The Night Sky And Mars May Be Explored In 3-D With The WorldWide Telescope

MarsWatching the night sky is surely something most sky explorers enjoy. Keeping their enthusiasm in mind, Microsoft has launched the latest version of the WorldWide Telescope and a grand seamless spherical map claimed to be the largest of its kind ever made of the night sky. Also Mars may now be viewed in 3-D. The company has uncovered an entirely high-resolution coverage of Mars in 3-D. Users of the WorldWide Telescope will be provided with a high-resolution spherical TeraPixel sky map within the telescope.

The program was triggered in 2005 and includes approximately 40 academic researchers. The map was created with the help of a collection of innumerable images taken over a period of 50 years by two ground-based survey telescopes. The accumulated images were provided by the Digitized Sky Survey. The TeraPixel sky map is ascertained to be the largest and highest-quality spherical image of the sky till date.

“Much like space, scientific discovery knows no boundaries. A generation ago, scientists often worked isolated in their laboratories. Today, collaboration can help lead to great discoveries. Through events like Faculty Summit and programs like Faculty Fellows, we’re proud to facilitate that important interaction and help promising researchers around the world through funding,” highlighted Tony Hey, corporate vice president of External Research at Microsoft Research.

By amalgamating and processing all the images, the TeraPixel image is able put forth a bird’s eye view of the entire night sky. 50,000 high-definition televisions are a necessity to take a glimpse of the night sky in full size. Such finely detailed images can empower explorers to navigate through space to make their own discoveries. Employing the latest available scientific tools enabled the scientists to create the TeraPixel image.

Chris C. Kemp, chief technology officer for IT at NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C. affirmed, “With this release, NASA and Microsoft Research are providing an entirely new viewing experience in WorldWide Telescope. By providing the Mars dataset to the public in Microsoft’s WorldWide Telescope platform, we are lowering the barrier of access to this information and enabling a whole new audience to experience the thrill of space.”

Infinite number of pictures were combined together and variations in exposure, brightness, noise floor and color saturation were eradicated in an orderly manner. For observation of the data and visualization of the process, technology from the Project Trident was adopted. The significantly interactive images are made available to the public under the Microsoft and NASA Space Act Agreement of 2009.

Tony Hey, corporate vice president of External Research at Microsoft Research highlighted, “Much like space, scientific discovery knows no boundaries. A generation ago, scientists often worked isolated in their laboratories. Today, collaboration can help lead to great discoveries. Through events like Faculty Summit and programs like Faculty Fellows, we’re proud to facilitate that important interaction and help promising researchers around the world through funding.”

These images can potentially enable users to explore the planet Mars in detail and make their own scientific discoveries. It was mentioned that users can cherish a true-color map of Mars, breathtaking 3-D presentation of the planet’s surface, and enrapturing interactive video tours with two NASA scientists. The latest version of the WorldWide Telescope was unfurled at the 11th annual Microsoft Research Faculty Summit, Microsoft Corp.

Research: Insight Into Age-Old Chicken-Egg Tumult Using Computing Power

OC 17 Calcium Carbonate

The riddle whether the chicken came first or the egg has surely been a dilemma since ages. Though many funny reasons have been offered, here is a scientific analysis that seems to provide a precise solution. Experts from the University of Warwick and the University of Sheffield having employed computing power suggests the chicken or at least the chicken protein ovocleidin-17 (OC-17) to be the first that came out.

Over the past decades, scientists seem to be aware that this chicken egg shell protein plays some part in egg shell formation. The protein is identified in the mineral region of the egg which is the hard part of the shell. The investigators claim that the protein empowers the CaCo3 to transform into calcite crystals. Yet the mechanism that regulates this process and the way it is employed to develop an actual eggshell continues to remain a mystery.

“Metadynamics extends conventional molecular dynamics (MD) simulations and is particularly good at sampling transitions between disordered and ordered states of matter,” alleged Dr David Quigley from the Department of Physics and Centre for Scientific Computing, University of Warwick.

At the time of the research, the scientists utilized a powerful computing tool known as metadynamics and the UK national supercomputer. These tools enabled the investigators to generate simulations to display the accurate way the protein connects to amorphous calcium carbonate surface by two clusters of ‘arginine residues.’ These residues were observed in two loops of the protein and created a literal chemical ‘clamp’ to nano sized particles of calcium carbonate.

Professor Mark Rodger from Department of Chemistry and Centre for Scientific Computing, University of Warwick, remarked, “With the larger nanoparticles we examined we found that the binding sites for this chemical clamp were the same as the smaller nanoparticles but the binding was much weaker. In the simulations we performed, the protein never desorbed from the smaller nanoparticle, but always fell off or desorbed from the larger one. However in each case, desorption occurred at or after nucleation of calcite.”

The OC-17 in this fastened process may boost nanoparticles of calcium carbonate to transform into ‘calcite crystallites’ that form the tiny of nucleus of crystals and can continue to grow on their own. However, at times this chemical clamp failed to show positive results as the OC-17 supposedly either detached from the nanoparticle or was desorbed. Claimed to be a novel discovery, the experts shed light on the process and capacitated the OC-17 protein to recycle.

Professor Mark Rodger from the University of Warwick shared, “Does this really prove the chicken came before the egg? Well this actually further underlines that it’s a fun but pointless question. This science does however give new insight into an efficient and fast method of crystallisation. It will help in research to devise better synthetic bone and research into how to store/sequester CO2 as limestone.”

