Nov 29, 2014

World's Newest Lava Lake Appears in Africa

Heralded by fiery lava fountains and plumes of poisonous gas, a new lava lake has appeared atop one of Africa's most active volcanoes for the first time in 75 years.

The lava lake at Nyamuragira volcano in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) simmers deep within the summit's North Pit Crater. Though the churning lava seems to come and go, scientists think the volcano may eventually spawn a long-lived lava lake.

At the moment, "it's a very small, bubbling lava lake," said Benoit Smets, a volcanologist at the European Center for Geodynamics and Seismology in Luxembourg. "It disappears and reappears, but if the current activity continues, we will probably have a lava lake like we have at [neighboring volcano] Nyiragongo within a few years to decades."

Both Nyamuragira and the neighboring Nyiragongo are part of the Virunga volcanic chain in the East African Rift near Lake Kivu and DR Congo's border with Rwanda. The volcanoes are among the few on Earth that have sustained lava lakes for several decades. Nyamuragira's last molten pool emptied in 1938 in spectacular fashion, with lava pouring out of the summit and flowing more than 18 miles (30 kilometers) to Lake Kivu.

The new lava lake is at the bottom of a 1,650-foot-deep (500 meters) crater left behind by that flood.

Volcano vigilance

Scientists have anticipated the new lava lake's birth since March 2012, when Nyamuragira's last eruption suddenly ended with earthquakes and powerful explosions. The violence marked a collapse at the pit crater, likely in response to lava flows partially emptying the volcano's underground magma chamber, Smets said. (Between Nov. 8, 2011, and March 2012, Nyamuragira's forested slopes were flooded with 7 billion cubic feet (200 million cubic meters) of lava.)

Those rumbles opened a new route within the volcano for magma to travel up to the summit, akin to the volcano clearing its throat, researchers think. "We felt this was the first sign of a future lava lake," Smets told Live Science.

The idea that a lava lake would form was also justified by the volcano's pattern of past eruptions. Nyamuragira seems cycle its eruptions, with outbursts progressing in time from bottom to top. For instance, after the summit lava lake drained in the 1930s, the next eruptions were at the base of the volcano, Smets said. By the 1990s, eruptions were higher up, breaking through fissures close to the summit, he said.

When did the lake form?

Nestled within Nyamuragira's summit caldera, the pitlike crater and lava lake are often obscured by clouds of sulfur dioxide gas. Nyamuragira vents more sulfur dioxide than any other volcano in the world, said Robin Campion, a volcanologist at the Universidad Nacional Auto?noma de Me?xico in Mexico City.

Campion said he thinks the sulfur dioxide emissions suggest the lava lake actually formed soon after the pit crater collapsed in 2012. Sulfur dioxide gas levels never dropped off after the 2011-2012 eruption ended, Campion said. "I noticed something was very strange, because I was constantly seeing that [sulfur dioxide] was quite high," Campion told Live Science. "Only the formation of a lava lake could explain these high values."

Campion published his findings Nov. 7 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

But Smets disagrees that the lake formed that long ago. In early July, United Nations peacekeepers dropped Smets and a group of scientists from the DR Congo, Belgium, Luxembourg and Italy off at the summit by helicopter, to check on the crater. They saw fire fountains spurting from the crater, but there was no lava lake there yet, Smets reported Oct. 21 in Eos, the weekly newspaper of the American Geophysical Union.

But Campion countered that the photos from that July helicopter survey actually show a fountaining lava lake. He noted that in Hawaii, Kilauea volcano's lava lake was also filled with vigorous fire fountains soon after it formed. "I really think is the early stages of a permanent lava lake," he said.

Distant observers have also weighed in on the debate. Earlier this year, satellites picked up hotter-than-usual temperatures above Nyamuragira in April and late June, leading NASA's Earth Observatory to conclude that a new lava lake had formed. The activity died down in August and then spiked again this month.

The summit also started glowing red at night in April and June, and scientists at the Goma Volcano Observatory — the Congolese scientific institute in charge of volcano monitoring — detected unusual earthquake swarms that are typical of molten rock (magma) moving underground during these months.

The back-and-forth reflects both science at work and the difficulty of working in the DR Congo, researchers said. Smets said the debate was finally settled this month, when Goma Volcano Observatory scientists saw an active lava lake during a Nov. 6 helicopter survey. Researchers often must rely on visual or satellite monitoring of DR Congo volcanoes because, for safety reasons, instruments often can't be left in the field, Smets said. In the eastern part of the country, near the volcanoes, dozens of armed groups continue to fight, despite peace agreements. More than 21,000 U.N. personnel were in the country as of Sept. 30.

Read more at Discovery News

Ripples in Space-Time Could Reveal 'Strange Stars'

By looking for ripples in the fabric of space-time, scientists could soon detect "strange stars" -- objects made of stuff radically different from the particles that make up ordinary matter, researchers say.

The protons and neutrons that make up the nuclei of atoms are made of more basic particles known as quarks. There are six types, or "flavors," of quarks: up, down, top, bottom, charm and strange. Each proton or neutron is made of three quarks: Each proton is composed of two up quarks and one down quark, and each neutron is made of two down quarks and one up quark.

In theory, matter can be made with other flavors of quarks as well. Since the 1970s, scientists have suggested that particles of "strange matter" known as strangelets -- made of equal numbers of up, down and strange quarks -- could exist. In principle, strange matter should be heavier and more stable than normal matter, and might even be capable of converting ordinary matter it comes in contact with into strange matter. However, lab experiments have not yet created any strange matter, so its existence remains uncertain.

One place strange matter could naturally be created is inside neutron stars, the remnants of stars that died in catastrophic explosions known as supernovas. Neutron stars are typically small, with diameters of about 12 miles (19 kilometers) or so, but are so dense that they weigh as much as the sun. A chunk of a neutron star the size of a sugar cube can weigh as much as 100 million tons.

Under the extraordinary force of this extreme weight, some of the up and down quarks that make up neutron stars could get converted into strange quarks, leading to strange stars made of strange matter, researchers say.

A strange star that occasionally spurts out strange matter could quickly convert a neutron star orbiting it in a binary system into a strange star as well. Prior research suggests that a neutron star that receives a seed of strange matter from a companion strange star could transition to a strange star in just 1 millisecond to 1 second.

Now, researchers suggest they could detect strange stars by looking for the stars' gravitational waves -- invisible ripples in space-time first proposed by Albert Einstein as part of his theory of general relativity.

Gravitational waves are emitted by accelerating masses. Really big gravitational waves are emitted by really big masses, such as pairs of neutron stars merging with one another.

Pairs of strange stars should give off gravitational waves that are different from those emitted by pairs of "normal" neutron stars because strange stars should be more compact, researchers said. For instance, a neutron star with a mass one-fifth that of the sun should be more than 18 miles (30 km) in diameter, whereas a strange star of the same mass should be a maximum of 6 miles (10 km) wide.

The researchers suggest that events involving strange stars could explain two short gamma-ray bursts -- giant explosions lasting less than 2 seconds --seen in deep space in 2005 and 2007. The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) did not detect gravitational waves from either of these events, dubbed GRB 051103 and GRB 070201.

