Month: July, 2018

Mars Is Spectacular This Month – Here’s The Best Way To Spy The Red Planet

If you look at the sky tonight and spot a very bright star, it may well be a planet. Mars is the closest it has been to Earth for 15 years – and therefore the brightest.

Mars shines through reflected light,” says Robert Massey, the deputy executive director of the Royal Astronomical Society.

That means that when it’s closer to the Earth it appears brighter, because its apparent size is bigger.” It won’t be this visible again until 2035.

So, how best to see it? First, make sure tall trees or buildings are not obscuring the view. Ideally, you want a clear horizon. Then, look south.




It will be obvious, because it’s bright, it doesn’t twinkle and it has a distinct reddish tinge,” says Massey, who suggests Somerset, Devon and Dorset as good locations for spotting it.

The best Mars-gazing time is 1am, but it rises earlier in the evening.

You can see Mars with the naked eye, but a pair of binoculars would help,” says Massey. “If you have a small telescope, you may be lucky to see a polar ice cap.

If you are an amateur with good equipment, the details to look out for are two polar ice caps, mountains or volcanoes, and sunken, crater-like features. Massey suggests contacting your local astronomical society about public viewing events.

Hubble’s views of Mars at two recent oppositions

When is the best time to see Mars?

According to NASA, Mars Opposition begins Friday, July 27 around midnight.

Mars will be visible between Friday, July 27 and Monday, July 30, making its closest approach — 35.8 million miles to be exact — on Tuesday, July 31 at around 4 a.m. E.T.

Mars will be at its brightest Friday night due to an opposition surge that is affected by the planet’s angle of the sun — giving you the clearest view of the Red Planet.

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What Dog And Cat Years Really Mean?

How much is that in dog years?” We are used to assuming that for every calendar year, a dog will age the way a human will in seven years.

That makes some sort of sense according to a dog’s expected life span, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.




For example, the dog in this picture has one candle on her birthday cake, but she’s old enough to have puppies. Veterinary professor Jesse Grady explains the life stages of dogs and cats.

Dogs and cats age differently not just from people but also from each other, based partly on breed characteristics and size.

Bigger animals tend to have shorter life spans than smaller ones do. While cats vary little in size, the size and life expectancy of dogs can vary greatly – think a Chihuahua versus a Great Dane.

Human life expectancy has changed over the years. And vets are now able to provide far superior medical care to pets than we could even a decade ago.

So now we use a better methodology to define just how old rule of thumb that counted every calendar year as seven “animal years.”

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Is This Geometric Structure The Theory Of Everything?

For 100 years, scientists have been searching for the “Theory of Everything”, the elusive link between the physics of Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity. A team of researchers believe they may have the key, and it all lies in a geometrical design.

Garrett Lisi’s work in particle physics led him to find patterns in the geometry that led him to discover an 8-dimensional crystalline structure called the E8 Lie Group. He used this to predict the existence of particles that he believes account for the force of gravity.

Klee Irwin and the Quantum Gravity Research team have taken this and constructed a theory about the nature of reality itself all the way down to the plank length, where reality breaks down into pixellated tetrahedrons that through emergence theory has created a universal consciousness.

How Do Jumping Genes Cause Disease, Drive Evolution?

To address this problem, a team of Carnegie researchers developed new techniques to track the mobilization of jumping genes.

They found that during a particular period of egg development, a group of jumping-genes called retrotransposons hijacks special cells called nurse cells that nurture the developing eggs.

These jumping genes use nurse cells to produce invasive material that move into a nearby egg and then mobilize into the egg’s DNA. The research is published in the July 26 on-line issue of Cell.

Animals have unwittingly developed a powerful system to suppress jumping gene activity that uses small, non-coding RNAs called piRNAs, which recognize jumping genes and suppress their activity.

Occasionally, jumping genes still manage to move, suggesting that they employ some special tactics to escape piRNA control.

However, tracking the mobilization of jumping genes to understand their tactics has been a daunting task.




The Carnegie team developed approaches to track the movements of jumping genes using the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster.

To facilitate their investigation, they disrupted piRNA suppression to increase the activity of these jumping genes and then monitored the movement of them during the egg-development process.