The protein appears to act as a catalyst and fastens the calcium carbonate particles to form in crystals further dropping off when the crystal nucleus is sufficiently large to grow under its own steam. Then the OC-17 liberally promotes more crystallization and makes overnight creation of an egg shell possible. The research findings may enable scientists to floodlight on sophisticated and highly efficient means to promote and regulate crystallization in nature and ascertain a way to promote and control artificial forms of crystallization.

The research is published in Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

World Mangrove Atlas Divulges Significance Of And Threats To Mangroves

Mangroves Global warming can almost be reckoned as the buzz word of this decade. With increase in temperatures around the world, ecological concerns have mounted remarkably. What has further augmented these worries is the rapid disappearance of mangroves. The release of the first global assessment namely the World Mangrove Atlas of the vitally important forests in a decade has highlighted grave perils which may arise due to the reducing cover.

The report authorized by UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and The Nature Conservancy states that in comparison with land forests, mangroves are depleting three to four times faster. It has emphasized that since 1980, almost one fifth of the total mangroves have disappeared from the face of this planet. The study has expressed that shrimp farming and coastal development can further fuel destruction of the remaining forest cover. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has reported that from 1980 to 2005, roughly 35,600 square kilometers of mangroves have disappeared.

The World Mangrove Atlas speculates that these water forests may have originally spread over 200,000 square kilometers. However, due to human intervention the area has contracted to barely 150,000 square kilometers. But, the research sets out a positive approach with the inclusion of activities carried out by different countries. Countries such as Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Cuba, India, Pakistan and others have adopted measures to grow or replant mangroves through site clearance, removal of waste, etc.

“The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, which is hosted by UNEP is bringing to the fore the multi-trillion dollar value of the world’s nature-based assets. This atlas brings our attention onto mangroves and puts them up front and central, plotting where they are, describing where they have been lost, and underlining the immense costs those loses have had for people as well as nature,” explained Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director, UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

According to the Atlas, mangroves can create revenue streams in the range of US$2000-9000 per hectare on yearly basis through occupations such as flood defenses and fish nurseries. Supposedly, the income generated from such activities surpasses those from other alternatives such as aquaculture, agriculture or insensitive tourism tremendously. Estimations specify that the forests support 30 percent of fishing activities and about 100 percent of shrimp catching in South-East Asian countries. In Queensland, Australia, more than 75 percent of commercial fisheries species depend on mangroves.

Recognized as crucial greenbelt, the study also points out that mangroves act as carbon sink, protecting coastal areas against tsunamis, cyclones and erosion. This can be especially beneficial to small-island countries constantly facing threat from the rising sea level. The Atlas also suggests that the organic carbon content in mangrove soils can be expedient in mitigating climate change.

“Mangrove forests are the ultimate illustration of why humans need nature,” elucidated Dr. Mark Spalding, Lead Author of the World Mangrove Atlas and Senior Marine Scientist with The Nature Conservancy. “In place after place the book details the extraordinary synergies between people and forests. The trees provide hard, rot-resistant timber and make some of the best charcoal in the world. The waters all around foster some of the greatest productivity of fish and shellfish in any coastal waters. What’s more, mangrove forests help prevent erosion and mitigate natural hazards from cyclones to tsunamis – these are natural coastal defenses whose importance will only grow as sea level rise becomes a reality around the world.”

The key findings indicate that currently the largest mangrove cover can be found in Indonesia, which has 21 percent of the total mangroves in the world. Brazil comprises 9 percent forest while Australia has 7 percent of the global mangrove area. Mexico and Nigeria both account for approximately 5 percent areas each.

The study also indicates that the major reason behind reduction of mangroves is direct alteration to aquaculture, agriculture and urban land uses. The Mangrove Atlas also adds that populous regions especially near the coast demand greater land for use. It suggests that overharvesting is responsible for degradation of mangroves in several terrains.

Although some countries are driving mangrove restoration efforts by unraveling the association between these coastal forests and economically-important services, at present only 400,000 hectares has been brought under for such initiatives. The report implies that policy decisions by governments can support mangrove expansion. Citing examples from Philippines and Malaysia, the authors endeavor to paint how policies affect the prized components of the environment. Reportedly, Philippines lost massive mangrove cover due to the state promoted aquaculture in 1950s. However, Malaysia has faced lesser issues on this front as the government owns a major stake in the mangroves.

Introduction of new policies in Philippines has led to increase in mangrove plantations. In addition, Australia and the state of Florida in the U.S. have achieved enhanced mangrove plantations or restorations by adopting green policies. The report also suggests that countries such as Mexico, Tanzania, Mozambique and Belize have instituted general legal protection guidelines for controlling further mangrove destruction through strict licensing systems.

In a bid to sustain the balance of the diverse and rich ecosystem of planet Earth, The Nature Conservancy has delegated teams to protect and restore mangroves. These restitution efforts are being stretched from Florida to Indonesia and Palau to Grenada.

Published by Earthscan, the World Atlas of Mangroves is a joint effort by ITTO, the International Society of Mangrove Ecosystems UNESCO-Man and Biosphere, UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, UNU-Institute for Water Environment and Health and The Nature Conservancy. The project has been under execution since 2005.

MIT Researchers Develop Fibers With Acoustic Qualities

MIT Fibers Certain innovations have been developed with the view of resolving difficulties while some have surpassed ordinary human imaginations affirming the preeminence of scientific discipline in our lives. Now, scientists from the MIT Research Lab of Electronics claim to have marked a milestone by creating sophisticated fibers which can interact with the surroundings.

