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

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Easter Island compounds, space internet and more, October,2009

NewScientist Just check out this cool robot! It's adorable!

Today:

  1. NASA Research to Help Aircraft Avoid Ocean Storms, Turbulence
  2. Researchers test new 'space Internet' system on International Space Station
  3. Augmented Reality: Science Fiction or Reality? (w/ Video)
  4. 'Invisibility cloak' could protect against earthquakes
  5. Easter Island compound extends lifespan of old mice
  6. Asteroid blast reveals holes in Earth's defences
Shorties:
  1. Gene therapy repairs injured human donor lungs for the first time
  2. Moderate exercise in mice boosts immune system, diminishes flu's severity
  3. Researchers reverse pulmonary arterial hypertension in mouse models
  4. Modified crops reveal hidden cost of resistance

Interesting article on the abuse of the army over astronomers, that I will discuss in After The Pink Goat.

NASA Research to Help Aircraft Avoid Ocean Storms, Turbulence

July 7th, 2009
(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA is funding the development of a prototype system to provide aircraft with updates about severe storms and turbulence as they fly across remote ocean regions.

Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo., in partnership with colleagues at the University of Wisconsin, are developing a system that combines satellite data and computer models with cutting-edge artificial intelligence techniques. The goal is to identify and predict rapidly evolving storms and other potential areas of .

"Turbulence is the leading cause of injuries in commercial aviation," said John Haynes, program manager in the Earth Science Division's Applied Sciences Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "This new work to detect the likelihood of turbulence associated with oceanic storms using key space-based indicators is of crucial importance to pilots."

The system is designed to help guide pilots away from intense weather. A variety of NASA spacecraft observations are being used in the project, including data from NASA's Terra, Aqua, Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission, CloudSat and CALIPSO satellites.

The will identify areas of turbulence in clear regions of the atmosphere as well as within storms. It is on track for testing next year. Pilots on selected transoceanic routes will receive real-time turbulence updates and provide feedback. When the system is finalized, it will provide pilots and ground-based controllers with text-based maps and graphical displays showing regions of likely turbulence and storms.

"Pilots currently have little weather information as they fly over remote stretches of the ocean, which is where some of the worst turbulence occurs," said scientist John Williams, one of the project leads at NCAR. "Providing pilots with at least an approximate picture of developing storms could help guide them safely around areas of potentially severe turbulence."

NCAR currently provides real-time maps of turbulence at various altitudes over the continental United States. Williams and his colleagues are building on this expertise to identify turbulence over oceans.

In addition to providing aircraft and ground controllers with up-to-the-minute maps of turbulence, the NCAR team is turning to an technique, known as "random forests," to provide short-term forecasts. This enables scientists to forecast the movement and strength of the storm during the next few hours.

"Our goal is to give pilots a regularly updated picture of the likely storms ahead as they fly over the , so they can take action to minimize turbulence and keep their aircraft out of danger," explained NCAR scientist Cathy Kessinger, a project team member. source

My comment: That is wonderful news. I didn't know that there is so much turbulence over the oceans, even though it makes perfect sense. But still, I hope that this new system will come alive soon, because it is so sad to know we can prevent a plane crash and we haven't done it, because there isn't enough will or financing.

Researchers test new 'space Internet' system on International Space Station

July 6th, 2009
The University of Colorado at Boulder is working with NASA to develop a new communications technology now being tested on the International Space Station, which will extend Earth's Internet into outer space and across the solar system.

Called Disruption Tolerant Networking, or DTN, the new technology will enable NASA and other space agencies around the world to better communicate with international fleets of spacecraft that will be used to explore the moon and Mars in the future.

"Communication between spacecraft and ground stations has traditionally been over a single point-to-point link, much like a walkie-talkie," said Gifford. "Currently, space operations teams must manually schedule each link and generate appropriate commands to specify where the data is to be sent, the time it will be sent and its destination. As the number of spacecraft and links increase and the need to communicate between many space vehicles emerges, these manual operations become increasingly cumbersome and costly," he said.

"Highly automated future communications capabilities will be required for lunar habitation and surface exploration that include passing information between orbiting relay satellites, lunar and planetary habitats and astronauts on the surface," said Gifford. "But existing Internet protocols, where Internet hosts and computers are always connected, do not work well for many space-based environments, where intermittently connected operations are common."

The new data communications protocols were installed on a BioServe payload known as the Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus, or CGBA, on the in May to send DTN messages known as "bundles," said Gifford. As part of NASA's communication operations test that will begin June 15, bundles will be sent from the space station to its operations and control facility at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., then on to a mission control center at CU-Boulder's BioServe.

Cerf said that "while conventional Internet protocols may work well in short-delay, richly connected terrestrial environments, they quickly degrade in long-delay and highly stressed wireless data communications scenarios that are already beginning to be encountered at the edges of the Internet, which is where space tends to begin." "With the new system, delays caused by spacecraft moving behind planets or solar storms disrupting communications are not a problem because the data packets are not discarded when outages occur, but instead are stored as long as necessary until an opportunity arises that allows them to be transmitted," Hooke said.

"By improving data timeliness associated with robotic and human-tended missions, NASA is reducing risk, reducing cost, increasing crew safety, improving operational awareness and improving science return," said Gifford. "There also are intriguing applications of the DTN technology on Earth. They include the tracking of livestock and wildlife, enhancing Internet 'hot spot' connectivity in remote rural areas in Third World countries, and tactical operations support for the U.S. military."

source

My comment: That's so nice! Because if you think seriously, it's hard to relay live information trough such long distances, this new approach is much smarter, because as they formulated it - nothing is lost. Just imagine live camera from Titan for example. Wouldn't that be cool? And anyway, one must be able to tweet from Mars, right?

Augmented Reality: Science Fiction or Reality? (w/ Video)

July 7th, 2009 by John Messina
(PhysOrg.com) -- Today, computer graphics seem very real and some day researchers will pull graphics out of your television or computer display and integrate them into real-world environments.

This new technology, called augmented reality or AR, will further disguise what's real and what's computer-generated by enhancing what we see, hear, feel and smell.

Up until now AR has been used extensively in movies and been mostly confined to Hollywood. Today, it's now possible to shoot augmented reality by using only a .

The video below demonstrates basic AR in action. The AR scene involves an AR shooter shooting at zombies and using skittles as bombs to blow up zombies.

By using Nvidia's new Tegra platform, the game's maps are generated by pointing the phones camera at a 2D drawing printout lying on a table. The end result shows a realistic 3D world with buildings popping up, as players move the around the game map placed on the table.

Motion controlled devices for Nintendo Wii and Microsoft's new Natal platform are already being used to enhance gamers experience. By using the Natal platform, as the control mechanism, body movements can easily be converted into game movements. The ultimate goal would be to merge game graphics with the real world. The day will come when video games are played outdoors and project into the real world around us. source

My comment: Go to the source site to see the video. It's so cool! Another cool video and article on the subject here. I know the game looks somewhat stupid, but I'm sure with time, new and more fun commercial applications will come. It's just so exciting to see how easily we can attach our real life views to a computer game. Imagine how you can transform your room or a dark forest into your next zombi/Korean adventure. Or, imagine the applications for say the medicine - you make an MRI scan of the body of the patient and then you upload it to a computer and some software creates an augmented reality for you, giving you the opportunity to explore all the parts of the body and rehearse a surgery for example. Nice!

Easter Island compound extends lifespan of old mice

July 8th, 2009
The giant monoliths of Easter Island are worn, but they have endured for centuries. New research suggests that a compound first discovered in the soil of the South Pacific island might help us stand the test of time, too.

