Category: News Posts

Japanese Rocket Launches Two Satellites Into Orbit

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency launched two satellites into space Friday (Dec. 22) on separate missions to study the Earth and test new ion engine technology.

A JAXA H-2A rocket launched from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan carrying the Global Change Observation Mission-Climate (GCOM-C) satellite and the Super Low Altitude Test Satellite (SLATS).

Liftoff occurred at 8:26 p.m. EST (0126 GMT) on Friday, though the local time was 10:26 a.m. Saturday Japan Standard Time.




The GCOM-C satellite, nicknamed Shikisai (which means “Color” in Japanese), is an Earth-observing satellite designed to be the first in a pair to monitor Earth’s climate from space over 15 years.

It carries instruments to study Earth’s carbon cycle, clouds, aerosols, ocean color, vegetation, and snow and ice, according to a JAXA mission description.

GCOM is expected to play an important role in monitoring both global water circulation and climate change, and examining the health of Earth from space,” JAXA officials wrote.

The SLATS satellite (nicknamed Tsubame, or “Swallow”) is on a technology demonstration mission to test how ion engines could help keep satellites aloft in “super low orbits” below 186 miles.

Such a low orbit will subject SLATS to 1,000 times the atmospheric drag on satellites in higher orbits between 372 and 497 miles (600-800 km), JAXA officials said.

Even the International Space Station is in a higher orbit of about 248 miles (400 km).

JAXA’s successful satellite launch on Friday came just over one minute before another rocket launch.

The U.S. spaceflight company SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying 10 Iridium Next communications satellites into orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The launch created dazzling views for spectators across Southern California.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

The Ultimate Guide In Making The Perfect Snowball

Moisture and air content

Light powder snow is the driest kind, containing lots of air. This snow makes for terrible snowballs because it won’t pack – and it won’t pack because of its low moisture content.

Try looking for a place where you know the snow will be slightly warmer. The heat given off by a house, for example, could make snow just moist enough to make it good for snowballs.

Be patient. If all else fails, lie down on some snow for a few minutes; your body heat will begin to melt the snow just a bit, providing that moisture you need to pack it better.




Temperature

The ideal temperature for snowballs is right around freezing. If you know the temperature is around 32F (0C), then don’t waste your time scooping snow from near a house; the world’s your oyster!

Depth of the snow

If you have more than a few inches, skip the snow on the very surface; your strategy should be to scoop snow out from underneath.

Why? It has already been packed together gently, which means less work for you.

Even the lightest snow, after an accumulation like this, will be easier to pack after being buried beneath snow layers.

Gloves or mitts?

For a snowball fight, choose gloves. Avoid ­mittens for a couple serious reasons. If they feel warmer, it’s because less heat is escaping them.

But a little bit of heat from our hands helps immensely when it comes to packing snow into a snowball, so gloves make more sense.

Not only that, but have you ever tried to throw a snowball in mittens?

It’s reminiscent of those childhood nightmares in which you’re trying to defend yourself from some villain, but you have absolutely no ­physical strength.

The delicate art of packing

Scoop up enough snow to fill your cupped hands. You’ll inevitably lose a little of it as you pack, and the packing will condense the snow as well.

From this cupped position, slowly close your hands together and begin rotating them as if you were trying to trap an insect without killing it.

Apply increasing pressure as you rotate your hands into this position, and once they are hiding most of the snow, increase your pressure.

Rotate your hands back and forth slightly as you do; you’ll hear the muted sounds of friction as the snowflakes compress.

Be careful not to pack too forcefully. If you don’t apply enough pressure, the snowball will never be firm, but too much force applied too rapidly will cause the snowball to fall apart.

Gradual pressure allows you to withdraw pressure as you feel resistance.

A perfect snowball should leave its mark.

If you have found the right snow and applied that magic amount of pressure, your snowball should leave a clinging mark, physically and psychologically – a brief mark of humiliation on your foe.

But there’s little time to wallow in self-admiration. You have to start all over again.