According to Professor Yoel Fink, regular threads as well as optical fibers which are employed for the production of fabric are passive. The research panel has attributed the ‘preform’ based manufacturing technique of a single material which involves heating, drawing and cooling in a sequential order as a reason for its inactive nature. However, the newly crafted filaments obtain its special functionality from an intricate geometrical arrangement whereby several different substances endure to remain intact even after the process.

The researchers have stated that these fibers can be used to design microphone-sensitive clothes which could be capable of reckoning speech and scrutinizing bodily functions. This innovation could even gauge the flow of blood through capillaries in one’s body or the pressure in the brain. The fibers can be applied to produce nets which could monitor the flow of water in the ocean and large-area sonar imaging systems.

Max Shtein, an Assistant Professor in the University of Michigan’s Materials Science Department, notes, “Yoel has the advantage of being able to extrude kilometers of this stuff at one shot. It’s a very scalable technique. Scalability is not that relevant. I’m impressed by the complexity of the structures they can make. They’re incredibly virtuosic at that technique.”

Plastic that is generally used in microphones is known to form the core input of fibers. The team of researchers has played with the fluorine content of the plastic, enabling asymmetrical division of fluorine atoms on one end and hydrogen on the other. With such an internal design, the plastic supposedly turns ‘piezoelectric’ which alters its shape when placed in close contact with an electric field.

It traditional piezoelectric microphone, metal electrodes were used but in a fiber microphone, electrodes could lose their shape. To prevent the metal electrodes from losing their contour, researchers have utilized conducting plastic. During the heating process, the graphite content of this plastic upholds its superior thickness, thus yielding a bulky fluid. Apparently, as a result of the above process, different materials used for producing these fibers do not blend with each other. Further, all piezoelectric molecules need to be arranged in the same direction by using a powerful electric field. A tiny lightning bolt would be generated by the field if the fiber remains narrow at some end which could even lead to the destruction of the material. This necessitates the appropriate thickness of the fiber.

“You can actually hear them, these fibers,” explains Noemie Chocat, a Graduate Student in the Materials Science Department. “If you connected them to a power supply and applied a sinusoidal current” — an alternating current whose period is very regular — “then it would vibrate. And if you make it vibrate at audible frequencies and put it close to your ear, you could actually hear different notes or sounds coming out of it.”

The MIT research team has tested the acoustic fiber under water for their Nature Materials paper. It was placed in a water tank opposite a standard acoustic transducer. This device emits sound waves which can be detected by the fiber and in return gauge those released by the filament. The researchers wish to perfect the material further by combining the properties of all the experimental fibers in a single one.

This accomplishment by Fink and his collaborators namely Shunji Egusa, Noemie Chocat and Zhend Wang was published on Nature Materials’ website on July 11. Professor Yoel Fink and his team will announce the creation of fibers which can perceive and produce sound in the August issue of Nature Materials.

Tel Aviv University Researchers Suggest Craving For Cigarettes Is All In The Mind

Tel Aviv Smoking Study

The most difficult part about trying to quit smoking could be the withdrawal symptoms that one might have to go through. A Tel Aviv University research team headed by Dr. Reuven Dar examines the reasons that make a person crave for cigarettes.

The research team conducted an experiment which would help substantiate the inference that it is the psychological need for smoking that creates a craving for cigarettes and not the nicotine they contain. As part of this experiment, they observed the smoking patterns and craving levels of both men and women in-flight attendants employed at the Israeli airline El Al.

Each person’s smoking pattern was monitored during two flights, the first being a 10 to 13 hour flight like one from Tel Aviv to New York. The second was a two-hop shorter flight from Israel to Europe and back, with each leg lasting for three to five hours. With the help of a questionnaire, the researchers registered the levels of craving experienced by each participant during the flights.

“These findings might not be popular with advocates of the nicotine addiction theory, because they undermine the physiological role of nicotine and emphasize mind over matter when it comes to smoking,” explained Dr. Dar, Department of Psychology, Tel Aviv University.

Dr. Dar and his colleagues deduced that the craving levels of the participants were similar during both the flights. In fact, the craving levels towards the end of the shorter flight were higher than those during the longer flight. The craving is cited to have accelerated due to the anticipation of the flight landing.

The study seems to affirm that psychological cues are responsible for creating the craving for cigarettes and not the physiological effects caused due to nicotine deprivation. A study that Dr. Dar conducted in early 2005 helped him understand the response of religious Jews when deprived of smoking on the Sabbath.

The researchers asked the subjects about their cravings on three separate days which were the Sabbath, a regular weekday and a weekday on which they abstained from smoking. The participants were interviewed at the end of each day to note their craving levels. It was found that the craving levels on the morning of the Sabbath were lower as compared to the craving towards the end as people waited eagerly for their first cigarette.

On weekdays, craving levels of the people were similar to those on the days that they did not smoke. This also suggests that the need to smoke did not arise due to nicotine deprivation. These experiments cite that nicotine is not as addictive as physiological addictions are believed to be.

The team also agrees that nicotine possess the ability to increase cognitive abilities such as attention and memory though it cannot be categorized as addictive like heroin. Additionally, Dr. Dar states that occasional smokers could possibly resort to this habit in order to experience oral gratification, sensory pleasure and social acceptance.

