two other Earth Explorer missions are also scheduled for launch in 2009: SMOS (summer) to study soil moisture and ocean salinity and CryoSat-2 (late autumn) to measure ice sheet thickness.source

My comment: You can't blame me for being impartial. But I really love GOCE, but not only because it's an European project. Most of all, because it will study gravitational anomalies, because we think we know a lot about our Planet, but I think we might be very very surprised. Just because nobody looked at something, it doesn't mean there's nothing to be learnt from it. So, I can't wait to see the data.

Report: Images from Mars lander show liquid water

March 11th, 2009

(AP) -- Did NASA's Phoenix Mars lander find evidence of liquid water before it froze to death?

Some scientists think so. In a provocative new paper, 22 members of the mission argue that seen on Phoenix's leg were from that splashed during landing.

Scientists propose that the perchlorate salts near the landing site acted as an antifreeze by lowering the freezing point of ice, causing it to melt into a salty liquid. When Phoenix landed in the arctic plains, some of that liquid splashed onto its leg, they said.

Scientists point to images taken by the lander that show some of the droplets merged with each other and grew in size, behavior that is consistent with liquid water, they said.

But other team members say the images are too fuzzy to support the extraordinary claim.

Phoenix landed near the in May and spent five months digging into the soil and ice.

It confirmed the presence of ice at its landing site and became the first robotic probe to taste it by melting it. It also discovered an abundant amount of the chemical perchlorate, a highly oxidizing , in dirt samples.

The current environment is too cold and its atmosphere too thin to support liquid water on the surface. source

My comment: Yes, but we actually we know too little about the Mars environment to be sure whether it really is too cold to support liquid water under the soil. And if you see the pictures, you might wonder... In any case, it's quite cool that we now know for sure there is water on Mars and it's accessible water. I mean we didn't know that 1-2 years ago!

Mars Orbiter's Computer Reboots Successfully

March 12th, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter properly followed commands today to shut down and restart, a strategy by its engineers to clear any memory flaws accumulated in more than five years since Odyssey's last reboot.

The procedure also restored Odyssey's onboard set of backup systems, called the spacecraft's "B side," allowing its use in the future when necessary.

Odyssey has been orbiting Mars since 2001 and has never switched from its primary set of components, the "A side," to the backup set, which includes an identical computer processor, navigation sensors, relay radio and other components. In March 2006, the B-side spare of a component for managing the distribution of power became inoperable. Analysis by engineers identified a possibility that rebooting Odyssey might restore that component, which proved to be a side benefit of today's procedure to refresh onboard memory.

The Odyssey team began a series of steps after the reboot to carefully return the spacecraft to full functioning over the next few days. Following that path, the science instruments will be back to studying Mars by next week.

An unexpected rise in temperature of the star camera in Odyssey's navigation system on March 9 had prompted a postponement of the rebooting originally scheduled for the next day. Engineers identified the cause as a heater circuit that was temporarily stuck "on." The circuit was turned off before today's reboot. source

My comment: I start thinking that there is something odd on Mars. Because the instruments there tend to live longer and to make weird problems. The truth is that this is the first planet we are on besides our own, so this is really a great new experiences. But still, the weird reboots of Spirit, now this heater circuit, it's like someone is playing with us.

Mars orbiter glitch stalls Red Planet science

updated 1:35 p.m. ET Feb. 26, 2009

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has suffered an apparent glitch that has left the spacecraft in a protective safe mode and stalled science observations as it circles the Red Planet, the space agency announced late Wednesday.

The malfunction occurred on Monday when the orbiter unexpectedly rebooted its main computer and entered safe mode, an automatic safeguard designed to protect the spacecraft from further damage when it detects a glitch.

NASA engineers are reviewing potential causes for the malfunction aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, or MRO, in the hopes of resuming its science observations of the red planet.

The Mars orbiter's malfunction occurred Monday at about 7:25 a.m. ET, when the spacecraft was flying behind the Red Planet as seen from Earth. While MRO has suffered glitches that put it in safe mode five times since its 2005 launch, Monday's malfunction does not resemble any of those earlier glitches, NASA officials said.

An initial analysis suggests that the malfunction may have been caused by the detection of a power surge that lasted between 200 nanoseconds and 41 seconds. The power surge may have been real, or it could have been a phantom reading, mission managers said.

One theory is that the MRO spacecraft may have been hit by a cosmic ray, causing an erroneous power surge reading for about nine microseconds, more than enough time to trigger the computer reboot, mission managers said.