You’re a snowball artist, one of the most romantic of all arts – alternately pure and transgressive but, above all, ephemeral.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

NASA Planning A 2069 Mission To Look For Life On Newly Discovered Earth-Like Planets

NASA is reportedly planning an interstellar mission to search for life outside our solar system in the three-star Alpha Centauri system.

The mission is as yet unnamed and the technology required to get a craft there does not exist yet, but the projected launch date would coincide with the 100th anniversary of the first moon landing.

The ambitious mission would require a craft that would need to travel at a minimum of 10 per cent of the speed of light.




The Alpha Centauri constellation is 4.4 light years away, and even if a record-breaking tenth of the speed of light could be achieved, the system would still be a 44-year trip, reaching our nearest neighbor by 2113.

NASA is said to be considering sending tiny probes powered by lasers which in theory may be able to reach a quarter of the speed of light.

Other techniques under consideration include harnessing nuclear reactions, or through collisions between antimatter and matter, the magazine reported.

There is already a known exoplanet in the Alpha Centauri star system, Proxima Centauri b, which orbits a red dwarf star.

However, it has not been considered a perfect location for finding alien life, as the star throws out bursts of radiation that make the conditions inhospitable.

So far humans have only made one spacecraft that has successfully left our solar system – the Voyager 1 craft.

Which was launched in 1977 and despite the limitations of the technology it was equipped with, provided astonishing new insights into the planets and moons within our own solar system.

However, it was never designed to be an interstellar craft.

NASA’s announcement follows an admission from the former head of the Pentagon’s secret UFO-hunting bureau that he believes “we may not be alone”, and said he had seen compelling evidence to support the idea of alien life.

As the first alien rock to travel here from another star, it was immediately recognized as highly unusual – but as scientists learn more about the object, they are discovering how strange it actually is.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Drastic ‘Double Decker’ Space Probe That Could Reveal The Secrets Of Mercury

It is one of the most mysterious planets in the universe – and one we know very little about.

Now European space bosses hope to send two probes stacked on the same craft to the rocky planet in 2018.

BepiColombo will be the European Space Agency’s (ESA) first mission to the closest rock to the Sun.

BepiColombo aims to “follow up on many of the intriguing results of NASA’s Messenger mission, probing deeper into Mercury’s mysteries than ever before,” the ESA said.




BepiColombo will study the peculiarities of Mercury’s internal structure and magnetic field generation, and how it interacts with the Sun and solar wind.

The joint project with the Japanese agency JAXA, which has cost more than 1.3 billion euros ($1.48 billion), involves some 33 companies from 12 EU nations, as well as firms from the US and Japan.

The craft has an unusual design, comprising a ‘stacked aircraft’ carrying two orbiters—one European, the other Japanese—which will separate on arrival to go into different, but complementary orbits around Mercury.

It has been delayed several times, but the mission chiefs are now confident that it is on track to launch in October next year.

Mercury is the ‘most peculiar of all rocky planets,’ Alvaro Gimenez, ESA’s director of science told reporters at the agency’s center in the Dutch coastal town of Noordwijk.

Its surface is wracked by extreme temperatures, ranging from +450 to -180 degrees Celsius (+842 to -292 degrees Fahrenheit).

It also has a magnetic field, the only rocky planet besides Earth to have one.

But Mercury is so weak that the field does not provide a shield against solar radiation.

It orbits just 58 million kilometers (36 million miles) from the Sun, and its surface is blasted by radiation levels that would destroy earthly lifeforms.

Its proximity to the Sun also makes Mercury hard to study from Earth because the brightness impedes the view.

The Sun’s huge gravity also makes it difficult to put a craft into steady orbit around the planet.

So far only two NASA missions have visited Mercury—Mariner 10 in the 1970s and Messenger, which orbited the planet from 2011 until it ran out of fuel in April 2015.

BepiColombo will study the peculiarities of Mercury’s internal structure and magnetic field generation, and how it interacts with the Sun and solar wind.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Inside The Weird World Of Quantum Computers

In a world where we are relying increasingly on computing, to share our information and store our most precious data, the idea of living without computers might baffle most people.

