Thursday, February 26, 2015

NASA Sees 'Bright Spots' On Dwarf Planet (Ceres) In Our Solar System

Scientists are puzzled by a new image taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft, which found two bright spots on the dwarf planet Ceres. The spots are noticeably brighter than other parts of the surface, which looks to be rocky and pock-marked.

Ceres lies in an asteroid belt between the paths of Mars and Jupiter. A white area was previously seen back in 2004, in an image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. But new images show there are actually two spots, and scientists do not know what's causing them.

"Ceres' bright spot can now be seen to have a companion of lesser brightness, but apparently in the same basin," says Chris Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission that's based at the University of California, Los Angeles. "This may be pointing to a volcano-like origin of the spots, but we will have to wait for better resolution before we can make such geologic interpretations."

The image was taken on Feb. 19 from a distance of nearly 29,000 miles, NASA says. The Dawn craft will eventually enter into orbit around Ceres, promising even sharper images of the mysterious spots.

"The brightest spot continues to be too small to resolve with our camera, but despite its size it is brighter than anything else on Ceres. This is truly unexpected and still a mystery to us," said lead investigator Andreas Nathues, of the framing camera team at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Gottingen, Germany.

Ceres is some 590 miles across, with a diameter that's wider at the equator than at the poles. Scientists have called it an "embryonic planet" whose development was stalled by the gravity of nearby Jupiter. npr

Friday, February 20, 2015

frozen niagara falls

The Arctic cold snap that has gripped much of the U.S. lately may be causing hardship for many, but it's also creating some spectacular ice formations at Niagara Falls. The spectacle is drawing huge crowds on both the Canadian and American side of the border.
The air temperature is so cold that the water and mist coming off the falls is frozen in place. Some of the formations look like massive boulders, others look like long shards of white glass.
According to the Weather Channel, the temperature at Niagara Falls has not gotten above freezing this month. It's expected to be the coldest February on record. Still, the falls can never completely freeze over, there's simply too much water cascading over them. But the continuing cold weather means the icy formations at Niagara Falls will be around for awhile.

Know Your Exposure: A Cancer Quiz

8 Million Tons Of Plastic Clutter Our Seas

Plastic is one of those inventions that transformed the world. It's light, durable and you can make lots of things with it.

But it's also transforming Earth's oceans — and not in a good way. A lot of plastic ends up there. Scientists are just now getting a handle on how much plastic has gone to sea.
Up until now, estimates have been very rough. It's hard to measure waste in the oceans; after all, salt water covers 70 percent of the planet.
But another way to figure out what's out there is to measure how much debris is coming off the land.

That's what engineer Jenna Jambeck, at the University of Georgia, decided to do (publishing her findings in this week's issue of the journal Science). Jambeck was a good fit for the job.Jambeck undertook a unique project — to study waste streams in 192 countries. She gathered data on how much waste each country generates and how each nation deals with its trash. She calculated how much is plastic and how much exists within 30 miles of an ocean.  Researchers also inventoried what was on beaches.
And here's what she found:"In 2010 there were 8 million metric tons of plastic entering the ocean globally," she says. That's plastic bottles, candy wrappers, laundry baskets, synthetic rope, and syringes. According to Jambeck's calculations, that's like putting five bags of plastic trash on every foot of coastline in the world. npr

The Sun Like You've Never Seen It

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which keeps a 24/7 vigil on the sun, just released this spectacular video composite to mark five years since the spacecraft was launched.

How Marijuana Highjacks Your Brain To Give You The Munchies

Shortly after toking up, a lot of marijuana users find that there's one burning question on their minds: "Why am I so hungry?" Researchers have been probing different parts of the brain looking for the root cause of the marijuana munchies for years. Now, a team of neuroscientists report that they have stumbled onto a major clue buried in a cluster of neurons they thought was responsible for making you feel full.
This cluster, called the POMC neurons, is in the hypothalamus, a region of the brain that scientists typically associate with base instincts like sexual arousal, alertness and feeding. Tamas Horvath, a neuroscientist at the Yale School of Medicine and the team's leader, says that the POMC neurons normally work by sending out a chemical signal telling the brain, you're sated, stop eating.
In the past, when neuroscientists shut down POMC neurons in mice, all the mice became morbidly obese. Horvath figured that in order for the drug in marijuana — compounds called cannabinoids — to spawn that undeniable impulse to feed, it would have to bind the activity of these neurons and make them fire less. Paradoxically, Horvath says, "We found the exact opposite."
The team discovered that when they injected cannabinoids into mice, the drug was turning off adjacent cells that normally command the POMC neurons to slow down. As a result, the POMC neurons' activity leapt up. At the same time, the cannabinoids activate a receptor inside the POMC neuron that causes the cell to switch from making a chemical signal telling the brain you're full to making endorphins, a neurotransmitter that's known to increase appetite. npr

you know you've worked too long in a lab when....

hana and twin falls


camping site

hammock camping


twin falls

twin falls

red sands beach, hana, maui, HI

makena hike, maui, HI

Thursday, February 12, 2015


Did you know that there are over 900 different species of ticks world wide?
And that they aren't insects but arachnids. 

This close-up image shows the feeding mouthparts of “Ixodes scapularis,” the deer tick or blacklegged tick.

animal head wall decor!

Thursday, February 5, 2015


ISIS — short for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria — is another name for the Islamic State. It is also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.

Fossil Provides Evidence Of Early Human Migration To Europe

Some 55,000 years ago, a person — whether female or male, we don't know — lived in Manot Cave in the western Galilee area of what is now Israel. Judging from the partial skull recovered from the cave, and described in Nature last week by Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University and his co-authors, the person was anatomically modern and closely related to the first modern humans who went on to colonize Europe.

Greedy for any solid evidence that sheds light on the migration of anatomically modern humans (AMH) out of Africa and into Europe, paleoanthropologists welcome detailed analysis like this one about the Manot Cave person (known as "Manot 1").

AMH — people like us — evolved in Africa right around 200,000 years ago from earlier human-like ancestors. For many millennia, Africa remained the center of our evolution — and not just anatomically: The fascinating paint factory found at Blombos Cave in South Africa, dated to 100,000 years ago is just one illustration of the behavioral and cognitive sophistication that developed in Africa.

By about 45,000 years ago, AMH had reached Europe in a migration out of Africa. Europe had, of course, been inhabited before that time by other human-like species including Homo heidelbergensis, but we ourselves only arrived at this relatively late period. Within about 15,000 years, at places like Chauvet Cave in France, our AMH ancestors were painting cave walls with gloriously colorful, highly accurate representations of animals.

But how can we understand something about that initial migration and the people who made it? Here's where Manot 1 comes in. Israel was part of a key evolutionary landscape for our species, in part because of the travel corridor in the Levant region through which migrants passed out of Africa. Lead author Hershkovitz told The New York Times last week that the Manot cranium "is the missing connection between African and European populations."

In other words, as the Times also emphasized, in this new discovery we have the very first fossil evidence of the "out of Africa" migration at this critical time period. That's big news.

Certain details of the skull anatomy, as reported in Nature, are particularly significant. The skull has what's called an occipital bun, a particular shape at the skull base that is, Hershkovitz and his co-authors write, "a feature very frequently found both in European Neanderthals and in the majority of Upper Paleolithic modern humans." This feature sets the skull apart from those of other AMH living in the Levant at the same time, and links the Manot person to Europe.

But it also links Manot 1, at least potentially, to Neanderthals, who also lived in the same region. And here, the Nature team's conclusion is circumspect: "The Manot 1 specimen could potentially represent a hybrid between AMH's and Neanderthals." npr

freaker feet

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Britain Set To Vote On '3-Parent Baby' Law

Britain could become the first country in the world to legalize a controversial procedure that uses DNA from three people to produce an embryo, as a way to cut out inherited DNA that can cause serious health problems in children.
While the in vitro technique is often referred to by the shorthand "three-parent baby," the process uses the nuclear DNA from two parents and the mitochondrial DNA of a third donor.
From London, Larry Miller reports for NPR's Newscast unit:
"The process known as mitochondrial donation involves intervening in the fertilization process by replacing faulty mitochondrial DNA from the mother, which can cause inherited debilitating and fatal conditions -with healthy DNA from a another woman.
"It also means such conditions will not be passed to future generations."
The British government has been reviewing the process of oocyte modification or three-parent IVF for a while now; last summer, a health agency found no reasons to think it would be unsafe. But the proposal has led to ethical debates and stoked concerns about setting a new precedent for genetic manipulation.
As we reported last year:
"The procedure targets problems in mitochondria, the energy-producing organelles that have their own DNA. Their genome is both prone to mutation and inherited maternally — characteristics that have led researchers to think up ways to help women who carry mutated genes to have healthy children."
In Britain's House of Commons, the legislation known as the Human Fertilization and Embryology (Mitochondrial Donation) Regulations 2015 is seen as having a good chance at being approved.
"The government backs the measure in principle," the BBC reports. "However, MPs will be given a free vote, as it is an issue of conscience, rather than being forced down party lines."
The news organization spoke to a young woman who was born with the help of three-parent IVF. Teenager Alana Saarinen tells the BBC that she takes after her mother and father.
"I also have DNA from a third lady," Saarinen adds. "But I wouldn't consider her a third parent, I just have some of her mitochondria."
U.S. agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, have also been looking into the process. The United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation estimates that from 1,000 to 4,000 American children are born each year with a mitochondrial disease.
If it's approved, the British bill would take effect on Oct. 29 of 2015. npr

Sunday, February 1, 2015

the acoustics of glacial melting

If a glacier cracks and nobody hears it, does it still make a sound?
"Oh, they moan and they groan," says Grant Deane, a researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. "They crackle and rumble and fizz, and they have all kinds of amazing sounds that they make."
Deane is one of the authors of a new study that interprets the acoustics of glacial melting.
"Yes, it's like they're speaking to us, but it's a language that we don't yet understand well," he says.
So Deane and his team set out to find what the glaciers are saying. They used underwater microphones to record the sound of massive sheets of ice breaking away from glaciers — a phenomenon called calving — and they used time-lapse photography to observe how the glaciers changed above water.
The study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, found three types of glacial calving, each with its own distinct sound.
"Imagine if you will, a wall of ice in the ocean, and it extends from pretty much all the way to the bottom of the fjord, through the water, and then on up into the air," Deane says.
The ice can fall off above the water in a clean break, or in a messy crumble. When it breaks off beneath the surface, it's almost impossible to see.
"But the sound propagates very well," he says. "So although we can't see the calving event, we can hear it."
That means Deane and the other researchers can tell how much ice is breaking off, and ultimately, how much it's contributing to global sea-level rise. By the sounds they make, Deane says, the glaciers may just reveal their secrets.
"We also want to be able to predict, 50 years from now, how much ice is going to be melting into the ocean, and that is a far more subtle thing," he says.

Optical Illusion Paintings By Rob Gonsalves