This led to their discovery on the tactic that allows jumping genes to move.

Carnegie co-author Zhao Zhang explained: “We were very surprised that the these jumping genes barely moved in stem cells that produce developing egg cells, possibly because the stem cells would only have two copies of the genome for these jumping genes to use.

“Instead, these moving elements used the supporting nurse cells, which could provide up to thousands copies of the genome per cell, as factories to massively manufacture virus-like particles capable of integration.

“However, they didn’t integrate into nurse cells where they were produced. Rather, they waited while they were transported into an interconnected egg cell, and then added hundreds, if not thousands, of new copies of themselves into the egg DNA.

“Our research shows how parasitic genetic elements can time their activity and distinguish between different cell types to robustly propagate to drive evolutionary change and cause disease.

My group has found that egg development in mammals uses many of the same mechanisms as in the fruit fly, such as feeding the developing egg using nurse cells.

“So the Zhang group’s findings are likely to be important for understanding mammalian evolution and disease as well,” commented Allan Spradling, who is a pioneer researcher on studying the egg development in both fruit fly and mammals and a longtime scientist at Carnegie’s Department of Embryology.

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Scientists Finally Figure Out How Bees Fly

bees

Proponents of intelligent design, which holds that a supreme being rather than evolution is responsible for life’s complexities, have long criticized science for not being able to explain some natural phenomena, such as how bees fly.

Now scientists have put this perplexing mystery to rest.

Using a combination of high-speed digital photography and a robotic model of a bee wing, the researchers figured out the flight mechanisms of honeybees.




“For many years, people tried to understand animal flight using the aerodynamics of airplanes and helicopters,” said Douglas Altshuler, a researcher at California Institute of Technology.

“In the last 10 years, flight biologists have gained a remarkable amount of understanding by shifting to experiments with robots that are capable of flapping wings with the same freedom as the animals.”

Turns out bee flight mechanisms are more exotic than thought.

“The honeybees have a rapid wing beat,” Altshuler said. “In contrast to the fruit fly that has one eightieth the body size and flaps its wings 200 times each second, the much larger honeybee flaps its wings 230 times every second.”

 

bees

This was a surprise because as insects get smaller, their aerodynamic performance decreases and to compensate, they tend to flap their wings faster.

“And this was just for hovering,” Altshuler said of the bees. “They also have to transfer pollen and nectar and carry large loads, sometimes as much as their body mass, for the rest of the colony.”

In order to understand how bees carry such heavy cargo, the researchers forced the bees to fly in a small chamber filled with a mixture of oxygen and helium that is less dense than regular air.

bees

This required the bees to work harder to stay aloft and gave the scientists a chance to observe their compensation mechanisms for the additional toil.

The bees made up for the extra work by stretching out their wing stroke amplitude but did not adjust wingbeat frequency.

The work, supervised by Caltech’s Michael Dickinson, was reported last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The scientists said the findings could lead to a model for designing aircraft that could hover in place and carry loads for many purposes such as diaster surveillance after earthquakes and tsunamis.

bees

They are also pleased that a simple thing like bee flight can no longer be used as an example of science failing to explain a common phenomenon.

Proponents of intelligent design, or ID, have tried in recent years to promote the idea of a supreme being by discounting science because it can’t explain everything in nature.

“People in the ID community have said that we don’t even know how bees fly,” Altshuler said.

“We were finally able to put this one to rest. We do have the tools to understand bee flight and we can use science to understand the world around us.”

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The Amazing Bodies Of Dolphins

Breathing

Dolphins have a number of extraordinary features so that they can thrive in their watery world.

The most obvious thing that dolphins need is air. They glide through the water so effortlessly, surfacing every few minutes to take a breath. Dolphins can dive to 200 m (600 ft).

Marine mammals take more air with each breath than other mammals, and they exchange more of the air in their lungs with each breath.

Their red blood cells can hold more oxygen and they have a much higher tolerance for carbon dioxide than we do. During each breath they exchange 80% of the air in their lungs, while humans only exchange 17%.

Even so, given the size of their lungs, they should run out of oxygen and drown before they can get that deep! How do they do it?