But if we continue to follow the trend that has been in place since computers were introduced, by 2040 we will not have the capability to power all of the machines around the globe, according to a recent report by the Semiconductor Industry Association.




What is quantum computing?

Quantum computing takes advantage of the strange ability of subatomic particles to exist in more than one state at any time.

Due to the way the tiniest of particles behave, operations can be done much more quickly and use less energy than classical computers.

In classical computing, a bit is a single piece of information that can exist in two states – 1 or 0. Quantum computing uses quantum bits, or ‘qubits’ instead.

These are quantum systems with two states. However, unlike a usual bit, they can store much more information than just 1 or 0, because they can exist in any superposition of these values.

A qubit can be thought of like an imaginary sphere. Whereas a classical bit can be in two states – at either of the two poles of the sphere – a qubit can be any point on the sphere.

This means a computer using these bits can store a huge amount more information using less energy than a classical computer.

Last year, a team of Google and NASA scientists found a D-wave quantum computer was 100 million times faster than a conventional computer.

But moving quantum computing to an industrial scale is difficult.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

How To Actually Keep New Year’s Resolutions, According To A Behavioral Scientist

If you plan on becoming a better person in 2015 by exercising more, eating less, or learning a new language, you’re going to need a whole lot more than just good intentions to get you there.

Here’s a little psychological experiment that just might help you stick to your goals.

So, in 2018 we’re all going to go to the gym more regularly, eat better, earn more, and read twice as many books, right?

Wrong – for the majority of us anyway. If you want a good indication for what you’ll be doing in 2018, your best bet is to look at what you did in 2017.

Studies have shown that good intentions alone will only prompt a change in behavior 20 to 30 percent of the time.




In the vast majority of cases, something a little more concrete is going to have to come into play if you want to make a meaningful change to your habits.

So, surprise, surprise, it takes a whole lot more effort to stick to your new year’s resolutions than just writing them down in a fancy list.

And even more discouraging – research has shown that the better we feel about our new year’s resolutions and our ability to stick with them, the less likely we actually will.

But, as Stephen J. Meyer writes at Forbes, it’s not hopeless:

“I’d be a hardened pessimist if not for one thing – there’s a magic bullet that can bridge the gap between goal intentions and goal accomplishment.”

“It’s what behavioural psychologists call “implementation intentions.” Ugly phrase, I know. But it could be the difference between achieving your goals in 2015 and failing miserably.”

So what exactly is this “implementation intentions” concept?

Back in 2002, researchers in the UK gathered together a group of volunteers who had set themselves the goal of taking up regular exercising. The volunteers were split into three groups.

The first group, called the “motivational intervention group”, was given educational materials showing that exercise does amazing things for your cardio-vascular health.

The second group was asked to plan and write down their “implementation intentions”.

For example, exactly where, when, what, they were going to do for exercise, and how frequently, and for how long, each session.

The control group was left to their own with no help from the researchers.

Amazingly, 91 percent of Group 2, who actually thought about and wrote down all the details of their plan, ended up exercising.

According to Meyer, just 29 percent of the control group and 39 percent of the group who learned extensively about the benefits of exercise ended up actually doing it.

So implementation intentions are essentially about fooling ourselves into doing something – you consciously formulate a plan, and then unconsciously execute it.

Gollwitzer mentioned a study in which students were asked to write a paper during the Christmas break.

Of the group that wrote down their implementation intentions – when and where they intended to write their paper – two-thirds of them actually did it.

Exactly zero students who didn’t write their implementation intentions got around to writing the paper.

Apparently similar results can be seen in people trying to lose weight.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Treating Genetic Disorders Before Birth

Physicians may one day be able to treat genetic blood diseases before a child is even born.

In a study of mice that was published this week in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, have found that transplanting a mother’s own stem cells into her fetus populates its bone marrow with healthy cells while avoiding immune rejection.

If the findings hold true in humans, stem-cell transplants from mother to fetus could prime the fetus for a bone-marrow transplant from its mother—or a donor that is tissue-matched to the mother—after birth.