Neutron star mergers are the leading explanations for short gamma-ray bursts, but LIGO should, in principle, have detected gravitational waves from such mergers. However, if strange stars were involved in both of these events, LIGO would not have been able to detect any gravitational waves they emitted, researchers said. (The more compact a star is within a binary system of two stars, the higher the frequency of the gravitational waves it gives off.)

Still, future research could detect strange-star events. Using the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (aLIGO), whose first observing run is scheduled for 2015, the researchers expect to detect about 0.13 mergers per year of neutron stars with strange stars, or about one such merger every eight years. Using the Einstein Telescope currently being designed in the European Union, the scientists eventually expect to detect about 700 such events per year, or about two per day.

Read more at Discovery News

Nov 27, 2014

Ancient marine algae provides clues of climate change impact on today's microscopic ocean organisms

A study of ancient marine algae, led by the University of Southampton, has found that climate change affected their growth and skeleton structure, which has potential significance for today's equivalent microscopic organisms that play an important role in the world's oceans.

Coccolithophores, a type of marine algae, are prolific in the ocean today and have been for millions of years. These single-celled plankton produce calcite skeletons that are preserved in seafloor sediments after death. Although coccolithophores are microscopic, their abundance makes them key contributors to marine ecosystems and the global carbon cycle.

There is, therefore, much current interest in how coccolithophore calcification might be affected by climate change and ocean acidification, both of which occur as atmospheric carbon dioxide increases.

The research, published in Nature Communications, examined preserved fossil remains of coccolithophores from a period of climate warming and ocean acidification that occurred around 56 million years ago -- the Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) -- and provides a much-needed long-term perspective of coccolithophore response to ocean acidification.

Dr Sarah O'Dea, from Ocean and Earth Science at the University of Southampton and lead author of the study, says: "Our results show that climate change significantly altered coccolithophore calcification rates at the PETM and has the potential to be just as significant, perhaps even more so, today. Ultimately then, it is the factors that influence where species live, their abundance, how fast they grow and their ability to adapt to environmental change that is likely to control future coccolithophore calcite production."

The study investigated two key PETM coccolithophores, Coccolithus pelagicus and Toweius pertusus, both of which are directly related to species that dominate the modern ocean.

It found that calcification rates of C. pelagicus and T. pertusus halved during the PETM, due to changes in environmental factors that influenced their growth. The response of each species was, however, different, and involved intervals of slowed growth in C. pelagicus and an overall reduction in the size of the skeletal components -- coccoliths -- in T. pertusus. Intriguingly though, there was very little evidence for any response to ocean acidification, other than perhaps a slight thinning of C. pelagicus coccoliths..

Dr Samantha Gibbs, from Ocean and Earth Science at the University of Southampton, who was Dr O'Dea's PhD supervisor and co-author of the study, says: "A key objective was to record calcification in fossil coccolithophores in a way that enabled direct comparison with measurements from living specimens. Our novel technique involved analysing coccolithophore skeletal remains and applying observations from modern specimens to estimate, for the first time, calcification rates of fossil coccolithophores."

Read more at Science Daily

Invisible shield found thousands of miles above Earth blocks 'killer electrons'

A team led by the University of Colorado Boulder has discovered an invisible shield some 7,200 miles above Earth that blocks so-called "killer electrons," which whip around the planet at near-light speed and have been known to threaten astronauts, fry satellites and degrade space systems during intense solar storms.

The barrier to the particle motion was discovered in the Van Allen radiation belts, two doughnut-shaped rings above Earth that are filled with high-energy electrons and protons, said Distinguished Professor Daniel Baker, director of CU-Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP). Held in place by Earth's magnetic field, the Van Allen radiation belts periodically swell and shrink in response to incoming energy disturbances from the sun.

As the first significant discovery of the space age, the Van Allen radiation belts were detected in 1958 by Professor James Van Allen and his team at the University of Iowa and were found to be composed of an inner and outer belt extending up to 25,000 miles above Earth's surface. In 2013, Baker -- who received his doctorate under Van Allen -- led a team that used the twin Van Allen Probes launched by NASA in 2012 to discover a third, transient "storage ring" between the inner and outer Van Allen radiation belts that seems to come and go with the intensity of space weather.

The latest mystery revolves around an "extremely sharp" boundary at the inner edge of the outer belt at roughly 7,200 miles in altitude that appears to block the ultrafast electrons from breeching the shield and moving deeper towards Earth's atmosphere.

"It's almost like theses electrons are running into a glass wall in space," said Baker, the study's lead author. "Somewhat like the shields created by force fields on Star Trek that were used to repel alien weapons, we are seeing an invisible shield blocking these electrons. It's an extremely puzzling phenomenon."

A paper on the subject was published in the Nov. 27 issue of Nature.

The team originally thought the highly charged electrons, which are looping around Earth at more than 100,000 miles per second, would slowly drift downward into the upper atmosphere and gradually be wiped out by interactions with air molecules. But the impenetrable barrier seen by the twin Van Allen belt spacecraft stops the electrons before they get that far, said Baker.

The group looked at a number of scenarios that could create and maintain such a barrier. The team wondered if it might have to do with Earth's magnetic field lines, which trap and control protons and electrons, bouncing them between Earth's poles like beads on a string. The also looked at whether radio signals from human transmitters on Earth could be scattering the charged electrons at the barrier, preventing their downward motion. Neither explanation held scientific water, Baker said.

"Nature abhors strong gradients and generally finds ways to smooth them out, so we would expect some of the relativistic electrons to move inward and some outward," said Baker. "It's not obvious how the slow, gradual processes that should be involved in motion of these particles can conspire to create such a sharp, persistent boundary at this location in space."

Another scenario is that the giant cloud of cold, electrically charged gas called the plasmasphere, which begins about 600 miles above Earth and stretches thousands of miles into the outer Van Allen belt, is scattering the electrons at the boundary with low frequency, electromagnetic waves that create a plasmapheric "hiss," said Baker. The hiss sounds like white noise when played over a speaker, he said.

Read more at Science Daily

DNA survives critical entry into Earth's atmosphere

The genetic material DNA can survive a flight through space and re-entry into Earth's atmosphere -- and still pass on genetic information. A team of scientists from UZH obtained these astonishing results during an experiment on the TEXUS-49 research rocket mission.

Applied to the outer shell of the payload section of a rocket using pipettes, small, double-stranded DNA molecules flew into space from Earth and back again. After the launch, space flight, re-entry into Earth's atmosphere and landing, the so-called plasmid DNA molecules were still found on all the application points on the rocket from the TEXUS-49 mission. And this was not the only surprise: For the most part, the DNA salvaged was even still able to transfer genetic information to bacterial and connective tissue cells. "This study provides experimental evidence that the DNA's genetic information is essentially capable of surviving the extreme conditions of space and the re-entry into Earth's dense atmosphere," says study head Professor Oliver Ullrich from the University of Zurich's Institute of Anatomy.