Wednesday, July 8, in the journal Nature, The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and two collaborating centers reported that the Easter Island compound - called "rapamycin" after the island's Polynesian name, Rapa Nui - extended the expected lifespan of middle-aged mice by 28 percent to 38 percent. In human terms, this would be greater than the predicted increase in extra years of life if cancer and heart disease were both cured and prevented.

The rapamycin was given to the mice at an age equivalent to 60 years old in humans.

The studies are part of the National Institute on Aging (NIA) Interventions Testing Program, which seeks compounds that might help people remain active and disease-free throughout their lives.

Discovered in the 1970s, rapamycin was first noted for its anti-fungal properties and later was used to prevent in transplant patients. It also is used in stents, which are implanted in patients during angioplasty to keep coronary arteries open. It is in clinical trials for the treatment of cancer.

The new aging experiments found that adding rapamycin to the diet of older mice increased their lifespan. The results were the same in Texas, Michigan and Maine.

"We believe this is the first convincing evidence that the aging process can be slowed and lifespan can be extended by a drug therapy starting at an advanced age," said Randy Strong, Ph.D., who directs the NIA-funded Aging Interventions Testing Center in San Antonio.

The findings have "interesting implications for our understanding of the aging process," said Z. Dave Sharp, Ph.D., director of the Institute of Biotechnology and professor and chairman of the Health Science Center's Department of Molecular Medicine.

"In addition," Dr. Sharp said, "the findings have immediate implications for preventive medicine and human health, in that rapamycin is already in clinical usage."

Aging researchers currently acknowledge only two life-extending interventions in mammals: calorie restriction and genetic manipulation. Rapamycin appears to partially shut down the same molecular pathway as restricting food intake or reducing growth factors.

It does so through a cellular protein called mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin), which controls many processes in cell metabolism and responses to stress.

The male and female mice were cross-bred from four different strains of mice to more closely mimic the genetic diversity and disease susceptibility of the human population.

The original goal was to begin feeding the mice at 4 months of age, but because of the delay caused by developing the new formulation, the mice were not started until they were 20 months old - the equivalent of 60 years of age in humans.
The teams decided to try the rapamycin intervention anyway.

"I did not think that it would work because the mice were too old when the treatment was started," Dr. Richardson said. "Most reports indicate that calorie restriction doesn't work when implemented in old animals. The fact that rapamycin increases lifespan in relatively old was totally unexpected." source

My comment: Any doubts that this is awesome?!

'Invisibility cloak' could protect against earthquakes

(PhysOrg.com) -- Research at the University of Liverpool has shown it is possible to develop an 'invisibility cloak' to protect buildings from earthquakes.

The seismic waves produced by earthquakes include body waves which travel through the earth and surface waves which travel across it. The new technology controls the path of surface waves which are the most damaging and responsible for much of the destruction which follows earthquakes.

The technology involves the use of concentric rings of plastic which could be fitted to the Earth's surface to divert surface waves. By controlling the stiffness and elasticity of the rings, waves travelling through the 'cloak' pass smoothly into the material and are compressed into small fluctuations in pressure and density. The path of the surface waves can be made into an arc that directs the waves outside the protective cloak. The technique could be applied to buildings by installing the rings into foundations.

Sebastien Guenneau, from the University's Department of Mathematics, who developed the technology with Stefan Enoch and Mohamed Farhat from the Fresnel Institute (CNRS) in Marseilles, France, explained: "We are able to 'tune' the cloak to the differing frequencies of incoming waves which means we can divert waves of a variety of frequencies. For each small frequency range, there is a pair of rings which does most of the work and these move about a lot - bending up and down - when they are hit by a wave at their frequency.

"The waves are then directed outside the cloak where they return to their previous size. The cloak does not reflect waves - they continue to travel behind it with the same intensity. At this stage, therefore, we can only transfer the risk from one area to another, rather than eliminate it completely."

Seismic waves also include coupled pressure and shear body waves which are less destructive than surface waves. source

My comment: Yup and the next best thing is to learn how to extract this energy for our own uses. Not only the seismic waves won't be dangerous to such extent anymore, but we'll be able to use their immense energy for own petty projects. Nice.And much better than thermal energy!

Asteroid blast reveals holes in Earth's defences

As the US government ponders a strategy to deal with threatening asteroids, a dramatic explosion over Indonesia has underscored how blind we still areMovie Camera to hurtling space rocks.

On 8 October an asteroid detonated high in the atmosphere above South Sulawesi, Indonesia, releasing about as much energy as 50,000 tons of TNT, according to a NASA estimate released on Friday. That's about three times more powerful than the atomic bomb that levelled Hiroshima, making it one of the largest asteroid explosions ever observed.

However, the blast caused no damage on the ground because of the high altitude, 15 to 20 kilometres above Earth's surface, says astronomer Peter Brown of the University of Western Ontario (UWO), Canada.

Brown and Elizabeth Silber, also of UWO, estimated the explosion energy from infrasound waves that rippled halfway around the world and were recorded by an international network of instruments that listens for nuclear explosions.

The explosion was heard by witnesses in Indonesia. Video images of the sky following the event show a dust trail characteristic of an exploding asteroid.

The amount of energy released suggests the object was about 10 metres across, the researchers say. Such objects are thought to hit Earth about once per decade.

No telescope spotted the asteroid ahead of its impact. That is not surprising, given that only a tiny fraction of asteroids smaller than 100 metres across have been catalogued, says Tim Spahr, director of the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Yet objects as small as 20 or 30 metres across may be capable of doing damage on the ground, he says.

"If you want to find the smallest objects you have to build more, larger telescopes," says Spahr. "A survey that finds all of the 20-metre objects will cost probably multiple billions of dollars." source

My comment: Yep, we definitely need better telescopes. I wouldn't say bigger, because if they are space-born, maybe the size won't matter so much. Here, the most important part is that we need large-area telescopes, so that we can observe vast areas of the sky, because this is the biggest problems about asteroids. That the sky is so big and they are so many and some of them are small. Well, some money invested into this won't be a waste for sure. Life is more precious than them.

Shorties:

Gene therapy repairs injured human donor lungs for the first time

October 28th, 2009
For the first time, scientists in the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine, University Health Network have successfully used gene therapy to repair injured human donor lungs, making them potentially suitable for transplantation into patients. This technique could significantly expand the number of donor lungs by using organs that are currently discarded, and improve outcomes after transplantation. (read more)

Moderate exercise in mice boosts immune system, diminishes flu's severity

October 28th, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- It appears as though exercise pain does have plenty of gain when it comes to fighting off the severe effects of the flu. A new study by five Iowa State University researchers on mice infected with the flu virus suggests that a moderate workout per day may just keep the doctor away -- or at least diminish the severity of the flu's symptoms. (read more)

Researchers reverse pulmonary arterial hypertension in mouse models

October 25th, 2009

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, have identified a key protein that promotes the development of pulmonary arterial hypertension in humans and mice. This groundbreaking discovery has implications for future drug therapies that may extend the life of patients with pulmonary arterial hypertension and prevent the need for lung transplantation, currently the only cure for this debilitating disease.

In a paper to be published online in Nature Medicine on October 25, Patricia Thistlethwaite, MD, PhD, Professor of Surgery and cardiothoracic surgeon in UCSD's Department of Surgery, and colleagues describe the by which vascular associated with are switched on to proliferate by a receptor protein called Notch-3. With this finding, the researchers were able to block and reverse the pathway of disease in mice.(read more)

Modified crops reveal hidden cost of resistance

October 26th, 2009
Genetically modified squash plants that are resistant to a debilitating viral disease become more vulnerable to a fatal bacterial infection, according to biologists.
The researchers discovered that as the viral infection swept the fields containing both genetically modified and wild crops, the damage from cucumber beetles is greater on the genetically modified plants. The modified plants are therefore more susceptible to the fatal bacterial wilt disease. (read more)

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Dino-sex and the alien skull, October 2009

First, check out this two pictures, I just couldn't stop myself from making the comparison.