The researchers at Tel Aviv University have inferred that the problem of smoking can be resolved by looking at it as a as a habit as opposed to an addiction. It is the habit of smoking that makes people respond to cues and this can be traced as psychological and behavioral instead of biological.

The study is published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.

Doubts Over Nemesis Star Theory As Cause For Globo-Extinction

Genus Extinction Chart

Over the years, fossil record marked by events of extinction has kept paleontologists intrigued with their striking regularity. Though the exact interval of these occurrences is still a bone of contention among paleobilogists, most of them agree that life on Earth does get wiped out every 27 million odd years. Interestingly the Sun’s dark distant companion namely Nemesis which was said to play a role in these events is being put through the wringer by boffins.

Reportedly, the next globo-extinction event should happen in around 16 million years. According to Technology Review, the new investigation raises doubts over the data that once hinted at Nemesis as a cause for extinction. Past observations specifically put forth in the 1980s suggested the dark object to glide through the Oort cloud approximately every 27 million years. This could have probably sent ghastly comet storms to the Earth, consequently leading to extinction due to the icy showers.

The recent investigation by Adrian Melott at the University of Kansas and Richard Bambach at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC however throws up a surprising result. The experts ascertained the Nemesis’ orbit closely to gain more information on this front. They scanned through paleo-record from the past 500 million years or so equipped with ‘two modern, greatly improved paleontological datasets of fossil biodiversity’.

The authors write “We find that there is a narrow peak at 27 My in the cross-spectrum of extinction intensity time series between these independent datasets. This periodicity extends over a time period nearly twice that for which it was originally noted. An excess of extinction events are associated with this periodicity at 99% confidence.”

A first look would point that Nemesis orbits the Sun every 27 million years which however is claimed to be incorrect. Melott and Bambuch are of the opinion that the accuracy and periodicity of these occurrences give proof against the existence of the dark object. In the 500 million years, primarily the orbit of Nemesis is likely to have been affected by close encounters the Sun is known to have with other stars. This could have led to an alteration in its orbit in at least two ways with the first one including a sudden change and the second one pointing at a gradual change of up to 20 percent.

In the Physics arXiv blog, the two scientists suggest the fossil record that instigated the idea of Nemesis now weighs up against it. In all likelihood, something else could be the casual factor for the sequence of disasters on Earth. The upside though is that the past extinctions were not universally fatal. Apparently, the last one witnessed a wipe out of below 10 percent of all species.

With nearly 16 million years to go until the next extinction event occurs (at least theoretically), researchers may eventually be able to figure out the underlying cause. The origin of the extinction cycle is sure turning out to be an interesting scientific mystery.

Advanced Terahertz Remote Sensing May Enhance Homeland And Military Security

Liu, Zhang, Dai

The recent increase in regular terrorist activities across the globe certainly is a cause for concern. Researchers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute now claim to have bypassed hurdles in identifying covered chemical or biological agents, explosives, and illegal drugs far from a distance of 20 meters. The latest all-optical system, using the THz wave technology may have great significance for homeland security and military uses. This is mainly because it can scan clothing and packing materials and at once underline the unique THz fingerprints of any hidden materials.

Terahertz waves occupy a large segment of the electromagnetic spectrum between the infrared and microwave bands. This provides imaging and sensing technologies that are not usually available through traditional technologies, namely, X-ray and microwave. The latter method cannot detect materials that may be concealed in body cavities however THz radiation poses slight or no health risk unlike X-rays.

Xi-Cheng Zhang, director of the Center for THz Research at Rensselaer elucidates, “The potential of THz wave remote sensing has been recognized for years, but practical application has been blocked by the fact that ambient moisture interferes with wave transmission”.

This method uses laser-induced fluorescence mainly highlighting two laser beams together into the air. This creates a plasma that interacts with a developed THz wave and information from a target material to a detector is transferred with the help of plasma fluorescence. Further, it is immediately compared with material spectrum in the THz library, thus highlighting a target material.

“We have shown that you can focus an 800 nm laser beam and a 400 nm laser beam together into the air to remotely create a plasma interacting with the THz wave, and use the plasma fluorescence to convey the information of the THz wave back to the local detector,” quotes, Zhang.

The waves apparently see through most of the materials that may be used to cover explosives or other dangerous materials. The main reason being, THz radiation transmits through almost anything that is not metal or liquid. Explosive materials mainly include corrugated cardboard, packaging, backpacks, clothing, shoes, and even book bags.

“Our technology would not work for owners of an African diamond mine who are interested in the system to stop workers from smuggling out diamonds by swallowing them,” reveals, Zhang.

The technology is portable and ultimately could be employed to scan backpacks or luggage deserted in an airport for explosives, other dangerous materials, or for illegal drugs. It may also detect explosives hidden on the battlefield.

“I think I can predict that, within a few years, the THz science and technology will become more available and ready for industrial and defense-related use,” comments Zhang.

With each substance known to have its own unique THz fingerprint, it will help to identify exactly what compound or compounds are being covered. This capability is anticipated to offer significant and multiple uses. Remote sensing may identify the composition of toxic mix during a chemical spill. Seemingly no individual will be endangered as sensing is remote.

These findings will be published next week in the journal Nature Photonics.

Some Parts Of Indian Ocean Face Rise In Sea Levels

Indian Ocean

The adverse effects of climate change have been fretting the globe for some time now. One such effect now crops up with the rise in water levels witnessed by some parts of the Indian Ocean. A recent study led by the University of Colorado at Boulder reveals that the rise in sea level in some parts of the Indian Ocean which includes coastlines of the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea, Sri Lanka, Sumatra and Java seem partly due to the increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases by human.