Spontaneous second mission

The experiment called DARE (DNA atmospheric re-entry experiment) resulted from a spontaneous idea: UZH scientists Dr. Cora Thiel and Professor Ullrich were conducting experiments on the TEXUS-49 mission to study the role of gravity in the regulation of gene expression in human cells using remote-controlled hardware inside the rocket's payload. During the mission preparations, they began to wonder whether the outer structure of the rocket might also be suitable for stability tests on so-called biosignatures. "Biosignatures are molecules that can prove the existence of past or present extraterrestrial life," explains Dr. Thiel. And so the two UZH researchers launched a small second mission at the European rocket station Esrange in Kiruna, north of the Arctic Circle.

DNA survives the most extreme conditions

The quickly conceived additional experiment was originally supposed to be a pretest to check the stability of biomarkers during spaceflight and re-entry into the atmosphere. Dr. Thiel did not expect the results it produced: "We were completely surprised to find so much intact and functionally active DNA." The study reveals that genetic information from the DNA can essentially withstand the most extreme conditions.

Various scientists believe that DNA could certainly reach us from outer space as Earth is not insulated: in extraterrestrial material made of dust and meteorites, for instance, around 100 tons of which hits our planet every day.

Read more at Science Daily

'Eye of Sauron' provides new way of measuring distances to galaxies

A team of scientists, led by Dr Sebastian Hoenig from the University of Southampton, have developed a new way of measuring precise distances to galaxies tens of millions of light years away, using the W. M. Keck Observatory near the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

The method is similar to what land surveyors use on Earth, by measuring the physical and angular, or 'apparent', size of a standard ruler in the galaxy, to calibrate the distance from this information.

The research, which is published in the journal Nature, was used to identify the accurate distance of the nearby NGC4151 galaxy, which wasn't previously available. The galaxy NGC 4151, which is dubbed the 'Eye of Sauron' by astronomers for its similarity to the film depiction of the eye of the character in The Lord of the Rings, is important for accurately measuring black hole masses.

Recently reported distances range from 4 to 29 megaparsecs, but using this new method the researchers calculated the distance of 19 megaparsecs to the supermassive black hole.

Indeed, as in the famous saga, a ring plays a crucial role in this new measurement. All big galaxies in the universe host a supermassive black hole in their centre and in about a tenth of all galaxies, these supermassive black holes are growing by swallowing huge amounts of gas and dust from their surrounding environments. In this process, the material heats up and becomes very bright -- becoming the most energetic sources of emission in the universe known as active galactic nuclei (AGN).

The hot dust forms a ring around the supermassive black hole and emits infrared radiation, which the researchers used as the ruler. However, the apparent size of this ring is so small that the observations were carried out using infrared interferometry to combine W. M. Keck Observatory's twin 10-meter telescopes, to achieve the resolution power of an 85m telescope.

To measure the physical size of the dusty ring, the researchers measured the time delay between the emission of light from very close to the black hole and the infrared emission. This delay is the distance the light has to travel (at the speed-of-light) from close to the black hole out to the hot dust.

By combining this physical size of the dust ring with the apparent size measured with the data from the Keck interferometer, the researchers were able to determine a distance to the galaxy NGC 4151.

Dr Hoenig says: "One of the key findings is that the distance determined in this new fashion is quite precise -- with only about 10 per cent uncertainty. In fact, if the current result for NGC 4151 holds for other objects, it can potentially beat any other current methods to reach the same precision to determine distances for remote galaxies directly based on simple geometrical principles. Moreover, it can be readily used on many more sources than the current most precise method."

"Such distances are key in pinning down the cosmological parameters that characterise our universe or for accurately measuring black hole masses. Indeed, NGC 4151 is a crucial anchor to calibrate various techniques to estimate black hole masses. Our new distance implies that these masses may have been systematically underestimated by 40 per cent."

Read more at Science Daily

Nov 26, 2014

Buried Polish 'Vampires' Likely Had Cholera

“Vampires” buried in northwestern Poland with large stones wedged into their mouths or sickles over their necks were local people probably affected by cholera, says the first biogeochemical study of human skeletal remains from deviant burials.

The study investigated 285 human skeletons which were excavated between 2008-2012 from a post medieval cemetery in Drawsko, a rural settlement site in northwestern Poland. Dating to the 17th and 18th centuries, the remains represented individuals of all ages and both sexes.

Among the interments, six were identified as so-called vampire burials. They included an adult male, a late adolescent female, three adult females, and a younger person of unknown sex.

“Of these six individuals, five were interred with a sickle placed across the throat or abdomen, intended to remove the head or open the gut should they attempt to rise from the grave,” Lesley Gregoricka from University of South Alabama and colleagues, wrote in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

The remaining two people were found with large stones positioned beneath their chins -- evidence, the researchers say, that it was feared the individuals would rise from their graves to bite others.

Gregoricka and colleagues first hypothesized the people buried as vampires were targeted because of their outsider status as immigrants.

Indeed, abundant written evidence for the post-medieval period describes many waves of immigrants entering into Poland during that time.

To test their hypothesis, the researchers tested permanent molars from 60 individuals, including the six "vampires,” using radiogenic strontium isotope ratios from archaeological dental enamel. Local animals, including hare, mice and fox, were also sampled.

“While historic records describe the many potential reasons why some people were considered at increased risk of becoming a vampire, no previous study had attempted to examine the identity of these individuals using chemical analyses of the human skeleton,” Gregoricka told Discovery News.

Strontium isotopes incorporated into teeth during growth and development can tell about the place someone grew up, whether the individual moved later and whether the person was buried somewhere different from where they spent their childhood.

"Contrary to our hypothesis, we found that all of the vampires were local," Gregoricka said.

"We actually found others in the cemetery that were non-local to the region, but were not buried as vampires," she added.

According to the researchers, there should be another reason for the deviant burials, since the targeted individuals were not suspected of becoming vampires due to their identity as non-locals.

Gregoricka and colleagues propose cholera epidemics as an alternative explanation.

Multiple waves of cholera epidemics struck Europe during the post-medieval period, but people were unaware that cholera was a bacteria spread through contaminated drinking water.

“There was no scientific understanding of how infectious disease was spread. Instead, because they couldn’t explain it, they attributed cholera to the supernatural -- specifically, to vampires,” Gregoricka said.

In this view, the first person to die in an epidemic was thought to seek revenge on the living by returning from the grave to inflict the illness upon others, causing the disease to spread.

“As such, if these six individuals were the first to die in a series of cholera outbreaks that affected Drawsko during the post-medieval period, they may have been buried in this way as a means of preventing them from returning as vampires and attacking the living,” Gregoricka said.

Read more at Disocvery News

Early Shakespeare Works Found in French Library

A copy of William Shakespeare's First Folio, the first-ever compilation of the Bard's plays published in 1623, has been discovered in the library of a small town in northern France, a librarian said Tuesday.

One of the most valuable and coveted books in the world, the First Folio was uncovered when librarian Remy Cordonnier dusted off a book of Shakespeare's works dating to the 18th century for an exhibition on English literature in the town of Saint-Omer near Calais.

"It occurred to me that it could be an unidentified First Folio, with historic importance and great intellectual value," he told AFP.

The copy of the book, which was published seven years after Shakespeare's death, was authenticated on Saturday by First Folio expert Eric Rasmussen from the University of Nevada.

"It is the 231st copy found in the world and the second in France," said Cordonnier.

The book, a compilation of 36 of Shakespeare's plays, is in good condition but missing about 30 pages, including the title page, which could explain how it went unnoticed for centuries.

Rasmussen wrote a book on the First Folio called "The Shakespeare Thefts" detailing his thrilling global hunt for what remains of the initial 750 copies of the book, a favourite for thieves across the centuries.

He describes "run-ins with heavily tattooed criminal street gangs in Tokyo, bizarre visits with eccentric, reclusive billionaires, and intense battles of wills with secretive librarians," according to the publisher.

Rasmussen's book speaks of several First Folios which have had pages ripped out of them, and one with a bullet lodged in it.

The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, which houses the largest collection of Shakespeare material, says on its website that the First Folio is the only source for 18 of Shakespeare's plays, including Macbeth, "which would otherwise be lost."

It is believed that the copy found in France was taken to Saint-Omer by English refugees from Anglican persecution, said Cordonnier.

Read more at Discovery News

First Ever 3-D Printed 'Tool' Fabricated in Space

Could this signal the start of a revolution in 3-D printed products and transform how we manufacture stuff in a microgravity environment? Possibly.

On Nov. 17, NASA astronaut and Expedition 42 Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore installed the first 3-D printer to be operated in space and conducted its first calibration test print. On Monday (Nov. 24), the printer produced its first component on the International Space Station (ISS) after commands were sent from ground control.

Delivered in September to the orbiting outpost by a SpaceX resupply mission, the Made In Space printer constructed a piece of hardware that acts as a functional part of the printer itself — a faceplate for the printer’s extruder printhead with the “Made In Space” and “NASA” logos embossed (pictured above).

The 3-D printer uses a process known as additive manufacturing “to heat a relatively low-temperature plastic filament and extrude it one layer at a time to build the part defined in the design file sent to the machine,” writes NASA.

This is a significant event as the faceplate is the first tool (or, at least, tool component) that has been manufactured, from scratch, off Earth.

“When the first human fashioned a tool from a rock, it couldn’t have been conceived that one day we’d be replicating the same fundamental idea in space,” said Aaron Kemmer, CEO of Made In Space, Inc., in a company press release. “We look at the operation of the 3-D printer as a transformative moment, not just for space development, but for the capability of our species to live away from Earth.”

The faceplate may be more of a symbolic first-run, but plans are afoot to use the printer to manufacture more components for use on board the space station, an asset that could prove to be extremely valuable for current and future spaceflight endeavors.

Until now, all tools and equipment for use aboard the ISS are manufactured on Earth. Often, this means costly and lengthy delays in getting the space station crew the tools they need. Using a 3-D printer, many of these components can be produced within hours of establishing a need for that tool.

Just imagine if the Apollo 13 crew had had access to a 3-D printer during their transit to the moon in 1970. After the oxygen tanks exploded, rendering the lunar landing an impossibility, issues with scrubbing carbon dioxide from the air inside the spacecraft were exacerbated by incompatible lunar module (LM) and command module (CM) filters. The stunning ingenuity of NASA engineers saved the day — they, basically, found a way to fit a square peg into a round hole. But a 3-D printer, if the technology had existed five decades ago, could have been used to quickly build an adapter.

Though this is a fanciful and purely hypothetical example, it shows that the rapid fabrication of products in space could be mission critical as not all events in space can be predicted months in advance on the ground. Designs are beamed up to the ISS and the printer gets to work. As 3-D printing technology evolves, more complex components will be possible within shorter and shorter time frames.

“This project demonstrates the basic fundamentals of useful manufacturing in space. The results of this experiment will serve as a stepping stone for significant future capabilities that will allow for the reduction of spare parts and mass on a spacecraft, which will change exploration mission architectures for the better,” said Mike Snyder, Director of R&D for Made In Space and Principal Investigator for this experiment. “Manufacturing components on demand will yield more efficient, more reliable, and less Earth dependent space programs in the near future.”

Now that the printer is up and running, test coupons and parts will be fabricated and returned to Earth so they can be validated and quality evaluated against similar products produced on the ground. Already, after this initial run, differences in 3-D printed microgravity products with their terrestrial counterparts are being noticed.

“This is the first time we’ve ever used a 3-D printer in space, and we are learning, even from these initial operations,” said Niki Werkheiser, project manager for the ISS 3-D Printer at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. “As we print more parts we’ll be able to learn whether some of the effects we are seeing are caused by microgravity or just part of the normal fine-tuning process for printing. When we get the parts back on Earth, we’ll be able to do a more detailed analysis to find out how they compare to parts printed on Earth.”

Read more at Discovery News

LHC's 'Heart' Starts Pumping Protons Before Restart

While on its long road to restart, yet another milestone was reached at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) over the weekend.

Protons were generated by the LHC’s source and blasted through a ‘daisy-chain’ of smaller accelerators before being intentionally smashed into a metaphorical brick wall. The particle beam didn’t reach the LHC’s famous 17 mile (27 kilometer) accelerator ring, they were stopped just short, but the event was used to begin calibration efforts of the massive experiment’s detectors before the whole system is powered back up again early next year.

The world’s most powerful particle collider, which is located at and managed by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) near Geneva, Switzerland, was powered down in February 2013 for repairs and upgrades. Now, with the improvements complete, CERN engineers are testing and calibrating each component of the complex system before experiments can restart in 2015.

“These initial tests are a milestone for the whole accelerator chain,” said the LHC’s chief engineer Reyes Alemany Fernandez. “Not only was this the first time the injection lines have seen beams in over a year, it was also our first opportunity to test the LHC’s operation system. We successfully commissioned the LHC’s injection and ejection magnets, all without beam in the machine itself.”

Before protons are ‘fed’ into the LHC’s main ring to be accelerated to relativistic speeds by the circuit of superconducting electromagnets, a series of smaller accelerators are used, each one ramping-up the particles’ energies before being passed to the next accelerator.

Starting at the source, which is responsible for creating a reservoir of protons (hydrogen atoms are stripped of their electrons, leaving the positively-charged protons behind), the protons are fed into the Linac2 accelerator — the first boost on the proton beam’s journey through the LHC. After Linac2, the particle beam is accelerated by the Proton Synchrotron Booster (a component that has seen some of the most radical upgrades since shutdown), then the Proton Synchrotron (PS) and then the Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS).

But during this test, the high-speed protons were fed through the LHC injection lines, after being accelerated by the SPS, only to end their short journey smashing into 21.6 tons of graphite, aluminum and copper known as “beam dumps.” These dumps are used to absorb the energy of particle beams before they enter the LHC proper. This is useful during tests and can help prevent significant damage to the LHC’s electromagnets and sensitive detectors should there be a fault or “quench” event. The purpose of these dumps is to diffuse the particle beam, thereby scattering its energy, and then absorbing the rest.

Read more at Discovery News

Fantastically Wrong: Why Is the Sky Blue? It’s Packed With Sexy Energy, of Course

I know of a simple box that can radically improve your health, a device so powerful that the FDA once banned it and condemned its inventor to prison. But luckily, and quite graciously, its design has been left unpatented, free for all who might care to harness the mysterious “orgone energy” that pervades our universe. You can even get the 175-page instruction manual as a PDF here.

First things first: Your Orgone Energy Accumulator, as it’s known, must be big enough to comfortably seat a human being, and if you’re able to bury it in the soil, all the better, for the dirt only enhances the effects of the orgone. Its walls must consist of alternating layers of a metallic and a non-metallic substance, say steel wool and cotton. And the inner surface of the device must be bare metal of some sort.

When you’re done, simply enter the box, shut the door behind you, and take a seat. After a few minutes your skin will begin to tingle, and you’ll feel a sort of warming. Your heart rate will stabilize at a Goldilocks pace—neither too high nor too low. You will feel, in a word, enlivened. But take care not to stay too long. The minute you begin to feel nauseated, make your exit, for your body has been charged to capacity with orgone.

In the strange and colorful history of pseudoscience, Wilhelm Reich’s “discovery” of orgone—a substance that’s not only a life force, but indeed makes up the very fabric of space—must surely be a watershed. This is a story of a man who went from psychoanalysis wunderkind to enemy of Hitler to enemy of the US government, only to die a lonely death in prison. Yet somehow, almost a century later, his bonkers ideas live on.

How to Piss Off Hitler: A Case Study

Reich was born in Austria in 1897, and rode the rising wave of the psychoanalysis discipline in the early 20th century under the wing of his mentor, none other than Sigmund Freud, according to Martin Gardner in his book Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. He was a devout Marxist, and argued that the proletariat was so politically impotent because the workers were sexually repressed. Revolution, Reich claimed, could only happen with an uninhibited release of sexual urges. (It’s helpful, therefore, to think of him as Freud meets Lenin meets Larry Flynt.)

An Orgone Energy Accumulator, pictured here with a nice soft focus that really only makes it that much creepier.
Moscow rejected his views as “rubbish,” but more importantly the Nazis took exception to Reich’s claims that like the proletariat, German fascists also suffered from sexual repression. He wisely fled to Scandinavia, and it was there that he discovered orgone energy, which he compared to Freud’s notion of the human libido, only on a much grander scale.

Orgone is everywhere, usually manifesting as the color blue. So the sky is blue not because molecules in the atmosphere scatter blue light better than red light, but because it’s positively saturated the orgone energy. Same with the oceans, and “the color of luminating, decaying wood is blue,” Reich wrote, “so are the luminating tail ends of glowworms, St. Elmo’s fire, and the aurora borealis.” And those rippling waves of heat you see coming off a hot road? That’s orgone energy as well, moving west to east faster than the Earth rotates.

When it comes to organic matter, according to Reich the building blocks of life are not cells, but “bions” that he claimed to have observed. Gardner explains: “It consists of a membrane surrounding a liquid, and pulsates continually with orgone energy. This pulsation is the dance of life—the basic convulsive rhythm of the love which finds its highest expression in the pulsation of the ‘orgasm formula.’” So you and me are essentially made up of lots and lots of tiny sexiness. And these bions reproduce asexually by division, just like bacteria.

As such, a cynic may rightly argue that Reich was indeed just staring at bacteria.

How to Piss Off America: A Case Study

Reich relocated to the US in 1939 and set up shop on Long Island. A year later, he invented the aforementioned Orgone Energy Accumulator, which concentrates the energy that’s going to waste all around us. It was, as one of Reich’s colleagues put it, “the most important single discovery in the history of medicine, bar none,” a lofty statement that’s perhaps immediately invalidated by the addition of “bar none.” For bedridden patients, there was even a blanket version, a sort of dome with additional layers of material placed under the mattress.

That astronaut is glowing blue due to high levels of orgone. Or he’s just really sad. Hard to be sad on the moon, though.
The therapeutic effects of the Orgone Energy Accumulator were nothing short of miraculous. “In severe cases of burns,” a pamphlet on the device claimed, “experience has revealed the amazing fact that no blisters appear, and that the initial redness slowly disappears. The wounds heal in a matter of a few hours; severe ones need a day or two.” The box’s concentration of orgone can even sterilize wounds, plus treat colds, arthritis, ulcers, and, yes, even cure cancer if caught in its early stages.

“Do what now?” someone at the FDA asked in the 1950s. In his instructions for building an accumulator, James DeMeo, who founded the Orgone Biophysical Research Library in 1978, notes: “Reich’s orgone energy experiments attracted the hostile criticisms of many in the medical community, and a smear campaign in the press triggered an investigation by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).” Instead of trying to reproduce Reich’s experiments, the “bureaucrats relied upon gossip and rumor.” And in a “judicial ruling that is, to the best of my knowledge, unique in American history, the FDA sought and obtained a Federal Court Decree of Injunction, which ruled that the orgone energy ‘does not exist.’” In so doing the court banned books containing the word “orgone,” which the ACLU was predictably none too happy about.

Reich in his twenties.
Reich was also warned against selling the accumulators. The FDA ordered all orgone literature and devices destroyed, and according to DeMeo, attacked Reich’s lab with axes (whether or not they released great blue clouds of energy in the process is lost to history). Reich continued profiting from the accumulators, though, and the court found him in contempt of the injunction. He was sentenced to federal prison, where he died in 1957.

Yet the theory of orgone did not die with him. DeMeo published his instructions for building a Orgone Energy Accumulator a full three decades later in 1989, and there’s currently a “university”—if you’re going to be liberal with the term—called the American College of Orgonomy that’s somehow small enough to fit in a PO box in New Jersey.

Far from a fringe movement, orgonomy has tallied its fair share of famous adherents. William Burroughs apparently swore by the therapy, though you should keep in mind that as far as his judgment was concerned, he also once had his wife balance a glass of gin on her head, then proceeded to shoot her in the forehead instead of hitting the glass. And Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo once said in an interview, apparently in all seriousness according to the interviewer: “You probably know this very well, but your orgone energy goes out the top of your head and it dissipates out the top, but if you wear an energy dome it recycles that energy.” Take that one with a grain of salt as well, considering this is the man who’s responsible for Devo. (Perhaps by some sort of cosmic coincidence, the “Whip It” video features a woman shooting a can of beer out of a man’s hand.)

Read more at Wired Science

Nov 25, 2014

Stone Age Axe Found Deliberately Stuck Into Earth

Archaeologists in southern Denmark have unearthed a 5,500-year-old axe with the handle still attached. The axe was deliberately jammed into what used to be the seabed during the Stone Age.

The finding was made during an archaeological survey for the construction of the Femern Belt link, an immersed tunnel that will connect the German island of Fehmarn with the Danish island of Lolland. Earlier this month, the same dig yielded 5,000-year-old footprints.

“Axes are among the typical finds from the Stone Age, but in hafted form (attached to a handle), they are extremely rare,” Anne-Lotte Sjørup Mathiesen of the Museum Lolland-Falster, said in a statement.