Diseases such as sickle cell anemia and beta thalassemia result from abnormal red blood cells and can be treated with bone-marrow transplants.

But it’s not always possible to find a match.

And standard bone-marrow transplants, even between tissue-matched donors, must be followed with a lengthy course of immunosuppressive drugs.

Scientists theorize that bone-marrow transplants performed when a fetus is still developing would override this problem.

They suspect that the fetus’s immature immune system could be tricked into adopting those foreign cells and recognizing them as its own.

The fetus is wired to tolerate cells—when it encounters cells from mom, it tolerates them,” says Tippi MacKenzie, the pediatric surgeon at UCSF who led the new research.

Research in animals has shown the promise of that approach.

But early tests in humans came up against a serious setback—the donor cells were being rejected and killed off before a fetus could assimilate them, and no one was quite sure why.

It’s a conundrum,” says MacKenzie.

The blame, it seems, may be mom’s. MacKenzie and her colleagues found that when they injected a fetus with hematopoietic stem cells that were not matched to the mother or fetus, the infusion prompted an influx of maternal immune cells into the fetus.

“What we saw was that it’s not the fetal immune system that’s rejecting the cells—it’s the mother’s,” MacKenzie says.

“And if it’s the mother’s immune system that’s rejecting them, we may be able to transplant maternal cells for some of these disorders and get them to engraft.”

Indeed, when researchers injected the fetus with stem cells from a donor that was tissue-matched to the mother, the cells happily took root in the fetus’s bone marrow.

But Flake, who pioneered the fetal-stem-cell transplant treatment for severe combined immunodeficiency disease (SCID), or “bubble boy syndrome,” says that although a single dose of maternal or maternally matched donor cells might not cure disease.

It could prime the fetus’s immune system into accepting a stem-cell transplant from the same person later in life.

The next step, MacKenzie says, will be to test the treatment in larger mammals and nonhuman primates.

But for now, her lab is more focused on understanding precisely what’s going on in the maternal-fetal immune system interactions.

We’re trying to figure out the mechanism by which the mother cells are exerting their effect. And we’re looking at the idea of immune-cell trafficking between mom and fetus—to what extent does it happen in human pregnancies?”

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Pass it on: New Scientist

According To Psychologist, Love At First Sight Doesn’t Actually Exist

We’ve all seen that movie moment when two strangers meet and feel an instant romantic connection.

In fact, “love at first sight” has been a mainstay of literature for thousands of years, and people in real life often claim to experience a similar spark.

But is that feeling actually love? Not quite, according to the authors of a new study.

In the study, researchers investigated whether people feel love at first sight — LAFS — or whether they believe retroactively that they felt that way, once they’ve already formed an attachment to a romantic partner.

The scientists also questioned whether what people call: “love” at a first encounter is truly representative of the complex emotions that make up love — or just a powerful physical attraction.




Prior studies have shown that being in love activates certain brain regions, and the location of the activity can vary depending on what type of love the person is feeling, such as emotional, maternal or passionate love.

Intense, passionate love activates the same networks in the brain as addiction does, and more long-term love sparked responses in brain regions associated with attachment and reward.

Researchers have also previously reported that as many as 1 in 3 people in Western countries claim to have experienced LAFS.

And that the feeling is associated with more passion and stronger bonds within the relationship, the scientists wrote in the new study.

But there was little evidence indicating if LAFS occurred when people thought it did — at the moment of their first meeting ― or if they merely remembered it happening that way through the lens of their current romantic feelings, the study authors explained.

The scientists collected data from about 500 encounters between nearly 400 participants, mostly heterosexual Dutch and German students in their mid-20s.

Using three stages of data collection — an online survey, a laboratory study and three dating events lasting up to 90 minutes each.

The researchers gathered information from their subjects about meeting prospective romantic partners.

They noted whether participants said that they felt something akin to LAFS upon a first meeting, and how physically attractive they ranked the person who inspired those feelings.

To define what qualified as “love,” subjects submitted self-analysis of several key components: “eros”,”intimacy,” “passion” and “commitment.”

During the tests, 32 different individuals reported experiencing LAFS a total of 49 times — and that observation wasn’t typically accompanied with high ratings for love components such as intimacy and commitment.

However, reports of LAFS did correspond with a potential partner scoring higher as physically attractive, the researchers discovered.

About 60 percent of the study participants were women, but men were more likely to report feeling LAFS “on the spot,” the study authors reported.

And in every case, their experience of LAFS was unreciprocated, suggesting that mutual, instantaneous LAFS “might generally be rare,” according to the study.

The authors determined that LAFS was, in fact, merely “a strong initial attraction” that people identified as love, either at the moment they felt it, or in retrospect.

And though some study subjects who were already involved with someone reported that they fell in love at first glance, it’s hard to say for sure if that happened the way they remembered.

Answering this question would require further investigation into romantic relationships, to see how those initial, powerful feelings of instantaneous love play out over time, the scientists wrote.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Anthropocene: We Might Be About To Move From The Holocene To A New Epoch

After 11,700 years, the Holocene epoch may be coming to an end, with a group of geologists, climate scientists and ecologists meeting in Berlin this week to decide whether humanity’s impact on the planet has been big enough to deserve a new time period: the Anthropocene.

The term, coined in the 1980s by ecologist Eugene F. Stoermer, takes its prefix from the Ancient Greek word for human because its proponents believe the influence of humanity on the Earth’s atmosphere and crust in the last few centuries is so significant as to constitute a new geological epoch.




The Anthropocene Working Group assembles in Berlin on Friday, an interdisciplinary body of scientists and humanists working under the umbrella of the International Commission on Stratigraphy and “tasked with developing a proposal for the formal ratification of the Anthropocene as an official unit amending the Geological Time Scale“.

The 30-strong group, which includes a lawyer, has outlined two key questions which it will address during deliberations at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt:

How does the recent cognition of the immense quantitative shift in the biophysical conditions of the Earth affect both scientific research and a political response to these changes?”

And “Does the Anthropocene also pose a profound qualitative shift, a paradigm shift for the ways in which science, politics, and law advance accordingly?”

Following the Pleistocene, we have for the last 11,700 years lived in the Holocene epoch, which is characterized by the warmer and wetter conditions that came after the end of the last ice age and has seen humans establish new territories and the Earth’s population soar.

Many scientists are happy with the Holocene as a term, but after Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist popularized the “Anthropocene” at the turn of the millennium it refuses to go away and the ICS has deemed it in need of serious debate.

Based around a series of presentations by members of the AWG and statements from invited speakers from the humanities, the social sciences, and political fields, the forum will “discuss both the extraordinary changes to the Earth system as well as its consequences in setting new agendas for governing, researching, and disseminating crucial knowledge.”

The group has given itself until 2016 to come up with a proposal to submit to the ISC, which ultimately determines what time period we live in.

This might seem like a long way away, but when you consider the earliest epoch, the Paleozoic, began approximately 541 to 252 million years ago, it’s just a speck in the Earth’s history.

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Pass it in: New Scientist

What Is A Horsepower?

The horsepower (hp) is a unit in the foot-pound-second ( fps ) or English system, sometimes used to express the rate at which mechanical energy is expended.

It was originally defined as 550 foot-pounds per second (ft-lb/s).




A power level of 1 hp is approximately equivalent to 746 watt s (W) or 0.746 kilowatt s (kW). To convert from horsepower to watts, multiply by 746.

To convert from watts to horsepower, multiply by 0.00134. To convert from horsepower to kilowatts, multiply by 0.746. To convert from kilowatts to horsepower, multiply by 1.34.

While the horsepower, the watt, and the kilowatt are all reducible to the same dimensional units, the horsepower is rarely used to express power in any form other than mechanical.

You will likely get raised eyebrows if you talk about a 1-hp microwave oven, just as you would feel uncomfortable talking about a 37-kW outboard motor.

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Pass it on: Popular Science