Thracian Gold Treasure from Panagyurishte - Тракийско златно съкровище от Панагюрище by The Traveling Frog - Rossitza and Stevan Olson.
First one is from this site and is pottery from the Byzantine period and the second is Thracian gold treasure from around 3 century B.C. The contrast is simply unbelievable. Of course, I'm sure there are much richer and prettier Byzantine pottery pieces from the same period, i'm not trying to undermine the glory of Byzantine Empire. I just saw the one picture and couldn't help myself from evoking the other. Thracian gold treasures are simply surreal. I've seen them, they are magnificent! Read more about Thracian gold here (NationalGeographic), or see them here(wikipedia), Flickr, or here. And to be fair, here is a site for Byzantine pottery (didn't find anything glorious under Byzantine treasure, but feel free to share it with me).
Today:
  1. Steppe change: Mammoths roamed southern Spain
  2. First direct evidence of substantial fish consumption by early modern humans in China
  3. Oldest dinosaur burrow discovered
  4. Hundreds of dinosaur nests found in India
  5. Oldest known Bible goes online
  6. Maize may have fueled ancient Andean civilization
  7. Dinosaur fish had sex 380 million years ago

Steppe change: Mammoths roamed southern Spain

July 9th, 2009
Remains of woolly mammoths have been found in southern Spain, proving that the chilly grip of the last Ice Age extended farther south than thought, palaeontologists said on Thursday.

The fossilised remains of at least four mature male mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius) were found in a peat bog near the town of Padul in the Granada Basin, they said.

Carbon-dating estimates the animals lived between 35,000 and 25,700 years ago.

Until now, the southernmost mammoths in western Europe were found in Spain at around 40 degrees north, or roughly the same latitude as Spain.

This new find, though, is more than 300 kilometres (185 miles) farther south, which shows that the grasslands that flourished in the dry, cold climate in the Eurasian ice ages extended much farther south than previously thought.

"These woolly mammoths finds do not belong to stray animals who only chanced to head south, but belonged to Granada's permanent inhabitants at this time," said Diego Alvarez-Lao of the University of Oviedo, Spain.

The finds are backed by evidence from drill cores, indicating that steppe plants once flourished in Spain.

eventually died out after the Ice Age, also called the Late Pleistocene, came to an end around 10,000 years ago.

Some scenarios blame natural global warming that destroyed the animals' sources of food; others say the beasts were wiped out by humans who expanded rapidly after the big freeze. source

My comment: This is very interesting, because the last clear evidence of Neanderthals is in Southern Spain where presumably the climate was warmer. If it wasn't warm, then they obviously didn't have a problem with cold weather. While they maybe really had a problem with higher temperatures, especially if we don't have clear evidences of them living in warm places. Very very interesting.

First direct evidence of substantial fish consumption by early modern humans in China

July 6th, 2009

A new study by an international team of researchers, including Erik Trinkaus, Ph.D., professor of in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, shows the fish may have entered the diet of people in China as far back as 40,000 years ago.

Chemical analysis of the protein collagen, using ratios of the isotopes of nitrogen and sulfur in particular, can show whether such consumption was an occasional treat or a regular food item.

Analysis of a bone from one of the earliest modern human in Asia, the 40,000-year-old skeleton from Tianyuan Cave near Beijing, has shown that at least this individual was a regular fish consumer.

This analysis provides the first direct evidence for the substantial consumption of aquatic resources by early modern humans in China. source

My comment: This is strange since there were evidences that I think I published here that Neanderthals ate fish. If they were able to catch it, club it and eat it, then so should be able to do Homo Sapiens. Unless you don't claim that we weren't that smart :)

Oldest dinosaur burrow discovered

Matt Walker, Editor, Earth News
The world's oldest dinosaur burrows have been discovered in Australia.

Three separate burrows have been found in all, the biggest 2m long, each built to a similar design and just big enough to hold the body of a small dinosaur.

The 106-million-year-old burrows, the first to be found outside of North America, would have been much closer to the South Pole when they were created.

That supports the idea that dinosaurs living in cold, harsh climates burrowed underground to survive.

The only other known dinosaur burrow was discovered in 2005 in Montana, US.

Described two years later, this burrow dated from 95 million years ago and contained the bones of an adult and two juveniles of a small new species of dinosaur called Oryctodromeus cubicularis.

Now the older burrows have been found by one of the researchers who made the original Montana discovery.That original structure turned out to be the burrow of O. cubicularis, which Martin described with colleagues David Varricchio from Montana State University, Bozeman, US, and Yoshi Katsura of Gifu Prefectural Museum in Seki City, Japan.

Within the rock, which forms part of the so-called Otway group of rocks that have yielded a rich diversity of vertebrate fossils, Martin found three separate burrows less than 3m apart, which he describes in the journal Cretaceous Research.

Two of the burrows formed a semi-helix, twisting down into the rock that was once soil.The largest and best preserved, dubbed tunnel A, turns twice before ending in a larger chamber. In total, it is more than 2.1m long.

Martin calculates that an animal around 10kg in size would have made each burrow.

Modern animals which create such burrows include aardwolves, alligators, coyotes, gopher tortoises and striped hyenas. Twisting burrows can help stop predators getting in and keep the temperature and humidity constant.

Martin can't be sure which species of dinosaur made the burrows, but he is struck by how similar their designs are to the burrow made by O. cubicularis.

A variety of small ornithopod dinosaurs were also known to have lived in the area during the same time in the Cretaceous. These ornithopods stood upright on their hind legs and were about the size of a large, modern-day iguana.

Twenty years ago, researchers in Australia, including Patricia Vickers-Rich of Monash University in Clayton and Thomas Rich of the Museum of Victoria, first proposed that some dinosaurs may have climbed into burrows to survive harsh climates they couldn't escape from by migrating.

. source

My comment:There will be more on dinosaurs in the articles that follow but now on this one. I find those special types of burrows to be very interesting. The speculation is that they are related to the weather, but I think that it would be very interesting to know how often the dinos used those burrows and what exactly was harsh condition for them. Because we have evidences that dinosaurs lived in very northern regions. If cold was such a problem, why did they go there on the first place?! They couldn't possible have expected that the weather will change - even current mammals don't do that. And what's even more interesting that I think they found bones in one of those burrows. Why? Could it be a grave in some form?

Hundreds of dinosaur nests found in India

October 2nd, 2009 by Lin Edwards

(PhysOrg.com) -- Geologists have discovered hundreds of fossilized nests each containing clutches of eight dinosaur eggs. The eggs were located in sand banks in Tamil Nadu in Southern India.

Geologist Dr M.U. Ramkumar of Periyar University said the eggs may be around 65 million years old. They were all spherical and measured five to eight inches (13 to 20 cm) in diameter. The nests were around four feet (1.2 m) in diameter. Some of the eggs were believed to be of Carnosaurs, which were aggressive predators, while others were Sauropods, which were large, long-necked herbivores.

Fossils of Carnosaurs and Sauropods have previously been found in the area around the Sendurai village in the central district of Ariyalur in Southern India, according to a report on the find in The Times of India. The site is a well-known area containing fossils up to 140 million years old. The first dinosaur eggs were discovered there in 1860 by a British geologist, while another was found in the 1990s at a nearby factory.