MRO flight engineers managed to bring about a partial revival of the spacecraft late Monday, when they boosted its communication rate from 40 data bits per second to a level some 10,000 times faster. The spacecraft's batteries are charged, and its expansive solar wings are generating electricity, mission managers said.

Launched in August 2005, the MRO spacecraft is NASA's youngest orbiter in a fleet of spacecraft circling the Red Planet. It arrived in orbit around Mars in October 2006 to begin a planned two-year mission. The spacecraft's initial $720 million mission has since been extended by two more years to 2010.

During its time at Mars, MRO has beamed home stunning vistas of the Red Planet and has tracked NASA's twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity during their exploration of the Martian surface.

The spacecraft has also used its high-resolution camera to scout for future Martian landing sites and spotted NASA's most recent probe — the Phoenix Mars Lander — as it parachuted down to a pinpoint landing on the planet's arctic plains in May 2008. source

My comment: If you're confused by the names of the Mars orbiters, you can read about them here. Now, isn't it weird that both orbiters experienced problems in the same month?I think it's weird.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Water on Titan and Mars and space tourism on the go

Today:

  1. Liquid saltwater is likely present on Mars, new analysis shows
  2. Subterranean oceans on Saturn's moon Titan
  3. Giant ice flows bolster case for volcanoes on Titan
  4. Subsurface ice on Mars exposed by recent impacts
Short stories (not commented):
  1. Test flights for SpaceShipTwo mothership
  2. Space tourism to take flight in 2012
  3. Indian scientists discover new bacteria in Stratosphere
  4. Norway joins EU's Galileo satnav project
As I promised I changed the interface a little :) So, the main stories are the first 4 and they are all so FASCINATING! They are all about Titan and Mars and the existence of water on them. Enjoy!

Liquid saltwater is likely present on Mars, new analysis shows

March 17th, 2009
(PhysOrg.com) -- Salty, liquid water has been detected on a leg of the Mars Phoenix Lander and therefore could be present at other locations on the planet, according to analysis by a group of mission scientists led by a University of Michigan professor. This is the first time liquid water has been detected and photographed outside the Earth.

"A large number of independent physical and thermodynamical evidence shows that saline water may actually be common on ," said Nilton Renno, a professor in the U-M Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences and a co-investigator on the mission.

Previously, scientists believed that water existed on Mars only as ice or water vapor because of the planet's low temperature and .

This analysis shows how that assumption may be incorrect. Temperature fluctuation in the arctic region of Mars where Phoenix landed and salts in the soil could create pockets of water too salty to freeze in the climate of the landing site, Renno says.

Photos of one of the lander's legs show droplets that grew during the polar summer. Based on the temperature of the leg and the presence of large amounts of "perchlorate" salts detected in the soil, scientists believe the droplets were most likely water and mud that splashed on the spacecraft when it touched down. The lander was guided down by rockets whose exhaust melted the top layer of ice below a thin sheet of soil.

Some of the mud droplets that splashed on the lander's leg appear to have grown by absorbing water from the atmosphere, Renno says. Images suggest that some of the droplets darkened, then moved and merged—physical evidence that they were liquid.

Certain bacteria on Earth can exist in extremely salty and cold conditions. source

My comment:Or, Phoenix could have melted the water when it landed. This isn't that unbelievable. But anyway, keep in mind we're talking about Mars Poles. What could happen in other parts of the planet? I know this is an old info, but still, I find it pretty exciting! I really think we have to go to Mars. It's not a stupid NASA project. We can learn so much about other planets there. Not only to look for life, but learn more about life. Because currently, we really don't know how humans could survive so isolated from home. Oh, I'm sure we can survive. As long as there are some essential ingredients, we'll be fine. But we have to learn it. And this is a wonderful opportunity. This and the larger ISS.

Subterranean oceans on Saturn's moon Titan

April 6th, 2009 BY LOUIS BERGERON

(PhysOrg.com) -- Saturn's largest moon, Titan, may have a subterranean ocean of hydrocarbons and some topsy-turvy topography in which the summits of its mountains lie lower than its average surface elevation, according to new research.

Titan is also more squashed in its overall shape—like a rubber ball pressed down by a foot—than researchers had expected, said Howard Zebker, a Stanford geophysicist and electrical engineer involved in the work. The new findings may help explain the presence of large lakes of hydrocarbons at both of Titan's poles, which have been puzzling researchers since being discovered in 2007.

"Since the poles are squished in with respect to the equator, if there is a 'water table' that is more or less spherical in shape, then the poles would be closer down to that water table and depressions at the poles would fill up with liquid," Zebker said. The shape of the water table would be controlled by the of , which is still not fully understood.