The axe was found stuck 12 inches down into the seabed, along with other artifacts which include a paddle, two bows and some 14 axe shafts.

As a result of the particular conditions of the silted seabed, all items were extremely well preserved.

Intriguingly, the artifacts were purposely placed standing up vertically into the earth, suggesting they were part of a ritual deposit.

“The items clearly show that the population used the coast as an offering area,” Sjørup Mathiesen said.

Excavation at the site is ongoing. Archaeologists from Museum Lolland-Falster expect to find more artifacts and new clues about what kinds of Stone Age rituals took place in the area.

From Discovery News

Ancient Mythical Carvings Found in Silk Road Cemetery

A cemetery dating back roughly 1,700 years has been discovered along part of the Silk Road, a series of ancient trade routes that once connected China to the Roman Empire.

The cemetery was found in the city of Kucha, which is located in present-day northwest China. Ten tombs were excavated, seven of which turned out to be large brick structures.

One tomb, dubbed "M3," contained carvings of several mythical creatures, including four that represent different seasons and parts of the heavens: the White Tiger of the West, the Vermilion Bird of the South, the Black Turtle of the North and the Azure Dragon of the East.

The M3 tomb also "consists of a burial mound, ramp, sealed gate, tomb entrance, screen walls, passage, burial chamber and side chamber" the researchers wrote in a report published recently in the journal Chinese Cultural Relics.

The cemetery was first found in July 2007 and was excavated by the Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, with assistance from local authorities. The research team, led by Zhiyong Yu, director of the Xinjiang Archaeological Institute, published the findings in Chinese in the journal Wenwu. The article was recently translated into English and published in the journal Chinese Cultural Relics.

The identity of the people buried in the cemetery is a mystery. The cemetery had been robbed in the past and no writing was found that indicates the names of those buried or their positions in life.

The seven large brick tombs were likely constructed for people of wealth, the researchers said.

But, when the skeletal remains were analyzed, the researchers found that the tombs had been reused multiple times. Some of the tombs contain more than 10 occupants, and the "repeated multiple burials warrant further study," the researchers wrote.

The excavators think the cemetery dates back around 1,700 years, to a time when Kucha was vital to controlling the Western Frontiers (Xiyu) of China. Since the Silk Road trade routes passed through the Western Frontiers, control of this key region was important to China’s rulers.

"In ancient times, Kucha was called Qiuci in Chinese literature. It was a powerful city-state in the oasis of the Western Frontiers" the researchers wrote.

Read more at Discovery News

Ancient Canyon Discovered Under a River in Tibet

We think of canyons as being carved by rivers, as the Colorado River did with the Grand Canyon, so this item is a little mind-boggling.

In a just-published article in the journal Science, researchers from the California Institute of Technology have discovered an vast ancient canyon that lies buried underneath a present-day river that cuts through the Himalayas in Tibet.

The ancient canyon is thousands of feet deep in places, and apparently was carved by a previous river 3 to 7 million years ago.

"I was extremely surprised when my colleagues, Jing Liu-Zeng and Dirk Scherler, showed me the evidence for this canyon in southern Tibet," Caltech geology professor Jean-Philippe Avouac said in a press release "When I first saw the data, I said, 'Wow!' It was amazing to see that the river once cut quite deeply into the Tibetan Plateau because it does not today."

The ancient river "existed in this location prior to about 3 million years ago, but at that time, it was not affected by the Himalayas. However, as the Indian and Eurasian plates continued to collide and the mountain range pushed northward, it began impinging upon the river. Suddenly, about 2 1/2 million years ago, a rapidly uplifting section of the mountain range got in the river's way, damming it, and the canyon subsequently filled with sediment.

The scientists analyzed core samples collected by the China Earthquake Administration, which were taken from five locations along the Yarlung Tsangpo River. They found that at several locations there were sedimentary conglomerates, rounded gravel and larger rocks cemented together, that are associated with flowing rivers, until a depth of 800 meters or so, where the record clearly indicated bedrock. This indicated that the river once carved deeply into the plateau.

The discovery may force geologists to rethink long-held assumptions about how the Himalayas' dramatic gorges formed.

From Discovery News

How the LHC Makes 'Interstellar' Physics Real

In the sci-fi adventure “Interstellar,” many mind-bending physics concepts were explored including, but not exclusive to, relativity, time dilation, multidimensional theory, black holes, worm holes, quantum gravity and love.

In a new video released by Large Hadron Collider (LHC) scientists based in the US, Ohio State University LHC physicist James Beacham explains how the world’s biggest and most powerful particle accelerator is on the trail of many of these ideas and how they could revolutionize how we see the Universe.

But the LHC probably won’t help us understand love. Because that’s an emotion.

If you’ve read my Discovery News review of “Interstellar” you’ll know that the movie annoyed me. Sure, it was a thrilling space epic with some really great attempts at bringing complex astrophysics to the big screen, but it had some frustrating science problems, cringe-worthy dialog and plot holes big enough you could reverse a Daedalus-sized starship through. It fell short of what it promised and dragged on for an hour longer than it should have, in my opinion.

Before I ignite another comment box flaming (as if I didn’t learn from the original comments, take a look, it’s impressive), I will say one thing for Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster: it put some pretty lofty astrophysical theories in front of a mainstream audience like no recent science fiction movie has been able to achieve. And that is a very cool opportunity for scientists to explain what is going on.

In Beacham’s excellent rundown of the physics of “Interstellar,” he discusses why gravity is such a big deal in the movie’s storyline and how high-energy collisions may help us glimpse into the extra dimensions that unfolded for Matthew McConaughey inside his supermassive black hole. Also, he explains why love probably isn’t a physical force and why Matt Damon’s character’s death was so awesome (and a high point in the movie, in my opinion).


From Discovery News

Nov 24, 2014

Prolonged Marijuana Use Linked with Brain Changes

Using marijuana daily for four years or longer may be related to certain changes in the brain, according to new research.

In the study, researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine the brains of 48 adults who were chronic marijuana users, meaning they used the drug at least three times a day. Researchers also looked at 62 people who didn't use marijuana.

The investigators found that the people who had been smoking marijuana daily for at least four years had a smaller volume of gray matter in a region called the orbitofrontal cortex, which is commonly associated with addiction.

These users also showed greater connectivity between different parts of the brain, compared with nonusers. (Connectivity is a measure of how well information travels between different parts of the brain.)

"We found that there … not only is a change in structure, but there also tends to be a change reflected in the connectivity," said study author Francesca Filbey, an associate professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas.

The lost brain volume could explain the increased connectivity found in marijuana users' brains, Filbey told Live Science. The brain's connectivity may increase "to compensate for the loss in grey matter volume in that region," she said.

But it also possible that these differences in connectivity and the size of the brain region were present in the people in the study before they started using marijuana, she noted.

"All we can say is that we do see these" differences in people who use marijuana, Filbey said.

Still, there is reason to think marijuana did cause the differences. "We also saw that the younger you are when you start using marijuana regularly, the greater the changes in the brain," she said. Interestingly, the increased connectivity was not seen in the people who had been using marijuana for six to 10 years, she noted.