The nests were buried under believed to have come from the Deccan Trap eruptions. These eruptions were among the biggest ever, and produced lava flows hundreds of miles long and enormous volumes of climate-changing gases, which may have caused the widespread extinctions of that occurred at the time.

The find is the largest number of dinosaur eggs ever found in . All the eggs were unhatched and were infertile. source
My comment: More on dinosaurs: Was mighty T.rex 'Sue' felled by a lowly parasite? Well, go Jurassic park! What more could I say! It's strange that we find so much stuff under volcanic ash. Because dinosaurs were the ruler of the Earth, surprisingly a lot of them got caught in such situations. Or maybe they simply were awfully a lot! (and btw, check the article for the T.rex that died because of bacteriological infection. It's strange to think that dinosaurs weren't only horrible creatures killing everything in sight, but also normal living creatures that suffer from diseases, bad climate, volcanic erruptions and all kind of natural disasters.

Oldest known Bible goes online

July 6, 2009 -- Updated 1628 GMT (0028 HKT)
LONDON, England (CNN) -- The world's oldest known Christian Bible goes online Monday -- but the 1,600-year-old text doesn't match the one you'll find in churches today.

Discovered in a monastery in the Sinai desert in Egypt more than 160 years ago, the handwritten Codex Sinaiticus includes two books that are not part of the official New Testament and at least seven books that are not in the Old Testament.

The New Testament books are in a different order, and include numerous handwritten corrections -- some made as much as 800 years after the texts were written, according to scholars who worked on the project of putting the Bible online. The changes range from the alteration of a single letter to the insertion of whole sentences.

And some familiar -- very important -- passages are missing, including verses dealing with the resurrection of Jesus, they said.

Juan Garces, the British Library project curator, said it should be no surprise that the ancient text is not quite the same as the modern one, since the Bible has developed and changed over the years.

The Bible comes from the Monastery of St. Catherine in the Sinai desert, where a scholar named Constantine Tischendorf recognized its significance in 1844 -- and promptly took part of it, Garces explained.

He took a handful of pages to Germany to publish them, then returned in 1853 and in 1859 for more. On that last trip, he took 694 pages, which ended up in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The Soviet government decided to sell them in 1933 -- to raise money to buy tractors and other agricultural equipment.

The British government bought the pages for £100,000, raising half the money from the public. Garces called that event one of the first fundraising campaigns in British history. source

My comment: Here is the webpage of the project. I won't comment this, since it doesn't really matter what I think. The important thing is that this version is already online and everyone can have a look or even try to give alternative translation which is obviously nice .

Maize may have fueled ancient Andean civilization

Prehistoric skeletons yield evidence that farming of crop started early in Peru’s mountains and led to the rise of an early state society
July 8th, 2009

access

Prehistoric communities in one part of Peru’s Andes Mountains may have gone from maize to amazingly complex. Bioarchaeologist Brian Finucane’s analyses of human skeletons excavated in this region indicate that people living there 2,800 years ago regularly ate maize. This is the earliest evidence for maize as a staple food in the rugged terrain of highland Peru, he says.

Maize agriculture stimulated ancient population growth in the Andes and allowed a complex society, the Wari, to develop, Finucane contends in the August Current Anthropology. Wari society included a central government and other elements of modern states. It lasted from around 1,300 to 950 years ago and predated other Andes civilizations, including the Inca.

Previous work has shown that prehistoric societies in the lowland areas of Central and North America depended on maize to grow large enough in numbers to develop state institutions, a pattern that Finucane sees paralleled in the Andes Mountains.

The new data convincingly demonstrate that highland residents relied on maize shortly before the rise of the Wari state, comments archaeologist Daniel Sandweiss of the University of Maine in Orono. A warmer, wetter climate during the Wari period and the spread of terraced cultivation areas may also have spurred maize farming, he suggests.source

My comment: The article isn't so important. Just take a look on that skull! Does it look human? I mean, seriously? I really don't understand why such skulls are considered normal, or part of ancient cult of deformation of the skull. Why anyone would want to do something like this with his/her head! It should come from somewhere. From where? Who cares about maize (especially now, when GMo maize is killing native species that survived trough the centuries). We should care about those skulls! If you remember, I posted here an Egyptian skull that had more or less the same shape. Why two civilisations thousands of kilometers away like the same deformations?!

Dinosaur fish had sex 380 million years ago

SYDNEY: The male members of an ancient fish species known as sea dinosaurs impregnated females with penis like organs 380 million years ago, just like modern day sharks.

Some fish species engaged in penetrative sex and gave birth to young ones, according to a study conducted by Curtin University of Technology (CUT).

"The findings throw light on the evolution of vertebrates on earth, including our own species. This discovery provides a link in the chain of evolution," Kate Trinajstic, a researcher in CUT, said.

The research involves the identification of claspers in the fossil of a male Incisoscutum, exceed the oldest known date for vertebrates by approximately 200 million years. The Incisoscutum is an extinct species of placoderm, a primitive, shark-like armoured fish.

Placoderms dominated the oceans for around 70 million years, until their extinction about 360 million years ago.

"Another interesting discovery was that vertebrates have been giving birth to young ones since much longer than previously thought, and that some species of placoderms had shark-like claspers," said Trinajstic.

Claspers are modifications of the pelvic fins that form the penis-like organ found in sharks. These organs are used to deposit sperms into the genital duct of sexually receptive female. source
My comment: Nice, huh? Ok, much to say here, but I'm running out of time. Check the source article to read that this might be the first evidence of foreplay. As I already said, we're really just starting to grasp the intelligence of dinosaurs from all kinds. Who knows what we could expect tomorrow.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

(Bio)technology, October, 2009

First a cool video.

Here's a quote of the article:"

As it processes information, the brain often synchronises large groups of neurons to fire at the same frequency, a process called "phase-locking". Like broadcasting different radio stations at different frequencies, this allows different "task forces" of neurons to communicate among themselves without interference from others.

The brain also constantly reorganises its task forces, so the stable periods of phase-locking are interspersed with unstable periods in which the neurons fire out of sync in a blizzard of activity.

He found that the length of time the children's brains spent in both the stable phase-locked states and the unstable phase-shifting states correlated with their IQ scores. For example, phase shifts typically last 55 milliseconds, but an additional 1 millisecond seemed to add as many as 20 points to the child's IQ. A shorter time in the stable phase-locked state also corresponded with greater intelligence - with a difference of 1 millisecond adding 4.6 IQ points to a child's score.

Thatcher, meanwhile, has found that certain regions in the brains of people with autism spend less time than average in the unstable, phase-shifting states. These abnormalities reduce the capacity to process information and, suggestively, are found only in the regions associated with social behaviour."
Very very interesting!
  1. Salamanders, regenerative wonders, heal like mammals, people
  2. Printable batteries
  3. One step closer to an artificial nerve cell
  4. Human sperm created from embryonic stem cells (Update)
  5. Researchers enlist DNA to bring carbon nanotubes' promise closer to reality
Short stories:
  1. Discovery pinpoints new connection between cancer cells, stem cells
  2. Nanopillars Promise Cheap, Efficient, Flexible Solar Cells

Salamanders, regenerative wonders, heal like mammals, people

July 1st, 2009
The salamander is a superhero of regeneration, able to replace lost limbs, damaged lungs, sliced spinal cord -- even bits of lopped-off brain. But it turns out that remarkable ability isn't so mysterious after all -- suggesting that researchers could learn how to replicate it in people.

Scientists had long credited the diminutive amphibious creature's outsized capabilities to "pluripotent" cells that, like human , have the uncanny ability to morph into whatever appendage, organ or tissue happens to be needed or due for a replacement.