When diving, they cut off blood circulation to their skin digestive system and extremities, leaving only the heart, brain and tail muscles working. However, even these measures give insufficient time to plummet to those depths.

Dolphins and other marine mammals don’t get the bends (nitrogen narcosis) when they plummet to the depths of the ocean.

In human lungs, air remains all throughout the lungs and gas exchange continues in the alvoli, allowing nitrogen to be forced into the blood.

The alvoli of doplhins collapse at 3 atm of pressure, forcing the air back into the bronchioles where gas exchange does not take place.

How do dolphins (and whales) sleep without drowning?

Marine mammals have two basic methods of sleeping: they either rest quietly in the water, or sleep while swimming slowly next to another animal.

Dolphins also enter a deeper form of sleep at night where they become like a log floating on the water. When a baby dolphin is born it does not have enough body fat to float easily.

The baby stays afloat by being towed in its mother’s slipstream or wake even when it is sleeping. This means that the mother cannot stop swimming for the first several weeks of her baby’s life!

To avoid drowning, it is crucial that cetaceans retain control of their blowhole and recognize when it is at the surface. When sleeping, dolphins shut down half of their brain and one eye.

The other half stays awake at a lower level of alertness. The semi-conscious side watches for predators, obstacles, and signals when to rise to the surface for a breath of air.

After 2 hours, things are reversed, the active side goes to sleep and the rested side looks after vital functions. Amazing!

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Nikon Confirms New Full-Frame FX Mirrorless Cameras And Lens Mount

It’s official: Nikon will soon launch a full-frame mirrorless camera system with a brand a new lens mount.

In a press release, it announced that it’s developing a “next-generation full-frame (Nikon FX-format) mirrorless camera and Nikkor lenses, featuring a new mount,” adding that “professional creators around the world have contributed to the development.

As expected, it’s also working on an adapter that will let you use existing full-frame Nikon F-Mount DSLR lenses with the cameras.

Nikon hinted that the new mount would allow it to make the lenses and cameras slimmer and smaller.

The new mirrorless camera and Nikkor lenses that are in development will enable a new dimension in optical performance with the adoption of a new mount,” says the press release.




Nikon is just confirming what we already strongly suspected, considering that yesterday, its European division unveiled a teaser video with shadowy glimpses of the camera.

It also set up a website called “In Pursuit of Light,” which had the apparent launch date of the camera (August 23rd) hidden in the HTML code.

However, Nikon has yet to confirm the specs, date and price, or even shown an official image of it yet. More details will reportedly come on a dedicated website at a later date.

For the rest of the story, we’re relying on sites like Nikon Rumors, which have been pretty accurate up to this point.

Nikon will supposedly release two cameras, a $4,000 48-megapixel model, and a $2,500, 25-megapixel “budget” version.

Those compare roughly to Sony’s 42.4-megapixel A7R III and the 24-megapixel A7 III, though both Nikon models would be more costly and have higher resolution.

Nikon and Canon are under extreme pressure to catch Sony in the mirrorless category. Both companies are way, way late to the game, so Nikon will have to at least match Sony’s current models to have any kind of a chance.

The $2,000 A7 III, for one, is a stellar performer, and there are 63 native FE lenses for it, while Nikon is starting from scratch with its own system.

The adapter will help, but could degrade optical and mechanical performance compared to native lenses.

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Bacteria-Powered Solar Cell Can Produce Electricity On Cloudy Days

A concept diagram shows the anode of the solar cell, comprised of biogenic material made of lycopene-producing bacteria (the orange orbs) that are coated with titania nanoparticles.

Scientists, including one of Indian origin, have discovered a low-cost and sustainable way to build a solar cell using bacteria, that can harvest energy from light even under overcast skies.

The cell, developed by researchers from University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada, generated a current stronger than any previously recorded from such a device, and worked as efficiently in dim light as in bright light.

With further development, these solar cells – called “biogenic” because they are made of living organisms – could become as efficient as the synthetic cells used in conventional solar panels.

These hybrid materials that we are developing can be manufactured economically and sustainably, and, with sufficient optimisation, could perform at comparable efficiencies as conventional solar cells,” said Vikramaditya Yadav, a professor at UBC.

Solar cells are the building blocks of solar panels. They do the work of converting light into electrical current.