Hydrocarbons are the only materials on Titan's that would remain liquid at minus180 degrees Celsius, the of the moon's surface. Any water would be frozen, making it plausible that instead of groundwater, Titan would have the equivalent in hydrocarbons.

Zebker, the lead author, and a group of colleagues have been making radar measurements of Titan's surface over the last four years using an instrument aboard the , which is orbiting Saturn.

Zebker said that there were theoretical reasons to expect that Titan was not a perfect sphere, but instead probably slightly oblate, or flattened, due to the centrifugal force from its rotation while orbiting Saturn. But the degree to which Titan is flattened exceeds what would be expected, based upon how close it is to Saturn and its roughly 16-day orbit.

But the bulge of Titan is also asymmetrical. The longest axis is oriented so that it points toward Saturn, a result of tidal forces from the planet. The shortest axis runs through the poles. And the other axis, oriented in the direction in which Titan orbits Saturn, is intermediate in length.

There are several possible explanations for Titan's deformity. It might be that when the shape of the moon was determined, it was in an orbit closer to Saturn. "Another is that there are active geophysical processes occurring inside Titan that further distort the shape," Zebker said.

Active geophysical processes might help account for another of Titan's oddities.

Zebker said that if you look at images of the surface of Titan, you see surface features that look every bit like mountains on Earth but don't have the high elevations compared to the plains stretching out around them.

"One of the really surprising finds that we have from this, is that the largest apparent continent is lower than the average elevation on Titan, as opposed to higher than the average elevation, as we have on the Earth," Zebker said.

"My favorite explanation is that the material that forms the mountains is simply more dense than the material surrounding them," he said. That would result in the mountains pushing down the surrounding crust, effectively putting the mountains in a basin of their own creation.

On Earth, the situation is the reverse: The crust that lies under the oceans is denser than the material that makes up the continental crust, where mountain ranges are built up.

"The things that we would expect to exist on the surface of Titan would either be solid hydrocarbon materials, essentially frozen ethane and methane, and that is fairly light, and then frozen water ice, which is denser," Zebker said. "If the mountains are composed of water ice and the plain features in between are composed of these solid hydrocarbons, that could lead to this kind of a situation." source

My comment: Ok, that's awesome. I mean seriously-he's actually hinting of MOUNTAINS of WATER! I don't know why, the whole story of Titan remembers me of the story of the The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and the planet production sites. I know this brings some unwanted refences and creationists ideas, but if you think about it, an advanced civilisation could eventually create a planet or its satellites. So, why not? Anyway, this is very very interesting! I wanna go there!

Giant ice flows bolster case for volcanoes on Titan

SLUSHY water from a hidden ocean may be pooling onto the icy surface of Saturn's moon Titan.

Titan's exterior, where the temperature is around -180 °C, is thought to be mostly water-ice, but it may be a different story deep down. Variations in the moon's rate of rotation suggest an ocean could lurk belowMovie Camera.

An area of Titan called Hotei Arcus appears to fluctuate in brightness on timescales of several months, and in 2005 Robert Nelson of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and colleagues, suggested this might be the result of "cryovolcanic" eruptions of water from below. Others argued that the flickers were caused by the moon's hazy atmosphere.

The cryovolcanism idea was bolstered in 2008, when observations of Hotei Arcus by a radar instrument aboard NASA's Cassini probe revealed structures that resembled lava flows.

Now radar images from Cassini have allowed scientists led by Randolph Kirk of the US Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Arizona, to create a 3D view of the area. It turns out that the sinuous structures tower 200 metres above their surroundings. They say that this is consistent with the structures having formed when slushy water and ammonia squirted onto the surface and froze - but that they could not have been produced by a flood of liquid methane depositing sediment.

If slush volcanoes have been erupting recently, Titan would join a select group of solar system objects - Earth and Io - known to be volcanic at present.

The idea of any life surviving in the erupted water is "pretty much out of the question", Kirk says, as it would freeze. As for the ocean below: "Who knows?" he says. "It's conceivable life could be going on down there."

Jeff Moore of NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, says it's still not obvious that the structures flowed.source

My comment: Yep, that article completes the previous quite nicely. If you remember, there is a hint of volcanism in it too-a way to explain the curious shape of Titan. And now this...I think there's much more to be learnt about Titan and I can't wait to see what the new missions would find out.

Subsurface ice on Mars exposed by recent impacts

Impacts are the most ubiquitous geologic features in our solar system. Roughly 1600 named craters (and countless lesser pits) scar the Moon's ancient surfaces. On Earth, where wind and water continually wear down the land, the census of confirmed impact craters stands at just 176.

These days, the HiRISE camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) can pick out objects only 0.3 metres in size; the High Resolution Stereo Camera on the European Space Agency's Mars Express is no slouch either, with a ground resolution of 2 metres.

So HiRISE researchers were elated, but not particularly surprised, to discover some small, freshly gouged craters in images taken in 2008. Seen at five sites over a latitude range of 43° to 56° north, the excavations are typically 3 to 6 metres across and a third to two-thirds of a metre deep.

What did astound the team were splashes of white seen in and around a handful of these craterlets. Could it be water ice? Colleagues operating the spacecraft's CRISM instrument soon confirmed, for the one case large enough to yield a spectrum, that it was! Apparently fist-sized impactors had punched into a layer of ice hidden by a topping of dust about a third of a metre deep.

In the months that followed, these snowy splashes gradually faded from view. Water ice isn't stable at the craters' latitudes, so most likely it gradually sublimated, or vaporised, into the atmosphere, leaving behind a veneer of any dust that had been mixed with it.

Byrne announced these findings on Friday at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas. He points out that prior surveys, particularly one done by the neutron spectrometer aboard NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter, show that vast reservoirs of ice lay barely buried across most of the planet's polar and mid-latitude regions.

But scientists are only now realising just how near the surface the ice lies – and how easily it can be reached. When NASA's Phoenix lander dropped onto a northern polar plain last May, its braking engine blew off a few inches of loose dirt and revealed slabs of nearly pure ice. source

My comment: Yes you read correctly! I won't comment-there's simply no need for that. Just enjoy the silence. And the water. On Mars! :)

---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Test flights for SpaceShipTwo mothership

The skies over California's Mojave Air and Space Port are serving as the proving ground for the WhiteKnightTwo, the massive mothership being tested to air-launch commercial spaceliners on suborbital flights.

Virgin Galactic aim is to propel public space travel into reality.

Roaring to life via a hybrid rocket motor, SpaceShipTwo will carry two pilots and six passengers on a suborbital trajectory, scooting the rubber-necking "rush hour" commuters to the edge of space and returning them to terra firma at $200,000 a seat.

After successfully completing its initial flight test program, space launch vehicle Virgin Mothership (VMS) Eve is slated to make its "world public debut" there on July 27. source

Space tourism to take flight in 2012

STOCKHOLM (AFP) – Short tourist flights into space are expected to begin launching from Kiruna(northern Sweden) in 2012, one of the companies involved in the project said Wednesday.

The flights will be run by Virgin Galactic, owned by British tycoon Sir Richard Branson, which will first send paying customers around 110 kilometres (70 miles) above the earth from New Mexico in the United States.

Nearly 300 tickets($200 000 each) have already been sold for the short tourist space flights, she said. source

Indian scientists discover new bacteria in Stratosphere

16 Mar 2009, 1909 hrs IST, PTI

BANGALORE: Three new species of bacteria, which are not found on earth and highly resistant to ultra violet radiation, have been discovered in the upper stratosphere by some Indian scientists.

As per the analytical findings, 12 bacterial and six fungal colonies were detected, nine of which, based on '16s RNA gene sequence' showed greater than 98 per cent similarity with reported known species on earth.

Three bacterial colonies named PVAS-1, B3 W22 and B8 W22 were totally new species and had significantly higher UV resistances compared to their nearest plogenetic neighbours, ISRO said.

Of the above, PVAS1 has been named as Janibacter Hoylie, B3W22 as Bacillus Isronensis and B8W22 as Bacillus Arayabhata. source

My comment:You can only imagine what bugs we can find on Europe or Io!

Norway joins EU's Galileo satnav project

April 3rd, 2009
Norway said Friday it will stump up close to 70 million euros in funding for the European Union's satellite navigation project Galileo.

The Norwegian government will give a boost by providing 68.9 million euros (92.5 million dollars) towards the 3.4 billion euro project.

While Norway is not a member of the 27-member bloc, the country's economy and business minister Sylvia Brustad said it was important that Oslo took part in Galileo's development.

The EU has previously struggled to secure financing for , which is expected to be launched in 2013 as a rival to the US (GPS), and had to release unused funds from the bloc's massive agricultural budget.

In September, the European Commission and the , which includes Norway as a member, shortlisted 11 European firms which are bidding for future contracts connected to Galileo.

Two test satellites, Giove-A and Giove-B, were launched in December 2005 and April 2008. source

My comment: Lol, "the bloc's massive agricultural budget". Sad, but true. Anyway, I'm very happy that Norway joined Gallileo, because with the problems with China, I was little worried. And Gallileo is really a very important project but for Europe and for the world. We need healthy competition, right?