CU-Boulder Associate Professor Weiqing Han, lead study author reveals that the study combines measurements of sea surface back in 1960s with satellite observations. It indicated that anthropogenic climate warming is seemingly increasing regional sea rise changes in some parts of the Indian Ocean. This could further pose a threat to inhabitants of some coastal areas and islands. The change in sea level could also affect monsoon flooding in India and Bangladesh, which would possibly affect the regional and global climate in future.

“Our results from this study imply that if future anthropogenic warming effects in the Indo-Pacific warm pool dominate natural variability, mid-ocean islands such as the Mascarenhas Archipelago, coasts of Indonesia, Sumatra and the north Indian Ocean may experience significantly more sea level rise than the global average,” said Han of CU-Boulder’s atmospheric and oceanic sciences department.

The Indo-Pacific warm pool which takes the shape of a bathtub (stretches from the east coast of Africa west to the International Date Line in the Pacific) in the tropical oceans is said to be the main player. This warm pool has risen in temperature by 1 degree Fahrenheit in the last 50 years due to the increasing emission of greenhouse gases. With several areas in the Indian Ocean facing sea level rise, the study points out highest sea level drop at the Seychelles Islands and Zanzibar off Tanzania’s coastline. The sea level patterns do not show geographical uniformity across the globe and the sea rise in some region correlates with sea level fall in the others, says NCAR’s Meehl.

As the third largest in the world, the Indian Ocean accounts to 20 percent of water and is bounded by East Africa on the west, India on the north, Indochina and Australia on the east, and the Southern Ocean off the coast of Antarctica on the south. Apparently, the changing patterns of sea level have been driven by the combination of effects from two primary atmospheric wind patterns called the Hadley circulation and the Walker circulation.

“Our new results show that human-caused changes of atmospheric and oceanic circulation over the Indian Ocean region — which have not been studied previously — are the major cause for the regional variability of sea level change,” wrote the authors in Nature Geoscience.

The Hadley circulation is dominated by air currents that rise from heated tropical waters near the equator and flow towards the pole, then on they sink to the ocean in the subtropics which causes the surface air to flow backwards to the equator. While the Walker circulation evokes the air to rise and flow towards the west at upper levels, sinking to the surface it then flows back eastwards to the Indo-Pacific warm pool.

Varying evolved ocean and climate models were used for the study by the international research team which includes the Parallel Ocean Program, an ocean component from NCAR’s Community Climate System Model. Han further revealed that on the basis of all-season data records, the region around Maldives does not show significant rise in sea level. However, data only during the winter season shows a rise in sea level around Maldives which is another reason of concern. Maldives is the smallest Asian country with about 1,000 islands, out of which around 200 are inhabited by about 300,000 people who are just five feet above the sea level.

He further speculates that the complex circulation patterns could affect precipitation, forcing much more atmospheric air towards the surface in Indian Ocean subtropical regions than usual. This could weaken atmospheric convection in the subtropics, leading to an increase in rainfall in the eastern tropical regions of the Indian Ocean. On the other hand, the western equatorial Indian Ocean region could face increased drought.

This new study suggests that documenting sea level change globally would require researchers to also know the specifics of regional sea level changes which will prove to be essential for coastal and island regions, revealed NCAR’s Hu. The coasts of the northern Indian Ocean have witnessed a rise in sea level by an average of about 0.5 inches per decade.

Nature Geoscience is carrying a paper on the subject in this week’s issue.

Two Pancake Batfish Species From Gulf Of Mexico Described By Museum Researchers

pancake batfish

The Gulf of Mexico is known to house a wide variety of marine life with many of them still left to be described although combed thoroughly by scientists. The Museum scientist team now divulges on two new species of pancake batfishes dubbed as Halieutichthys intermedius and H. bispinosus while also re-describing the H. aculeatus. All these creatures reside in the waters that have been adversely affected by the recent oil spill.

The species in question here belongs to the anglerfish family Ogcocephalidae which comprise of around 70 species of flat bottom-dwellers known to reside in deep dark waters. They are characterized by their large heads and mouths while possessing the ability to merge with its surroundings. They move along the seabed using their arm-like fins and hence appear to be like a walking bat. Like many of their kin, they feature a dorsal fin which is adapted as a spine or lure. The only difference here is that it excretes a fluid unlike bio-illuminating.

“One of the fishes that we describe is completely restricted to the oil spill area,” commented John Sparks, curator of Ichthyology at the American Museum of Natural History. “If we are still finding new species of fishes in the Gulf, imagine how much diversity—especially microdiversity—is out there that we do not know about.”

According to the description given by Sparks and colleagues, the genus Halieutichthys inhabits shallower waters when pitted against most batfishes. Although the above three mentioned fishes are coupled into one species, there are still many differences between them.

“These discoveries underscore the potential loss of undocumented biodiversity that a disaster of this scale may portend,” continued Sparks.

The re-described species H. aculeatus bears a few spiny tubercles and can be found strewn across the northeastern gulf coast as well as the coasts of Georgia, Carolina and Florida. The H. bispinosus on the other hand possesses many spiny tubercles. The second newly described species namely H. intermedius sports a non-spiny dorsal surface but has a geographic distribution which resides only within the Gulf of Mexico.