The differences in the brains of the marijuana users may have something to do with THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana. THC affects cannabinoid receptors in the brain, which are involved in regulating appetite, memory and mood, and the orbitofrontal cortex has many of those cannabinoid receptors, Filbey said.

"If someone smokes marijuana, this area is bound to be affected by it," she said.

The researchers suspect that the changes in the brain occur to adapt to the THC in a person's system, she said.

Read more at Discovery News

Ancient Egyptian Handbook of Spells Deciphered

Researchers have deciphered an ancient Egyptian handbook, revealing a series of invocations and spells.

Among other things, the "Handbook of Ritual Power," as researchers call the book, tells readers how to cast love spells, exorcise evil spirits and treat "black jaundice," a bacterial infection that is still around today and can be fatal.

The book is about 1,300 years old, and is written in Coptic, an Egyptian language. It is made of bound pages of parchment — a type of book that researchers call a codex.

"It is a complete 20-page parchment codex, containing the handbook of a ritual practitioner," write Malcolm Choat and Iain Gardner, who are professors in Australia at Macquarie University and the University of Sydney, respectively, in their book, "A Coptic Handbook of Ritual Power" (Brepols, 2014).

The ancient book "starts with a lengthy series of invocations that culminate with drawings and words of power," they write. "These are followed by a number of prescriptions or spells to cure possession by spirits and various ailments, or to bring success in love and business."

For instance, to subjugate someone, the codex says you have to say a magical formula over two nails, and then "drive them into his doorpost, one on the right side (and) one on the left."

The Sethians

Researchers believe that the codex may date to the 7th or 8th century. During this time, many Egyptians were Christian and the codex contains a number of invocations referencing Jesus.

However, some of the invocations seem more associated with a group that is sometimes called "Sethians." This group flourished in Egypt during the early centuries of Christianity and held Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve, in high regard. One invocation in the newly deciphered codex calls "Seth, Seth, the living Christ."

The opening of the codex refers to a divine figure named "Baktiotha" whose identity is a mystery, researchers say. The lines read, "I give thanks to you and I call upon you, the Baktiotha: The great one, who is very trustworthy; the one who is lord over the forty and the nine kinds of serpents," according to the translation.

"The Baktiotha is an ambivalent figure. He is a great power and a ruler of forces in the material realm," Choat and Gardner said at a conference, before their book on the codex was published.

Historical records indicate that church leaders regarded the Sethians as heretics and by the 7th century, the Sethians were either extinct or dying out.

This codex, with its mix of Sethian and Orthodox Christian invocations, may in fact be a transitional document, written before all Sethian invocations were purged from magical texts, the researchers said. They noted that there are other texts that are similar to the newly deciphered codex, but which contain more Orthodox Christian and fewer Sethian features.

The researchers believe that the invocations were originally separate from 27 of the spells in the codex, but later, the invocations and these spells were combined, to form a "single instrument of ritual power," Choat told Live Science in an email.

Who would have used it?

The identity of the person who used this codex is a mystery. The user of the codex would not necessarily have been a priest or monk.

"It is my sense that there were ritual practitioners outside the ranks of the clergy and monks, but exactly who they were is shielded from us by the fact that people didn't really want to be labeled as a "magician,'" Choat said.

Some of the language used in the codex suggests that it was written with a male user in mind, however, that "wouldn't have stopped a female ritual practitioner from using the text, of course," he said.

Read more at Discovery News

Robot Sub Finds Surprisingly Thick Antarctic Sea Ice

Antarctica's ice paradox has yet another puzzling layer. Not only is the amount of sea ice increasing each year, but an underwater robot now shows the ice is also much thicker than was previously thought, a new study reports.

The discovery adds to the ongoing mystery of Antarctica's expanding sea ice. According to climate models, the region's sea ice should be shrinking each year because of global warming. Instead, satellite observations show the ice is expanding, and the continent's sea ice has set new records for the past three winters. At the same time, Antarctica's ice sheet (the glacial ice on land) is melting and retreating.

Measuring sea ice thickness is a crucial step in understanding what's driving the growth of sea ice, said study co-author Ted Maksym, an oceanographer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. Climate scientists need to know if the sea ice expansion also includes underwater thickening.

"If we don't know how much ice is there is, we can't validate the models we use to understand the global climate," Maksym told Live Science. "It looks like there are significant areas of thick ice that are probably not accounted for."

The findings were published today (Nov. 24) in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Like icebergs, much of Antarctica's floating sea ice is underwater, hidden from satellites that track seasonal sea ice. And it's difficult to take direct measurements from ships or drilling, because the thickest ice is also the hardest to reach, Maksym said.

The researchers were stuck aboard an icebreaker in 20-foot-thick (6 meters) pack ice for more than a week after taking advantage of a lead, or open water, that accessed thick ice, he said. "Obviously that carried some risk, and we were stuck until the wind changed direction again," he said.

Pinging the ice

Over the last four years, the international group of researchers has mapped the bottom of sea ice with an underwater robot, or autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), during two research cruises offshore Antarctica. The AUV can swim to a depth of about 100 feet (30 m) and has upward-looking sonar to survey the bottom of the sea ice.

"With the AUV, you can get under ice that is either difficult to access or difficult to drill, and in each region, we found some really thick ice, thicker than had been measured anywhere else," Maksym said.

Almost all of the sea ice that forms during the Antarctic winter melts during the summer, so scientists had assumed most of the ice never grew very thick. Previous studies suggested the ice was usually 3 to 6 feet (1 to 2 m) thick, with a few rare spots reaching up to 16 feet (5 m) in thickness. For comparison, most of the Arctic sea ice is twice as thick (6 to 9 feet, or 2 to 3 m), with some regions covered with 12 to 15 feet (4 to 5 m) of ice.

The robot sub surveys, which were spot-checked by drilling and shipboard tests, suggest Antarctica's average ice thickness is considerably higher than previous estimates. On average, the thickness of the ice was 4.6 to 18 feet (1.4 to 5.5 m). In the three regions it surveyed, the robot sub found that deformed, thickened ice accounted for at least half of and as much as 76 percent of the total ice volume, the researchers report.

"Our study shows that we're probably missing some of this thick ice, and we need to try to account for that when we try to compare what we see in models and satellites to what we see in the field," Maksym said.

The thickest ice measured during the survey was about 65 feet (20 m) thick, in the Bellingshausen Sea, Maksym told Live Science. In the Weddell Sea, the maximum ice thickness hit more than 45 feet (14 m), and offshore of Wilkes Land, the ice was about 53 feet (16 m) thick.

Next steps

These thick, craggy floes likely wouldn't exist without the fierce winds that circle Antarctica from west to east, the researchers said. Winter storms bash up the ice, freezing and reforming the rubble into new, thicker ice. "It must have been crunched up a tremendous amount and [the floes] piled up on top of each other," Maksym said. "The ice can generate enormous amounts of force if you have these strong winds. [The wind] is like an accordion, stretching it out and squishing it back together again."

The researchers' next step is to measure how much of Antarctica's total sea ice this thick ice represents. Maksym said it could be a "reasonably significant area of the pack."

Read more at Discovery News

Why Dried Whiskey Under Microscope Looks Like Art

Dried whiskey at the bottom of a glass produces stunning images that closely resemble fine art paintings, shows new research that also helps explain how the patterns form.

The effect results from both the chemical composition of whiskey as well as fluid dynamics. The presentation “Painting Pictures with Whiskey,” explaining the phenomenon, took place today during the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics Meeting, held in San Francisco.

Phoenix-based professional photographer and artist Ernie Button has been creating photos of the patterns formed after letting a drop or two of whiskey coat and dry in the bottom of a glass.

“It’s infinitely fascinating to me that a seemingly clear liquid leaves a pattern with such clarity and rhythm after the liquid is gone,” Button said in a press release.

Curiosity compelled him to reach out to Howard Stone and his Complex Fluids Group at Princeton University’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering for insight.

“My group focused on gaining a better understanding of the composition of whiskey, identifying the possible ‘suspended material,’ and doing controlled model experiments to understand possible shapes and forms of deposits during evaporation,” Stone explained.

To study the flow patterns and concentration in the solution, as well as the final dried deposits from suspended particles, a postdoctoral researcher in Stone’s lab, Hyoungsoo Kim Kim, and colleagues used video microscopy of drying droplets of actual whiskey and compared it to video microscopy of an alcohol-water solution representative of whiskey. Typical whiskies are 40 percent by volume ethanol (alcohol) and 60 percent by volume water.

They found that initially, the droplet of alcohol-water solution creates a complex mixing flow. Ethanol evaporates first, due to the lower vapor pressure compared to water. Once the ethanol vanishes, a radial pattern can be observed.

As the initial ethanol concentration increases, the mobility of the receding contact line is increased as well. At high ethanol concentrations, the contact line recedes and draws groups of particles along with it that are then deposited in ring-shaped patterns.

All demonstrate what is known as the Marangoni Effect, which is the mass transfer along an interface between two fluids (in this case, alcohol and water) due to surface tension.

“The alcohol-water solution shows circulation flow patterns (triggered by the Marangoni Effect), which occur during drying and influences patterns formed in evaporating whiskey solutions,” Kim noted. “Deposits in the actual whiskey come from a small amount of inherent raw materials present from the preparation process.”

Barrel aged whiskey, for example, might leave behind trace particles of oak or other woods.

Read more at Discovery News

Nov 23, 2014

How the hummingbird achieves its aerobatic feats

The sight of a tiny hummingbird hovering in front of a flower and then darting to another with lightning speed amazes and delights. But it also leaves watchers with a persistent question: How do they do it?

Now, the most detailed, three-dimensional aerodynamic simulation of hummingbird flight conducted to date has definitively demonstrated that the hummingbird achieves its nimble aerobatic abilities through a unique set of aerodynamic forces that are more closely aligned to those found in flying insects than to other birds.

The new supercomputer simulation was produced by a pair of mechanical engineers at Vanderbilt University who teamed up with a biologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It is described in the article "Three-dimensional flow and lift characteristics of a hovering ruby-throated hummingbird" published this fall in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

For some time researchers have been aware of the similarities between hummingbird and insect flight, but some experts have supported an alternate model which proposed that hummingbird's wings have aerodynamic properties similar to helicopter blades. However, the new realistic simulation demonstrates that the tiny birds make use of unsteady airflow mechanisms, generating invisible vortices of air that produce the lift they need to hover and flit from flower to flower.

You might think that if the hummingbird simply beats its wings fast enough and hard enough it can push enough air downward to keep its small body afloat. But, according to the simulation, lift production is much trickier than that.

For example, as the bird pulls its wings forward and down, tiny vortices form over the leading and trailing edges and then merge into a single large vortex, forming a low-pressure area that provides lift. In addition, the tiny birds further enhance the amount of lift they produce by pitching up their wings (rotate them along the long axis) as they flap.

Hummingbirds perform another neat aerodynamic trick -- one that sets them apart from their larger feathered relatives. They not only generate positive lift on the downstroke, but they also generate lift on the upstroke by inverting their wings. As the leading edge begins moving backwards, the wing beneath it rotates around so the top of the wing becomes the bottom and bottom becomes the top. This allows the wing to form a leading edge vortex as it moves backward generating positive lift.

According to the simulation, the downstroke produces most of the thrust but that is only because the hummingbird puts more energy into it. The upstroke produces only 30 percent as much lift but it takes only 30 percent as much energy, making the upstroke equally as aerodynamically efficient as the more powerful downstroke.

Large birds, by contrast, generate almost all of their lift on the downstroke. They pull in their wings toward their bodies to reduce the amount of negative lift they produce while flapping upward.

Although hummingbirds are much larger than flying insects and stir up the air more violently as they move, the way that they fly is more closely related to insects than it is to other birds, according to the researchers.

Insects like dragonflies, houseflies and mosquitoes can also hover and dart forward and back and side to side. Although the construction of their wings is much different, consisting of a thin membrane stiffened by a system of veins, they also make use of unsteady airflow mechanisms to generate vortices that produce the lift they need to fly. Their wings are also capable of producing positive lift on both upstroke and downstroke.

To capture the details of the aerodynamics of the hummingbird's ability to hover, Tyson Hedrick, associate professor of biology at UNC, put tiny dabs of non-toxic paint at nine places on a female ruby-throated hummingbird's wing. Then he took high-speed videos at 1,000 frames per second with four cameras while the bird hovered in front of an artificial flower.

Read more at Science Daily

Nail stem cells prove more versatile than press-ons

There are plenty of body parts that don't grow back when you lose them. Nails are an exception, and a new study published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) reveals some of the reasons why.

A team of USC Stem Cell researchers led by principal investigator Krzysztof Kobielak and co-first authors Yvonne Leung and Eve Kandyba has identified a new population of nail stem cells, which have the ability to either self-renew or undergo specialization or differentiation into multiple tissues.

To find these elusive stem cells, the team used a sophisticated system to attach fluorescent proteins and other visible "labels" to mouse nail cells. Many of these cells repeatedly divided, diluting the fluorescence and labels among their increasingly dim progeny. However, a few cells located in the soft tissue attached to the base of the nail retained strong fluorescence and labels because they either did not divide or divided slowly -- a known property of many stem cells.

The researchers then discovered that these slow-dividing stem cells have the flexibility to perform dual roles. Under normal circumstances, the stem cells contribute to the growth of both the nails and the adjacent skin. However, if the nail is injured or lost, a protein called "Bone Morphogenic Protein," or BMP, signals to the stem cells to shift their function exclusively to nail repair.

The researchers are now wondering whether or not the right signals or environmental cues could induce these nail stem cells to generate additional types of tissue -- potentially aiding in the repair of everything from nail and finger defects to severe skin injuries and amputations.

"That was very surprising discovery, since the dual characteristic of these nail stem cells to regenerate both the nail and skin under certain physiological conditions is quite unique and different from other skin stem cells, such as those of the hair follicle or sweat gland," said Kobielak.

From Science Daily