Previous efforts to build biogenic solar cells have focused on extracting the natural dye that bacteria use for photosynthesis. It is a costly and complex process that involves toxic solvents and can cause the dye to degrade.

The UBC team left the dye in the bacteria. They genetically engineered E coli to produce large amounts of lycopene – a dye that gives tomatoes their red-orange colour and is particularly effective at harvesting light for conversion to energy.

The researchers coated the bacteria with a mineral that could act as a semiconductor, and applied the mixture to a glass surface.

With the coated glass acting as an anode at one end of their cell, they generated a current density of 0.686 milli amperes per square centimetre – an improvement on the 0.362 achieved by others in the field.

The micrograph shows how the cells look under a scanning electron microscope.

We recorded the highest current density for a biogenic solar cell,” said Yadav.

The cost savings are difficult to estimate, but Yadav believes the process reduces the cost of dye production to about one-tenth of what it would be otherwise.

The holy grail would be finding a process that doesn’t kill the bacteria, so they can produce dye indefinitely, said Yadav.

There are other potential applications for these biogenic materials in mining, deep-sea exploration and other low-light environments.

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Water Discovered In Underground Lake On Mars

Liquid water is refreshingly abundant on moons in the outer solar system, but it has proven surprisingly tough to find in reliable quantities on Mars—until now.

Radar scans of the red planet suggest that a stable reservoir of salty, liquid water measuring some 12 miles across lies nearly a mile beneath the planet’s south pole. What’s more, the underground lake is not likely to be alone.




There are other areas that seem to be similar. There’s no reason to say this is the only one,” says Elena Pettinelli of Italy’s Roma Tre University, a coauthor of the paper reporting the discovery today in the journal Science.

If confirmed, the buried pocket of water could answer a few questions about where Mars’s ancient oceans went, as well as provide a resource for future human settlements.

A self-portrait of the Mars rover Curiosity.

Even more thrilling for astrobiologists, such a feature may be an ideal habitat for extraterrestrial life-forms.

In this kind of environment that we know of on Earth, in the Antarctic, we have bacteria,” Pettinelli says. “They can be deep in the ice.”

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Severed Gecko Tails Have A Mind Of Their Own

Even after they’re no longer connected to a lizard brain, gecko tails can flip, jump and lunge in response to their environment — and may even be able to evade predators.

Researchers have known for centuries that some animals can voluntarily shed parts of their bodies to keep from being eaten, but few studies have looked at the behavior of disposable body parts once they’ve fallen off.

Now, using high-speed video and a technique called electromyography, scientists have discovered that severed gecko tails exhibit complex behavior and even seem to react to environmental cues.

The scientists say that figuring out what controls the jumping gecko tail may help us understand why the paralyzed muscles of spinal cord injured patients sometimes exhibit spontaneous muscle contractions, which they hope could someday lead to treatments that restore some control over such movements.

After attaching electrodes to the tails of four adult leopard geckos, the researchers gently pinched the lizards to encourage them to shed their tails.




As soon as a gecko felt threatened, its tail began to twitch and eventually detached from the rest of its body in an amazing, but nearly bloodless, feat.

Rather than using up all their energy in a single short burst, the gecko tails seemed to modulate their muscle movement to conserve energy and maximize the unpredictability of their behavior.

The tails also changed direction and speed depending on what they bumped into, which suggests that the tails can independently sense and respond to their environment.

Although the researchers understand the benefits of a detachable tail with a mind of its own, they don’t yet know what’s controlling the tail’s complex movement.

According to Russell, figuring out what controls severed gecko tails might help us understand and treat some aspects of human spinal cord injury.

With a spinal cord injury, what tends to happen is skeletal muscles tend to be paralyzed behind that event,” he said.

For instance, if you injure your mid back, your lower limbs are put out of commission.

Scientists know that networks of neurons called central pattern generators, or CPGs, can produce rhythmic movements that aren’t controlled by the brain, but they don’t know exactly how these neural networks function.

To study CPGs, scientists usually have to surgically damage an animal’s spinal cord in a procedure called a “spinal preparation“; geckos provide a unique model system because they naturally sever their own spinal cords.

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