The new research divulged by the team was published in the Journal of Fish Biology.

Secluded Birthplace Of Stars: M17 SWex Dark Cloud

Spiral Arm Star Formation

Over centuries astronomers and scientists have been trying to explore the mystics of the universe, an overly voluminous space with its hidden treasures. Gazing at those starry nights may have intrigued one about the emergence of stars. Well, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed the gigantic star formation lurked within a dark cloud called the M17 SWex. The team of researchers include Penn State astronomer Matthew Povich and Barbara Whitney from the Space Science Institute of Boulder, Co.

The secluded birthplace of stars, the M17 SWex, is a part of the huge, parent nebula named M17 which forms a large region of our galaxy with its bright, central star cluster. This dark cloud in the Sagittarius constellation was discovered more than 30 years ago. However, it’s now that Spitzer found the stealth stellar bodies. Matthew Povich reveals that the M17 SWex is one of the closest to Earth and lets out numerous stars, in fact its one of the busiest star-making place in the Milky Way. It has about 488 stars in making, out of which more than 200 will turn out to be the blue-white class B stars that are larger and hotter than the sun.

“We believe we’ve managed to observe this dark cloud in a very early phase of star formation before its most massive stars have ignited. Most of the stars we’ve detected are relatively bright. So we predict the actual number of stars forming in M17 SWex is over 10,000, since the fainter stars cannot be detected with the current observations,” said Penn State astronomer Matthew Povich, a postdoctoral fellow and the lead author of a study published recently in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. The new research could shed light on the question of how and when massive stars form.

However, the M17 SWex didn’t conceive any bluest, hottest and biggest of new stars called the class O stars. These relatively rare O stars that are capable of lighting up neighboring regions from the M17 nebula. Povich further explains that the absence of O stars from the M17 SWex could be because such massive stars require additional boost. This extra nudge may come from the shock waves generated due to star births nearby that form a chain of star formation called the cosmic domino effect.

He further points out to a giant bubble blown by blue O stars (as shown in the image) which are two to five million years old, and in the far left. A portion of the smoke ring trying to submerge on the left, curving border of the M17 nebula with the interior being lit up by a star cluster which is about one million years old. On the other hand, the stars being formed within the M17 SWex haven’t yet marked the millionth year. Seemingly, they are infants with regards to stellar age groups.

“The time-sequence of star formation proceeds in the same direction that a spiral arm crosses the M17 cloud complex,” Povich said. “The M17 region brings to mind images of other spiral galaxies where the leading edges of the arms appear blue, with young O stars, but the trailing edges are still dark, with obscuring dust like in M17 SWex.”

This chronology is supposedly due to the architecture of our galaxy. The M17 region passes through the Sagittarius spiral arm which is one of the gigantic bands of stars and gas in the galaxy’s hub. As the concentration of gas and dust is higher in the arm, it amalgamates material that eventually causes a chain reaction. Moreover, the M17 region takes about one million years to pass through the edge of the Sagittarius spiral arm.

The further investigation of the M17 SWex and other clouds will help reveal if the massive stars require additional boosting from a shock wave.

Right Whales Shout To Communicate During Noise Pollution?

Right Whale Tail Fin

It is usual to see humans shouting over the top of their voice to just be heard in a noisy party. If communication is not possibly we may eventually give up. According to marine and acoustic scientists from the Penn State, just like humans North American right whales too, in situations of environmental noise elevate the volume of their calls. But at a particular point, the right whales may end up paying a high price for shouting.

Experts revealed that since right whales generally come closer to the shore, whalers have hunted them to the point of extinction. Interestingly the word ‘right’ in their name is said to have derived from this very usefulness. These whales are rich in blubber with their slow swimming and remaining afloat after death abilities only adding to their woes. At present, right whales are examined to ascertain the health and size of their population. These whales just like southern right whales are known to be on the endangered species list.

Susan Parks, assistant professor of acoustics and research associate, Applied Research Laboratory, Penn State shared, “The impacts of increases in ocean noise from human activities are a concern for the conservation of marine animals like right whales. The ability to change vocalizations to compensate for environmental noise is critical for successful communication in an increasingly noisy ocean.”

It has been affirmed that right whale upcalls are significantly employed for passive acoustic monitoring in conservation efforts to protect them from extinction. These upcalls also known as contact calls are assumed to be produced when these whales are isolated or in the process of joining other whales. The most frequent upcall produced by right whales starts with a low pitch but eventually the pitch rises.

While conducting the research, the experts analyzed the short-term modifications of calling behavior in individual North Atlantic right whales with alteration in environmental noise situations. All the right whales encompassed in the research were tagged with acoustic suction cup tags. Having listened to the tag recordings from seven male and seven female whales, the total went up to 107 calls. The experts mentioned that the tags recorded from two to 18 calls each.

Parks added, “Whether they can maintain their communication range in noisier environments still needs to be tested. Ocean sound levels will probably continue to increase due to human activities and there is a physical limit to the maximum source level that an animal can produce.”

Post observation of the received level, duration and fundamental frequency of the calls, the experts compared the background noise levels and the call-received levels of the individual calls. It was ascertained that noise below 400 Hertz commanded the recorded background noise. Apparently these frequencies imbricate the frequencies of right whale upcalls. It is assumed that in right whale habitat commercial shipping mostly heightens the background ocean noise.