But in a paper set to appear Thursday in the journal Nature, a team of seven researchers, including a University of Florida zoologist, debunks that notion. Based on experiments on genetically modified axolotl salamanders, the researchers show that cells from the salamander's different tissues retain the "memory" of those tissues when they regenerate, contributing with few exceptions only to the same type of tissue from whence they came.

Standard mammal stem cells operate the same way, albeit with far less dramatic results -- they can heal wounds or knit bone together, but not regenerate a limb or rebuild a spinal cord. What's exciting about the new findings is they suggest that harnessing the salamander's regenerative wonders is at least within the realm of possibility for human medical science.

Also, the salamanders heal perfectly, without any whatsoever, another ability people would like to learn how to mimic, Maden said.

Axolotl salamanders, originally native to only one lake in central Mexico, are evolutionary oddities that become sexually reproducing adults while still in their larval stage. They are useful scientific models for studying because, unlike other salamanders, they can be bred in captivity and have large embryos that are easy to work on.

When an axolotl loses, for example, a leg, a small bump forms over the injury called a blastema. It takes only about three weeks for this blastema to transform into a new, fully functioning replacement leg -- not long considering the animals can live 12 or more years.

The cells within the blastema appear embryonic-like and originate from all tissues around the injury, including the cartilage, skin and muscle. As a result, scientists had long believed these cells were pluripotential -- meaning they came from a variety of sites and could make a variety of things once functioning in their regenerative mode.

Maden and his colleagues at two German institutions tested that assumption using a tool from the transgenic kit: the GFP protein. When produced by genetically modified cells, GFP proteins have the useful quality of glowing livid green under ultraviolet light. This allows researchers to follow the origin, movement and destination of the genetically modified cells.

The researchers experimented on both adult and embryonic salamanders.

With the embryos, the scientists grafted transgenic tissue onto sites already known to develop into certain body parts, then observed how and where the cells organized themselves as the embryo developed. This approach allowed them to see, literally, what tissues the transgenic tissue made. In perhaps the most vivid result, the researchers grafted GFP-modified nerve cells onto the part of the embryo known to develop into the nervous system. Once the creatures developed, ultraviolet light exams of the adults revealed the GFP cells stretched only along nerve pathways -- like glowing green strings throughout the body.

The researchers' main conclusion: Only 'old' muscle cells make 'new' muscle cells, only old skin cells make new skin cells, only old nerve cells make new nerve cells, and so on. The only hint that the axolotl cells could revamp their function came with skin and cartilage cells, which in some circumstances seemed to swap roles, Maden said.

Maden said the findings will help researchers zero in on why salamander cells are capable of such remarkable regeneration. "If you can understand how they regenerate, then you ought to be able to understand why mammals don't regenerate," he said. source

My comment: Wow, that is absolutely amazing. I didn't know that salamanders are such little heroes (wink to Russia). Sure we would like to be able to restore our bodies like them. If you think about it, all the creatures around us are like the Natures laboratory. All kind of genes are mixed in them leading to all kind of great results. We only have to choose what we like and see how to reproduce it. I so hope I'll be able to see one day the full power of this approach. Because it really IS possible to grow a limb and so on. We still have those stem cells in our bodies - the cells from which our bodies grew from first of all. So if we have them, the only problem is how to make them to work for us. It shouldn't be that hard, right? If someone can cure from cancer, then anyone should be able to do it. We have more or less the same hardware. Only the software differs.

Printable batteries

July 2nd, 2009

For a long time, batteries were bulky and heavy. Now, a new cutting-edge battery is revolutionizing the field. It is thinner than a millimeter, lighter than a gram, and can be produced cost-effectively through a printing process.

It was developed by a research team led by Prof. Dr. Reinhard Baumann of the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Electronic Nano Systems ENAS in Chemnitz together with colleagues from TU Chemnitz and Menippos GmbH. "Our goal is to be able to mass produce the batteries at a price of single digit cent range each," states Dr. Andreas Willert, group manager at ENAS.

The characteristics of the battery differ significantly from those of conventional batteries. The printable version weighs less than one gram on the scales, is not even one millimeter thick and can therefore be integrated into bank cards, for example. The battery contains no mercury and is in this respect environmentally friendly. Its voltage is 1.5 V, which lies within the normal range.

By placing several batteries in a row, voltages of 3 V, 4.5 V and 6 V can also be achieved. The new type of battery is composed of different layers: a and a manganese , among others. Zinc and manganese react with one another and produce electricity.

The batteries are printed using a silk-screen printing method similar to that used for t-shirts and signs. At the end of this year, the first products could possibly be finished. source

My comment: Nice. I don't know what is the use of this small batteries, but I'm sure that more creative than me people will figure something out. Something fancy and flashy. And shiny. Lol :)

One step closer to an artificial nerve cell

July 6th, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Scientists at Karolinska Institutet and Linköping University (Sweden) are well on the way to creating the first artificial nerve cell that can communicate specifically with nerve cells in the body using neurotransmitters.

The methods that are currently used to stimulate in the nervous system are based on electrical stimulation. Examples of this are cochlear implants, which are surgically inserted into the cochlea in the inner ear, and electrodes that are used directly in the brain. One problem with this method is that all cell types in the vicinity of the electrode are activated, which gives undesired effects.

Scientists have now used an electrically conducting plastic to create a new type of "delivery electrode" that instead releases the neurotransmitters that use to communicate naturally. The advantage of this is that only neighbouring cells that have receptors for the specific , and that are thus sensitive to this substance, will be activated.

The scientists demonstrate in the article in Nature Materials that the delivery can be used to control the hearing function in the brains of .

The scientists intend to continue with the development of a small unit that can be implanted into the body. It will be possible to program the unit such that the release of neurotransmitters takes place as often or as seldom as required in order to treat the individual patient. Research projects that are already under way are targeted towards hearing, epilepsy and Parkinson's disease.source

My comment: Another very cool thing. I won't comment more, it's obvious this is good research and it will become even better when it reaches people with such needs.

Human sperm created from embryonic stem cells

July 8th, 2009
PhysOrg.com) -- Human sperm have been created using embryonic stem cells for the first time in a scientific development which will lead researchers to a better understanding of the causes of infertility.

Researchers led by Professor Karim Nayernia at Newcastle University and the NorthEast England Stem Cell Institute (NESCI) have developed a new technique which has made the creation of human possible in the laboratory.

Professor Nayernia says: "This is an important development as it will allow researchers to study in detail how sperm forms and lead to a better understanding of in men - why it happens and what is causing it. This understanding could help us develop new ways to help couples suffering infertility so they can have a child which is genetically their own."

"It will also allow scientists to study how cells involved in reproduction are affected by toxins, for example, why young boys with leukaemia who undergo chemotherapy can become infertile for life - and possibly lead us to a solution."

The team also believe that studying the process of forming sperm could lead to a better understanding of how are passed on.

In the technique developed at Newcastle, stem cells with XY chromosomes (male) were developed into germline stem cells which were then prompted to complete meiosis - cell division with halving of the chromosome set. These were shown to produce fully mature, sperm called scientifically, In Vitro Derived sperm (IVD sperm).

In contrast, stem cells with XX chromosomes (female) were prompted to form early stage sperm, spermatagonia, but did not progress further. This demonstrates to researchers that the genes on a are essential for meiosis and for sperm maturation.

The IVD sperm will not and cannot be used for fertility treatment. As well as being prohibited by UK law, the research team say fertilization of human eggs and implantation of embryos would hold no scientific merit for them as they want to study the process as a model for research.

These results indicated maturation of the primordial germ cells to haploid male gametes - called IVD sperm - characterised by containing half a chromosome set (23 chromosomes). source

My comment: I don't understand why it is prohibited by UK law to use this sperm for fertility treatment. It's either good sperm or it is not. And the only way to check this is by studying it for as far as it goes and then using it on eggs to see if it will create viable embryos. And if everything is ok, why not use it to help infertile men to have children? What is wrong with this? It's not cloning since there still will be egg of a woman. It's just artificial sperm!

Researchers enlist DNA to bring carbon nanotubes' promise closer to reality

July 8th, 2009

A team of researchers from DuPont and Lehigh University has reported a breakthrough in the quest to produce carbon nanotubes (CNTs) that are suitable for use in electronics, medicine and other applications.

In an article published in the July 9 issue of Nature, the group says it has developed a DNA-based method that sorts and separates specific types of CNTs from a mixture.

CNTs are long, narrow cylinders of graphite with a broad range of electronic, thermal and structural properties that vary according to the tubes' shape and structure. This versatility gives CNTs great promise in electronics, lasers, sensors and biomedicine, and as strengthening elements in .

Current methods of producing CNTs yield mixtures of tubes with different diameters and symmetry, or "chirality." Before the tubes can be used, however, they must be disentangled from a mixture and "purified" into separate species of CNTs of the same electronic type.

"A systematic method of purifying every single-chirality species of the same electronic type from a synthetic mixture of single-walled nanotubes is highly desirable," the DuPont-Lehigh group wrote in Nature, "but the task has proven to be insurmountable to date."

In 2003, a team of scientists from DuPont, MIT and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign developed a new method of separating metallic CNTs from semiconducting CNTs using single-stranded DNA and anion-exchange chromatography. The scientists reported their discovery in Science. The team was led by Zheng and Jagota, who was then a research scientist with DuPont. The new results improve on the 2003 results by identifying more than 20 DNA short sequences that can recognize individual types, or species, of carbon nanotubes and purify them from a mixture.

The new method utilizes tailored and "allows the purification of all 12 major single-chirality semiconducting species from a synthetic mixture, with sufficient yield for both fundamental studies and application development."

"The interesting discovery made by Tu and Zheng," says Jagota, "is that if you choose the DNA sequence correctly, it recognizes a particular type of CNT and enables us to sort that variety cleanly. This kind of practical improvement brings us closer to manufacturing possibility."

How does DNA recognize and sort types of CNTs? The DuPont-Lehigh team says this could be related to DNA's ability to form a structure different from its usual double helix by wrapping around the CNTs.

An alpha helix, like scotch tape wrapped around a pencil to form a tube, is a common shape seen in proteins, one of the main classes of biological molecules. Another common structure seen in proteins is the beta sheet. If you take a long strand in your palm, stretch it out to the tip of your index finger, loop it to your middle finger, then back to your palm, then out to your ring finger, back to your palm and out to your little finger, you form a type of beta sheet.

"Such a structure is not known for DNA," says Jagota, "but we've shown that it is possible as long as you allow the DNA to adsorb on a surface. If the surface is cylindrical, like a CNT, you get a variant called the beta-barrel."

While the researchers do not have absolute proof, they say circumstantial evidence strongly supports their hypothesis that the DNA is forming this well-organized structure and that it recognizes a specific CNT in the same way that biological molecules recognize each other by structure.source

My comment: That is so freaking interesting. It seems that DNA is extremely useful for all kind of things. I think we're just starting to discover the power of the biological machines in our bodies.

Short stories....

Discovery pinpoints new connection between cancer cells, stem cells

July 1st, 2009

A molecule called telomerase, best known for enabling unlimited cell division of stem cells and cancer cells, has a surprising additional role in the expression of genes in an important stem cell regulatory pathway, say researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine. The unexpected finding may lead to new anticancer therapies and a greater understanding of how adult and embryonic stem cells divide and specialize.

"Telomerase is the factor that accounts for the unlimited division of cancer cells," said Steven Artandi, MD, PhD, associate professor of hematology, "and we're very excited about what this connection might mean in human disease."

In many ways, telomerase is the quintessential molecule of mystery — hugely important and yet difficult to pin down. Telomerase was known to stabilize telomeres, special caps that protect the ends of . It stitches short pieces of DNA on these chromosome ends in and some , conferring a capacity for unlimited cell division denied to most of the body's other cells. Its importance is highlighted by the fact that it is inappropriately activated in more than 90 percent of cancer cells, suggesting that drugs or treatments that block telomerase activity may be effective anticancer therapies. However, its vast size, many components and relative rarity — it is not expressed in most of the body's cells — hinder attempts to learn more about it.

Artandi and his lab have spent many years identifying and studying the components of the telomerase complex. In this most recent study, they were following up on a previous finding suggesting that one part, a protein called TERT, was involved in more than just maintaining telomeres. They had discovered that overexpressing TERT in the skin of mice stimulated formerly resting adult stem cells to divide — even in the absence of other telomerase components. "This was a pretty clear hint that TERT was involved in something more than just telomere maintenance," he said.

Artandi and his colleagues recognized that the cells' response to TERT mimicked that seen when another protein, beta-catenin, was overexpressed in mouse skin. Beta-catenin is a component of a vital signaling cascade known as the Wnt pathway, which is important in development, stem cell maintenance and stem cell activation. Stanford developmental biologist and professor Roeland Nusse, PhD, a collaborator on the current study, identified the first Wnt molecule in 1982.In this study, Artandi and his colleagues purified the TERT protein from cultured human cells and found that it was associated with a chromatin-remodeling protein implicated in the Wnt pathway. They showed that overexpression of TERT in the presence of the remodeling protein enhanced the expression of Wnt-inducible genes. Finally, they found that TERT is required for mouse to respond appropriately to Wnt signals and that blocking TERT expression impairs the development of frog embryos.

source


Nanopillars Promise Cheap, Efficient, Flexible Solar Cells

July 9th, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California at Berkeley have demonstrated a way to fabricate efficient solar cells from low-cost and flexible materials. The new design grows optically active semiconductors in arrays of nanoscale pillars, each a single crystal, with dimensions measured in billionths of a meter.

A solar cell's basic job is to convert light energy into charge-carrying electrons and "holes" (the absence of an electron), which flow to electrodes to produce a current. Unlike a typical two-dimensional solar cell, a nanopillar array offers much more surface for collecting light. Computer simulations have indicated that, compared to flat surfaces, nanopillar semiconductor arrays should be more sensitive to light, have a greatly enhanced ability to separate electrons from holes, and be a more efficient collector of these charge carriers.

"Unfortunately, early attempts to make based on pillar-shaped semiconductors grown from the bottom-up yielded disappointing results. Light-to-electricity efficiencies were less than one to two percent," says Javey. "Epitaxial growth on single crystalline substrates was often used, which is costly. The nanopillar dimensions weren't well controlled, pillar density and alignment was poor, and the quality of the interface between the semiconductors was poor."

Javey devised a new, controlled way to use a method called the "vapor-liquid-solid" process to make large-scale modules of dense, highly ordered arrays of single-crystal nanopillars.

The efficiency of the test device was measured at six percent, which while less than the 10 to 18 percent range of mass-produced commercial cells is higher than most photovoltaic devices based on nanostructured materials - even though the nontransparent copper-gold electrodes on top of the Javey group's test device cut its efficiency by 50 percent. In future, top contact transparency can easily be improved.

Other factors that greatly affect the efficiency of a 3-D nanopillar-array solar cell include its density and the exposed length of the pillars in contact with the window material. These dimensions are easily optimized in future generations of the device.

Concerned with practical applications as well as theoretical performance, the researchers made a flexible solar cell of the same design. They sheathed the whole solar cell in clear plastic (polydimethylsiloxane) to make a bendable device, which could be flexed with only marginal effect on performance - and no degradation of performance after repeated bending. source




Thursday, 15 October 2009

Space technology and future, 10. 2009

First a link to some of the freakiest inventions of Nature. The third one is especially horrible, but still quite fascinating - after all the two creatures live well together even if it is somewhat creepy.
And one good idea - sending water bears to Mars to see how they will survive. I love this little things. They are so weird.
Today:

  1. A Polymer Solar Cell with Near-Perfect Internal Efficiency
  2. Europe's Mars mission scaled back
  3. Workers to break ground on New Mexico spaceport
  4. Firms team up for ISS supply ship
  5. A new approach to engineering for extreme environments (w/ Video)
  6. Scientists Observe Liquid Water Below Freezing

A Polymer Solar Cell with Near-Perfect Internal
Efficiency

June 17th, 2009 by Laura Mgrdichian

An international group of scientists has developed a polymer-based solar cell with an ability not yet seen in similar cells: almost every single photon it absorbs is converted into a pair of electric-charge carriers, and every one of those pairs is collected at the cell's electrodes.

The overall efficiency of the cell is six percent, meaning a total of six percent of the absorbed energy is converted into usable electricity when illuminated in the lab with similated solar light. This may seem low, but polymer solar cells to date have not yielded efficiencies better than five percent.

The group's work is a good sign that it is possible to produce polymer solar cells with efficiencies good enough for commercial production. As alternative-energy media, polymer solar cells are already promising because they would be much cheaper to produce and far more lightweight than conventional solar cells or cells made using other materials. They would also be highly portable and physically flexible, making it possible to place them in locations that standard solar cells cannot go.

The solar cell is made of a “copolymer,” a polymer consisting of two different alternating polymer chains. Its role is to release when hit by sunlight; the electrons are accepted by a fullerene derivative, a material based on a form of carbon that tends to form large spherical molecules known as fullerenes. When the two materials are combined into a composite “active layer,” regions form that separating the positive and negative charge - the positively charged “holes” left by electrons as they leave the copolymer and, of course, the electrons themselves. The regions are known as bulk heterojunctions, or BHJs.

source

My comment: One thing in the resume, quite another in the text. In anyway, without much comments, I'm following the progress of solar cells with great interest. The reason for this is quite obvious. If you think about it, most of the energy we have on Earth, in any of its forms comes from the Sun. The only reason why I'm not saying "all" is because I exclude nuclear energy and the energy coming from Earth itself - thermal, seismic and gravity itself , though, it's indirectly still connected to the Sun in one way or another. It's hard to imagine how correct ancient people were when they worshiped the Sun as a God. It really provides us with everything and solar panels are one of the most direct ways to gather this energy and turn it into something useful for us. That is why, every percent counts.

Europe's Mars mission scaled back

By Jonathan Amos
Science reporter, BBC News, Le Bourget

The European Space Agency says its flagship Mars mission will lose a major instrument package to contain costs.

The Exomars venture will launch a rover to the Red Planet in 2016, to search for signs of past or present life.

It was hoped a static science payload called Humboldt could also be put on the surface to study the weather and, for example, listen for "Marsquakes".

But agency officials announced at the Paris air show that financial constraints now made this impossible.

Esa director-general Jean-Jacques Dordain said de-scoping ExoMars would also give extra margin to engineers who were concerned that the rover's design was pushing the limit of the maximum possible mass for the mission.

Mr Dordain said the loss of Humboldt was inevitable given the promise he had made to European governments in November last year to keep the cost of the project as close as possible to 850m euros.

He told the BBC he had given the Esa ExoMars development team three objectives: "To stay within the calendar; to try and stay within the money we have collected in November; and to keep the technology which I wish to demonstrate on Mars, which is landing, because we have never landed on Mars; moving on the surface; and drilling, because nobody has done that."

He said it was also likely now that the US would play a significant role in the endeavour, further limiting the financial burden on European taxpayers.

The American space agency (Nasa) has its own money worries and is keen to share the cost of Mars exploration with Europe.

This would mean all future Red Planet missions being badged Nasa/Esa projects.

On ExoMars, the US is now set to provide the launcher - an Atlas rocket. It will also probably build the carrier spacecraft that delivers the rover to Red Planet; and the orbiter which will circle above Mars and relay its data back to Earth. It is possible, though, the US could source many elements from European industry.

The US offer represents a considerable investment, but the quid pro quo is that European money will then be put into future US-led missions.

Humboldt's omission from ExoMars will be a bitter blow to its scientists. It was intended to study the surface environment and the geophysics of the deep interior.

Its sensors were being designed to undertake - among other things - meteorological investigations and an assessment of the radiation conditions on Mars. Seismometers would have revealed remarkable new insights into the nature of Mars' geological structure.

Changes are necessary also to Esa's Bepi-Colombo mission to Mercury, which, like ExoMars, is due to leave Earth next decade.

Engineers are grappling with various technical problems as they try to design a spacecraft capable of withstanding the high heat and radiation experienced near the innermost planet.

The mission is going to be much heavier than planned, which will require a bigger, more expensive rocket.

The cost at completion - the full and final cost of the mission - is currently looking to be 904m euros, at 2007 prices.

The director general also announced that the first Soyuz rocket launch from Europe's spaceport in French Guiana would now take place in the "first few weeks" of 2010. The timeline had slipped because of delays in the construction of the new launch facilities in Guiana.

In addition, there is a delay of "several months" in the schedule leading to the maiden flight of Europe's small Vega rocket. The testing of all the launcher's new systems is taking longer than planned. source

My comment: Many news but most of them bad. I'm so sorry to see the Humboldt instrument will be left behind. It's a very nice tool and I'm extremely interested in Mars seismology - what better way to look what's inside the planet. I hope that something nice will happen in meantime that will allow ESA/NASA to take that instrument on board. And yeah, the other thing that I hope is that in this mission, ESA will be the leader. I mean, after reading about the bad attitude toward the European astronauts, it's really pity to see such things happening in the greatest endeavors of human-kind.

Workers to break ground on New Mexico spaceport


UPHAM, N.M. – The wide-open desert of southern New Mexico has long been a key passageway: Spanish conquistadors used it to settle North America, and wagon trains and railroads rattled through on their way to California.

Today, New Mexico is hoping the forgotten stretch of cattle ranches and mountain ranges will become a gateway to space.

Gov. Bill Richardson and others are preparing to break ground Friday on construction of a terminal and hangar facility at the world's first commercial spaceport built with the idea of launching private citizens into space for profit. Some 250 people are lining up to pay $200,000 each to take the trip as early as next year.

It's called Spaceport America, a $200 million taxpayer-funded project where the sky is not the limit. From the 10,000-foot runway, spacecraft will take flight attached to an airplane, then break free and rocket 62 miles into space before returning to the facility. The flights will last about two hours and include five minutes of weightlessness.

The spaceport will operate like an airport, offering a location where aerospace companies can lease building and hangar space. Virgin Galactic, a company owned by British billionaire Sir Richard Branson, will be the spaceport's anchor tenant.

Competitors such as XCOR Aerospace and Armadillo Aerospace are developing spacecraft for $95,000 flights. And as flights become more routine, costs should drop.

Similar spaceport ventures are proposed in Texas, Florida, Oklahoma and elsewhere. Besides New Mexico, Virgin Galactic also hopes to ferry tourists to space from northern Sweden.

Virgin Galactic and American aerospace designer Burt Rutan are building a craft that will take passengers on the thrill ride from New Mexico's spaceport. In 2004, Rutan's SpaceShipOne became the first privately built manned craft to reach space.

SpaceShipTwo, under development at Rutan's facility in California, will be carried aloft by a mothership called White Knight Two, unveiled last summer. The smaller craft will separate and rocket into space.

Spaceport America's runway is slated for completion next summer. The terminal and hangar should be ready for tenants in December 2010, when Virgin Galactic hopes to begin taking tourists aloft.

Five miles from the terminal is a launching pad for 20-foot rockets used mostly for science experiments. It's been operational for the past two years. source

My comment: What I completely don't understand is why the thing is built with tax-payers money. Yeah, if we make the analogy with airport, ok, but still, there is something I completely dislike. Maybe I'm way too used to the way we build here - give it to a private company and then let it take the incomes for couple of years. Maybe they see strategic meaning to the spaceport, but still, it's weird that in the home of capitalism and crazy liberals, the spaceport is built by the country. Apart from this, I love the idea and I have said it many times. Space should become private so that the cost finally drops. Because obviously, in government stuctures everything is in the balance between too much money for the project to get funding and too little money, so that you can't feed the family.

Firms team up for ISS supply ship

By Jonathan Amos
Science reporter, BBC News, Le Bourget

US and Italian companies are teaming up to build a private re-supply ship for the International Space Station (ISS).

The Orbital Sciences Corporation has engaged Thales Alenia Space to build a pressurised module for its forthcoming cargo vessel, Cygnus.

The spacecraft is expected to carry almost three tonnes of food and equipment to the platform.

The agreement between Orbital and Thales signed at the Paris air show covers nine Cygnus ships in total.

The first is a demonstration flight that must prove to the US space agency (Nasa) that the commercial freighter design is up to the task, and that the robot vehicle poses no danger to the crew of the station.

"Cygnus has built into it all the critical safety features that are required for being in the vicinity of the space station," said Bob Richards, who leads the project at Orbital.

The maiden mission is scheduled to be launched in March 2011 on a Taurus II rocket from Wallops Island, Virginia.

The Taurus will park the freighter in a low-Earth orbit from where it must make its own way to the station.

The Cygnus will then manoeuvre itself to within 10m of the front of the platform. There, it will be grabbed by a robotic arm and berthed to the station's underside, at the central connecting hub known as the Harmony node.

Astronauts will then be free to go in and out at will, to remove bags of fresh supplies and replace their volume with rubbish.

"We are going to develop nine modules," explained Roberto Provera from Thales.

"The first is for the demonstration mission. Then we will supply eight others, two in what we call a 'standard configuration' and six in an 'enhanced configuration'.

"Cargo carrying capability for the standard module is two tonnes; and for the enhanced version, we will have the capability to go up to 2.7 tonnes."

The eventual fate of a Cygnus freighter is to undock and take a controlled dive to fiery destruction in the atmosphere over the Pacific - the same way that the Russian and European space agencies dispense with their robotic space trucks.

Orbital is one of two US companies that have won big Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contracts with Nasa, to help the agency fulfill its commitments at the station while it builds a replacement for the space shuttle.

Orbital is an established force in satellite and rocket manufacturing and produces - among many different space products - the mid-air Pegasus launcher.

Thales is one of the biggest space companies in Europe and has been a key supplier to the space station project. More than 50% of the pressurised volume of the platform has been produced by the French-Italian company, principally in its Turin plant.
The deal signed here at Le Bourget is valued at 180m euros ($250m). Thales expects to deliver the first pressurised module to Orbital at the end of 2010. Orbital will then integrate it with its own service and propulsion unit - that part of the Cygnus spacecraft which contains the computers, navigation and orientation systems and thrusters. source

My comment: Click here to read about the contract on Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle given to Thales Alenia. As for me, I'm of course veery happy about this contract. Mostly because I think space was kind of abandoned for way too long. Yes we have the ISS, but that's all! And that's so little! And if governments can't be convinced to invest in such projects, then private companies should be left to do it. Because let's face it, we can do it, the only problems is in our desire and commitment to do it. And while it's hard to justify ISS to angry farmers, private companies take the money and do the job. Or do the job and figure out how to get the money. But there are not moral dilemmas and no idiotic justification why we need to wast precious taxpayers money to explore space when we can give them to military or some fun corporation. Sure thing, if there wasn't the risk some giant and deadly rock could hit us, some solar flare could fry us or just bunch of aliens could laugh their asses off on our pathetic farmer land.

Scientists Observe Liquid Water Below Freezing

June 24th, 2009 by Lisa Zyga
(PhysOrg.com) -- Below 0 °C, water turns to ice. But beyond that, or below about -75 °C, the ice may turn back into liquid water. While scientists have previously predicted this phase transition with computer simulations, recent experiments may have finally demonstrated the existence of this ultra-cold water.

In a their study, Dino Leporini of the University of Pisa in Italy and his colleagues at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore say they have seen two new phases of when the water is cooled to low temperatures and squeezed to high pressures. In low-density liquid (LDL) water, form an open network, while in high-density liquid (HDL) water, the molecules are close together and break some . These observations confirm the prediction of scientist Gene Stanley in 1992, who first suggested the two new phases.

Studying new phases of liquid water could have interesting implications for life. As Leporini explains, pockets of supercooled water in could host life in cold regions or on other planets where life has not previously been thought to exist. source
My comment: Yes, precisely my point from the previous comment. Life can be everywhere. And we even don't have a decent definition of life so far. I'm telling you, they are laughing their asses off!

A new approach to engineering for extreme environments (w/ Video)

June 24th, 2009 by Anne Trafton

(PhysOrg.com) -- Composite materials such as fiberglass, which take on a mix of properties of their constituent compounds, have been around for decades. Now, an MIT materials scientist is taking composites to the nanoscale, where entirely new properties, not found in any of the original compounds, can emerge.

Michael Demkowicz, an assistant professor in MIT's Department of Science and Engineering, is part of a team based at Los Alamos National Laboratory that recently received a federal Energy Frontier Research Centers grant to develop nanocomposite materials that can endure , radiation and extreme mechanical loading. The ultimate goal is to use these materials in energy applications including nuclear power, fuel cells, solar energy and .

His model tackles what materials scientists call "the inverse problem" -- specifying a desired set of properties and then predicting which structures will deliver them -- and could dramatically speed up the design process.

Demkowicz' first target is radiation-resistant materials, which could improve the efficiency and safety of nuclear power plants.

Normally, when metals are exposed to radiation, high-energy particles such as neutrons bump into individual atoms and knock them out of their . Like billiard balls, the displaced atoms bump into neighboring atoms, spreading damage in the form of "vacancies" (holes where an atom is missing), and "interstitials" (an extra atom squeezed in where it shouldn't be). Clusters of these defects can make the material brittle and weak.

The key to making nanocomposite materials resistant to lies in the interfaces between layers of different materials. As the layers become thinner, the interfaces play a more dominant role in the material properties because the ratio of interface area to the material's total volume becomes larger. These interfaces give rise to novel properties not found in the original materials.

In some nanocomposites, vacancies and interstitials can get trapped at interfaces, where they have a higher likelihood of meeting. When that happens, the extra atom fills in the hole and the crystal structure is restored. Under some conditions it can appear as if there was no radiation damage remaining at all, says Demkowicz.

Materials resistant to radiation damage could eventually be used to line nuclear reactors, a function now performed by stainless steel. That could extend the lifetime of nuclear reactors and allow them to operate under higher radiation doses. Whereas current reactors consume only about one percent of their fuel, these improved reactors could burn a higher percentage of nuclear fuel and leave behind less waste. source

My comment: And that is so cool! I like this way of doing science. First define what you need and then find a way to obtain it. Visions first, physics later. So to say :)