With no alterations in the frequency, the right whales seem to increase their volume or the energy in their calls when the background noise levels surge. Therefore, they can possibly maintain the signal to noise ratio of their calls in moderate levels of ocean noise. Parks claims this finding to be a novel proof for noise-dependent amplitude modification of calls produced by a baleen whale.

The researchers highlighted, “Variability of call parameters also can reduce the effectiveness of detection algorithms and should be taken into account when calculating the probability of detection in different habitats.”

Alteration in the calling patterns may lessen the right whales’ range for feeding or mating and augment stress levels. The investigators reveal that other implication for changes in whales can be that upcalls are the whale calls that conservationists use to monitor right whale populations. Automated acoustic sensors are supposedly employed for monitoring certain parameters to test the whale calls from other noises.

The study is published in the July 6 issue of Biology Letters.

Experiments Confirm Protons Significantly Smaller than Previously Thought

PSI infra-red laser facility

Science, as we know it, is continuously evolving. What we once thought was the smallest, indivisible component of matter – the atom – was found to be composed of tinier, charged particles – electrons and protons. Now research suggests that protons are even smaller than initially estimated. This comes from a series of experiments carried out by an international research team at the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) in Villigen, Switzerland.

“We were actually aiming to measure the recognised value of the proton radius more accurately, in order that Quantum Electrodynamics (the quantum theory of how light and matter interact) could be checked more closely. We had no idea that we would find a discrepancy between the recognised values and our measurements”, said Franz Kottmann, a researcher attached to the project from the very beginning.

The implications of this revelation are huge and far-reaching. It means that a correction factor will have to be added to either the quantum theory of how light and matter interact – Quantum Electrodynamics – or to the value of the Rydberg Constant, the most precisely determined physical constant.

In order to determine the size of protons, the research team used hydrogen atoms with a negatively charged particle called a muon, instead of an electron orbiting the sole proton. Muons have mass values approximately 200 times that of electrons and hence the muon orbit is about 200 times smaller than that of the electron in the Hydrogen atom. As a result, the characteristics of the muon path are more closely related to the dimensions of the proton.

A specially developed infra-red laser was used to determine the characteristics of the muon path, which is why these experiments could only be carried out at PSI, as it is the only place in the world at which a muon beam of required intensity could be generated. From start to finish, the experiment took over ten years since all the equipment required had to be constructed from scratch.

“Either the most precise theory in physics or the most accurately determined physical constant – the Rydberg Constant – is wrong,” physicist Aldo Antognini explained. “Others will have to establish where the error lies, but our next experiment, in which we will be using helium rather than hydrogen, should provide some important pointers to the right direction.”

The project undertaken at PSI is a co-operative effort between several establishments from many different countries. The latest edition of the science magazine ‘Nature’ contains a report of the researchers’ results.

Bronze Tablet Found At El-ahwat Thought To Be Part Of Linchpin For Battle Chariot

El-ahwat Bronze Tablet

The round bronze tablet dug up at El-ahwat may just be a minuscule part of the shrouds surrounding the Shardana tribe of the Sea-Peoples and the capital of famed Canaanite king Sisera. More than a decade after the 3,200-year-old tablet adorned by a woman’s face was dug up from the El-ahwat excavation site, Oren Cohen from the Zinman Institute of Archaeology, the University of Haifa, has identified it as the linchpin of a battle chariot.

A delegation from the Universities of Haifa and Cagliari unearthed the round tablet decorated by the face of a woman during the 1993 – 2000 excavation at the El-ahwat site, near Nahal ‘Iron. Prof. Zertal who headed this team cites that the excavated city from where the tablet was uncovered may have played host to the Shardana tribe of the Sea-Peoples who lived in Sisera’s capital city of Harosheth Haggoyim.

“This identification enhances the historical and archaeological value of the site and proves that chariots belonging to high-ranking individuals were found there. It provides support for the possibility, which has not yet been definitively established, that this was Sisera’s city of residence and that it was from there that the chariots set out on their way to the battle against the Israelite tribes, located between the ancient sites of Taanach and Megiddo,” added Prof. Zertal.

Zertal’s surmises are rooted in the city’s fortifications, passageways in the walls and rounded huts that appear unusual in Canaanite environs. It is calculated to date as far back as the end of the Bronze Age and the early Iron Age or the 13th to 12th centuries B.C.E. The 5cm thick bronze tablet which has a diameter measuring 2cm was dug up at the Governor’s House in 1997. Appearing to have broken off an elongated object, it depicts a woman’s face wearing a cap and earrings resembling chariot wheels.

“Such an identification reinforces the claim that a high-ranking Egyptian or local ruler was based at this location, and is likely to support the theory that the site is Harosheth Haggoyim, the home town of Sisera, as mentioned in Judges 4-5,” emphasized Prof. Zertal while commenting on this identification.

Cohen claims to have identified the bronze tablet as a linchpin of a battle chariot after studying ancient Egyptian reliefs picturing chariot battles. The bronze linchpins holding the chariot wheels in place were covered with faces of captives, foreigners and enemies of Egypt. This piece of evidence seems to tie the identification of the tablet to the linchpins used in the chariots. Harosheth Haggoyim finds mention in Hebrew Bible as the region from where Sisera’s troops set out to battle the Israelites who were being led by Barak, son of Avinoam and the prophetess Deborah.

Prof. Zertal has put together details of the full excavation and its conclusions in an interestingly titled book – ‘Sisera’s Secret, A Journey following the Sea-Peoples and the Song of Deborah’.

Magnetic Nanoparticles Can Remotely Control Neurons

Researchers Huang, Pralle

The assemblage of particles has posulately inveigled much research recently courtesy characteristics which could see potential use in catalysis, biomedicine, magnetic resonance imaging, magnetic particle imaging, and environmental remediation. According to a paper recently issued by University at Buffalo physicists in Nature Nanotechnology, magnetic nanoparticles focused on cell membranes can considerably domineer ion channels, neurons and animal behavior.

Bringing magnetic nanoparticles to the application, scientists have succeeded in finding a reliable way to parenthetically govern neurons and influence animal behavior. Concordant to the study, these particles heat up when exposed to a magnetic field, leading researchers to conclude that the heat can open calcium ion channels in cells, activate neurons and even cause C. elegans worms to recoil.

The study also reveals the possibilities of innovative cancer treatments that incidentally maneuver selected proteins or cells in specific tissues, or improved diabetes therapies that remotely stimulate pancreatic cells to release insulin. Concurrently, the work could be put to use to the development of new therapies for certain neurological disorders, which result from insufficient neuro-stimulation.

“By developing a method that allows us to use magnetic fields to stimulate cells both in vitro and in vivo, this research will help us unravel the signaling networks that control animal behavior,” explains Arnd Pralle, PhD, assistant professor of physics in the UB College of Arts and Sciences and senior/corresponding author on the paper.

The research involved the heating up of particles to 34 degrees Celsius, the same threshold that in nature provokes an avoidance response, making the worms reverse course. The same method could be applied to make them move back and forth, thereby providing investigators an interesting solution to control the behavior of the worms.

“We targeted the nanoparticles near what is the ‘mouth’ of the worms, called the amphid,” reveals Pralle. “You can see in the video that the worms are crawling around; once we turn on the magnetic field, which heats up the nanoparticles to 34 degrees Celsius, most of the worms reverse course. We could use this method to make them go back and forth. Now we need to find out which other behaviors can be controlled this way.”

The method adopted by the UB team heats these particles in a cell membrane by laying them bare to a radiofrequency magnetic field. Pralle further says, “Our method is important because it allows us to only heat up the cell membrane. We didn’t want to kill the cell,” he said. “While the membrane outside the cell heats up, there is no temperature change in the cell.” Further, in the same paper, the UB scientists shed some light on the method’s ability to activate cells uniformly across a large area and how it becomes feasible to use it in ‘in vivo’ whole body applications.

The commendable research was supported by the National Science Foundation and the UB 2020 Interdisciplinary Research Development Fund.

Rising CO2 Emissions Puzzle Clownfish, Cause Them To Swim Towards Predators

Clownfish Carbon Emission

The recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that has environmentalists at the brink of their patience seems to be just one of many instances threatening wildlife. A recent research by the James Cook University, Australia now indicates that rising carbon emissions could have unseen effects on clownfish. Increasing levels of carbon, the investigation further suggests, poses a greater danger to world fish populations in general.

According to the groundbreaking research, surging levels of CO2 appear to have a considerable impact on fish species. With the world’s oceans becoming more acidic, baby fish turn out be easy meat for predators. A series of experiments led the team to conclude that rising carbon levels and acidifying ocean waters confuse fish causing them to significantly alter their behavior. This in turn could lower their chances of survival by almost 50 to 80 percent.

“As CO2 increases in the atmosphere and dissolves into the oceans, the water becomes slightly more acidic. Eventually this reaches a point where it significantly changes the sense of smell and behaviour of larval fish,” mentions team leader Professor Philip Munday of the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CoECRS) at James Cook University. “Instead of avoiding predators, they become attracted to them. They appear to lose their natural caution and start taking big risks, such as swimming out in the open – with lethal consequences.”

The transition in fish behavior, Dr. Mark Meekan from the Australian Institute of Marine Science elucidates may have serious connotations for the endurance of fish populations. This he says is mainly because there would eventually be lesser surviving fish to restore the adult populations.

The researcher who’s also a co-author on the paper adds, “Every time we start a car or turn on the light part of the resulting CO2 is absorbed by the oceans, turning them slightly more acidic. Ocean pH has already declined by 0.1 unit and could fall a further 0.3-0.4 of a unit if we continue to emit CO2 at our present increasing rate. We already know this will have an adverse effect on corals, shellfish, plankton and other organisms with calcified skeletons. Now we are starting to find it could affect other marine life, such as fish.”

Previous analysis suggests clownfish of Pixar’s ‘Finding Nemo’ fame didn’t just have a tough time in the movie. Their real-life baby counterparts, Professor Munday and colleagues found were left in the lurch when finding their way back to their home reef under acidic conditions. Spanning a wider array of fish species, the latest experiments additionally reveal the harmful changes in fish behavior due to acidified sea water.

“In our experiments we created the kind of sea water we will have in the latter part of this century if we do nothing to reduce emissions. We exposed baby fish to it, in an aquarium and then returned some to the sea to see how they behaved. When we released them on the reef, we found that they swam further away from shelter and their mortality rates were five to eight times higher than those of normal baby fish,” Professor Munday remarks.

He goes on to mention that there should be a clear comprehension of this impact which is likely to occur irrespective of global warming. It could be seen as a direct result of human carbon emissions. Conclusively, the results show that increased absorption of CO2 into the ocean water will lower recruitment success and the sustainability of fish populations could be at risk.

These findings appear in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS).