Category Archives: Technology News

Pluto: We’re Finally Getting A Good Look at Pluto

Pluto: We’re Finally Getting A Good Look at Pluto, New Horizons, the fastest spacecraft ever flown, made history as it shot past Pluto at more than 30,000mph taking pictures and collecting scientific data.

During the fly-by, the first close encounter with Pluto ever achieved, the American probe passed within 12,500 kilometres (7,767 miles) of the mysterious world.

At the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, mission control staff and visitors clapped, cheered and waved American flags, chanting “USA, USA” in an outpouring of patriotic emotion.

The spacecraft was due to make its closest approach to Pluto at 12.49pm UK time.

All the indications are that the fly-by has been a success, but the New Horizons team will not know for sure until the probe contacts Earth again at 01.53 UK time tomorrow.

Earlier the American space agency Nasa posted a stunning new image of Pluto on Instagram, taken by New Horizons from a distance of 476,000 miles.

It clearly shows the dwarf planet’s surprising Mars-like reddish hue, and the enigmatic heart-shaped feature on its surface that has already become Pluto’s calling card on the internet.

Other photos taken from a million miles away revealed evidence of cliffs, craters and chasms larger than the Earth’s Grand Canyon.

Speaking at APL, former astronaut John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of Nasa’s Science Mission Directorate, said: “It’s just amazing. This is truly a landmark in human history. People often think the success of missions like this is about engineers, the hardware, but the real key is team work, and that’s what Nasa excels at.

“We’re celebrating the moment New Horizons had its closest approach to Pluto, but we’re not talking to the spacecraft; it’s doing its job. Tonight we’re going to get the signal, the ping, (telling us) that it made it through the system and it’s ready to start sending us a treasure trove of data.”

New Horizons has taken more than nine years to reach Pluto, carrying with it the ashes of the astronomer who discovered the remote icy object in 1930.

When the mission was launched in January 2006, the aim was to reach the outermost of the Sun’s family of nine planets. Seven months into the probe’s epic journey, international astronomers downgraded Pluto’s status to “dwarf planet”.

But despite its small size – just over two-thirds the diameter of the Earth’s moon – Pluto looks and behaves like a fully fledged planet, having an atmosphere and no less than five moons of its own.

Currently, Pluto is just under three billion miles from Earth, one of a number of distant “worldlets” in a region known as the Kuiper Belt.

It is so far away that its light takes more than four hours to reach the Earth, making communication with New Horizons an exercise in patience.

New Horizons has already answered one basic question about Pluto, its precise size. Scientists used photos from the spacecraft’s telescopic camera, the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (Lorri), to determine that the dwarf planet is somewhat larger than previously thought, having a diameter of 1,473 miles.

The result confirms that Pluto is larger than any other known solar system object beyond the orbit of Neptune.

Mission scientist Dr Bill McKinnon, from the University of Washington, said: “The size of Pluto has been debated since its discovery in 1930. We are excited to finally lay this question to rest.”

The dwarf planet’s unusual colour has also enthralled scientists. Far from being a drab grey, as expected, it turns out to be salmon red.

Experts believe the colour arises from the chemical action of sunlight generating red compounds in the atmosphere that then fall on the surface.

Speaking earlier on Nasa TV, the space agency’s administrator Charles Bolden – who insisted on giving Pluto its old title of planet – said: “I’m fascinated personally by the colour of the planet. I expected to see a cold, grey planet on the edge of the solar system, but we see a planet with this reddish tint not unlike Mars.”

Describing the technical achievement of arriving at such a tiny target so far away, he said: “It’s like hitting a golf ball from Capitol Hill and making a hole in one on the west coast of the United States, intentionally.”

Close up images taken by New Horizons are expected to show surface features just 50 metres (164ft) across.

The 700 million dollar (£451 million) probe, the size of a baby grand piano, has journeyed a total of three billion miles to reach Pluto, which is currently about that distance from Earth.

After launching on January 19 2006, it reached an Earth-relative velocity of 36,373mph, making it the fastest space vehicle in history.

British astronomer Brendan Owens, from the Greenwich Royal Observatory in London, said: “This is really unexplored territory. The images of Pluto we got previously have been only a few pixels across, just showing areas of light and dark on this world.

“Now we’re getting up close and personal, something that has never been done before. This whole region is hard for astronomers to explore because we rely on light, and at that distance so little sunlight falls on these objects that you have very little data to work with.”

“Learning about the composition of Pluto may give us more of a handle on the make-up of the solar system.”

The mission marks the conclusion of Nasa’s quest to explore every planet in the solar system, starting with Venus in 1962.

Today’s encounter with Pluto coincides with the 50th anniversary of the first ever fly-by of Mars by the Mariner 4 probe.

The mission’s principal scientist Alan Stern told the Associated Press news agency: “We’re going to knock your socks off.

“What Nasa’s doing with New Horizons is unprecedented in our time … the last picture show for a very, very long time.”

Pluto has a thin atmosphere of nitrogen, methane and carbon dioxide, which expands as the dwarf planet’s elongated 248-year orbit takes it closer to the Sun, causing icy material on its surface to vaporise.

Since its discovery, only a third of Pluto’s year – the time it takes to complete one orbit of the Sun – has passed.

Scientists believe the dwarf planet may bear signs of past volcanic activity and could even have liquid water beneath its frozen surface.

New Horizons team member Professor Bill McKinnon, from Washington University in St Louis, said: “I’m really hoping to see a very active and dynamic world.”

The spacecraft is also looking at Pluto’s giant moon Charon, which is just over half its size, as well as its other moons Styx, Nix, Hydra and Kerberos.

Besides its telescopic camera, the probe also carries a suite of sophisticated instruments for analysing Pluto’s composition and studying its atmosphere.

Pluto was identified in 1930 by US astronomer Clyde Tombaugh using a 13in photographic telescope at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Some of his ashes are being carried to the world he discovered on New Horizons.

Because of the probe’s great distance from Earth and the slow speed of data transmission, it will take many months to process information from the mission.

Blue Eyes Alcoholism: Link Between Eye Color, Alcoholism?

Blue Eyes Alcoholism: Link Between Eye Color, Alcoholism?, There’s a new potential clue in the ongoing effort to understand the genetic links to alcoholism: eye color.

People with lighter eye colors appear to be more likely to develop alcoholism, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics.

The study, published this week, examined genetic samples from 1,263 people with alcohol dependency and found that those with lighter eyes, especially blue eyes, appeared to develop alcoholism at a higher rate.

“This suggests an intriguing possibility — that eye color can be useful in the clinic for alcohol dependence diagnosis,” Arvis Sulovari, study author and a doctoral student in cellular, molecular and biomedical sciences at the University of Vermont, said in a statement.

Neither Sulovari or lead author Dawei Li, professor of microbiology and molecular genetics at the University of Vermont, said they think there will be one genetic silver bullet to stop alcoholism. But knowing more about the genetics involved could mean that someday doctors might be able to identify from specific genes which people are most at risk for certain disorders, including alcoholism, by looking at their eye color or hair color.

“That would be the our long-term [goal], that it could be applied to the clinic,” Li told ABC News today. “For me as a scientist, there is still a long way to go.”

Li said more research was needed to confirm these early findings.

“These are complex disorders,” Li also said in a statement. “There are many genes, and there are many environmental triggers.”

Jehannine Austin, a psychiatric disorders expert for the National Society of Genetic Counselors, said the study was intriguing but that more work needed to be done.

“What we know about alcoholism is that it’s a complex disorder,” Austin told ABC News. “It’s one of the conditions that we know arises form combined effects of genetic variations acting together with our experiences.”

However, Austin said knowing more about possible genetic links could mean in the future people can better understand their risk factor. Austin said people probably do not need to worry if they have blue eyes. However, she said if they also have a family history, they can meet with a genetic counselor to talk about risks of developing alcoholism.

Blue Eyes Alcoholism: Link Between Eye Color, Alcoholism?

NASA, Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Memorial

NASA, Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Memorial, In the first memorial of its kind, NASA and the families of the 14 men and women who lost their lives aboard the shuttle Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003 have joined together to remember the astronauts with pictures, personal mementos and, in an emotional first, iconic wreckage from both orbiters.

The “Forever Remembered” memorial at the Kennedy Space Center’s commercially operated Visitor Complex opened to the public Saturday after private viewings Thursday and Friday by family members.

“The crews of Challenger and Columbia are forever a part of a story that is ongoing,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement. “It is the story of humankind’s evolving journey into space, the unknown, and the outer-reaches of knowledge, discovery and possibility. It is a story of hope.”

In the shadow of the shuttle Atlantis, mounted as if in flight in an open split-level building, the new memorial strives to strike a balance between sober reflection and a celebration of the crew members’ lives and the vehicles that carried them aloft.

Challenger’s crew — commander Francis “Dick” Scobee, pilot Michael Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, satellite engineer Gregory Jarvis and New Hampshire teacher Christa McAuliffe — was killed when the shuttle broke up 73 seconds after liftoff on Jan. 28, 1986, because of a rupture in one of its solid-fuel boosters.

Columbia’s crew — commander Rick Husband, pilot William “Willie” McCool, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Michael Anderson, Laurel Clark and Israeli flier Ilan Ramon — died during re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003, victims of wing damage caused by falling foam insulation during launch 16 days earlier.

The memorial features a central hallway with displays on both walls honoring each crew member, including personal items provided by their families.

Husband’s Bible and Tony Lama cowboy boots can be seen, along with a house plan drawn up by Smith, a research paper written by Resnik, a “Star Trek” lunchbox and Cub Scout shirt once worn by Anderson and a charred page from Ramon’s flight notebook, recovered after the accident.

Other mementos include Scobee’s slide rule-like navigation computer and a leather flight helmet, Onizuka’s personal Buddhist prayer beads, a biking trophy won by Jarvis and a copy of “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” one of Chawla’s favorite books.

A photograph in Husband’s display shows Columbia’s crew, dressed in bright orange pressure suits, huddling for a group prayer before heading to the launch pad. In his Bible, the deeply religious shuttle commander had underlined Proverbs 5:6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

“This was very important to me and very important to the people who work here at KSC,” Kennedy Space Center Director Robert Cabana, a veteran shuttle commander, told CBS News during a pre-opening walkthrough Thursday. “Challenger and Columbia, they’re part of our history, they’re part of who we are as a nation and as an agency.

“And I think it’s important to share that part of the story with everyone. It is part of who we are. It needs to be shared.”

At the end of the hall, a quote from President Ronald Reagan hangs on the wall: “The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted, it belongs to the brave.”

Turning to the right, visitors enter a larger, darker room. On one wall, in a starkly lit display, is a large section of the torn, heavily damaged outer skin of Challenger’s fuselage, still showing the American flag and an open vent door.

The recovered debris of Challenger has been stored for nearly three decades in two abandoned Minuteman missile silos at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The wreckage shown at the memorial is the first debris from Challenger to be publicly displayed since the accident investigation was concluded in 1986.

Columbia is represented by the orbiter’s six forward cockpit window frames, arranged as they were when still part of the orbiter. The glass is gone, of course, and the frames are discolored and clearly damaged. But they retain their iconic shapes and are instantly recognizable.

“They say the eyes are the windows to the soul,” Cabana said, choking back tears. “And I think that’s true of Columbia also. They’re the windows to the soul of Columbia. And when I look at that, I see (astronauts) John Young and Bob Crippen on the first flight of Columbia. I see a young Bob Cabana on his first command. And I see Rick and Willie and the whole 107 crew, with smiles on their faces, enjoying that space flight.”

For many workers at the Florida spaceport, NASA’s shuttles — Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour — were engineering marvels at the pinnacle of human achievement, each with its own “personality.” And many space workers have voiced frustration over the years that the public never fully appreciated what an achievement the orbiters represented.

While the three surviving shuttles can be visited in museums, Cabana said adding wreckage from Challenger and Columbia brings closure, of a sort, to the thousands of men and women who maintained, serviced and launched NASA’s fleet of space shuttles.

“The exhibit, it’s not just a memorial to the crews, it is a memorial to the vehicles, to the entire KSC team,” Cabana said. “The crews were part of our family, and the vehicles, they’re part of our family, too.”

NASA, Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Memorial

New email feature a lifesaver: Gmail Undo Send Beta

New email feature a lifesaver: Gmail Undo Send Beta, After what seems to have been the longest beta period ever, Google has finally graduated Gmail’s “Undo Send” option from labs into a permanent spot.

When you enable Undo Send, you’re able to “unsend” an email up to ten seconds after you hit the send button – Gmail just delays sending briefly so you have a moment in case you change your mind.

You’d be surprised how often I’ve caught a typo just as I send an email, so the feature is a lifesaver for me.

The feature has lived in Gmail’s “Labs” area, which the company uses to test out new features, since March 2009.

Undo Send now lives in Gmail’s settings under the “General” tab. It’s disabled by default, but it’s worth turning on if you haven’t already.

N. Korea has a miracle drug?: North Korea Miracle Drug

N. Korea has a miracle drug?: North Korea Miracle Drug, North Korea reportedly has a miracle drug that can cure AIDS, cancer, Ebola, and MERS — but Kim Jong-un is keeping it a secret.

The country announced Friday that its scientists had created a drug called Kumdang-2, which was several decades in the making.

As a website promoting the alleged miracle drug explained, its makeup is actually quite simple.

“Kumdang-2 Injection is a herbal medicine extracted from Kaesong Koryo insam (ginseng) cultivated in Kaesong DPR Korea by applying rare-earth molecular fertilizer. It contains insam saccharides, light rare earth elements, a micro-quantities of gold and platinum.”

North Korean officials went on to explain that the drug has a range of uses.

“Malicious virus infections like SARS, Ebola, and MERS are diseases that are related to immune systems, so they can easily be treated by Kumdang-2 injection drug,” said a post on the Korean Central News Agency, the state’s official media site.

Unfortunately, the miracle drug has done little to stop the MERS virus spreading in North Korea. Already two dozen people have been killed by the respiratory ailment that has swept across the Middle East and Asia.

Perhaps not surprisingly, details about the miracle drug were scarce. The website promoting the drug claims that it was tested on HIV-positive patients in Africa, with 56 percent being cured and 44 percent noting considerable improvement in their lives. But there is no way to verify the claims.

Scientists also claimed the drug can cure a number of cancers, but did not say which ones.

As the Independent notes, the alleged miracle drug is not the only whopper from North Korea.

“The dictatorship is known for making outlandish claims about its own prowess. The state claims that Kim Jong Il invented the hamburger and had magical powers which meant he did not need to use the toilet.

“They also claim that he was born atop a North Korean mountain prompting a double rainbow and new star to spontaneously appear. Unfortunately for the state, records show that he was born in Siberia.”

There are some other strange claims regarding his athletic prowess. Kim Jong-un reportedly bowled a 300 and shot five holes-in-one the first time be played golf (and reportedly ended up with a 38 under par as well).

Some believe that news of the miracle drug is distracting from real problems in North Korea. The U.N. claimed yesterday that 10.2 million people there are facing famine due to a massive and long-lasting drought.

North Korea Miracle Drug

Stellar student discovers planet: Tom Wagg Planet WASP-142b

Stellar student discovers planet: Tom Wagg Planet WASP-142b, SCHOOLBOY Tom Wagg has become the ultimate star student after discovering a new planet – while on work experience.

The keen astronomy fan was spending a week at Keele University’s astrophysics department when he was asked to cast his eyes over data from an international space project.

He spotted evidence of a tiny dip in the light of a star as the mystery planet passed in front of it.

Now two years on, 17-year-old Tom has finally had his findings officially confirmed by astronomers in Switzerland and Belgium, who carried out further analysis and observations.

It makes the Newcastle-under-Lyme School student one of the youngest people ever to find a new planet.

Tom, from the Westlands, said: “It’s really exciting. I was amazed. It’s definitely something you can tell people about.”

He was just 15 years old when he did the initial work experience at Keele and has since been back to do more there.

His planet has been catalogued as WASP-142b as it is the 142nd to be discovered by the WASP project, which is a collaboration between Keele and universities in several other countries.

The phenomenon is located 1,000 light years away in our galaxy – in the southern constellation of Hydra – and is orbiting a star. Although it cannot be seen directly through a telescope, an artist’s impression shows how it might look. Tom said: “It’s a gas planet and is known as a ‘hot Jupiter’. As it’s so close to a star, there could be other planets around it.”

He describes star-gazing as almost like ‘looking in back in time’ as the stars are so far away from Earth.

His interest in astronomy dates back many years and he got his own telescope when he was seven.

It was while Tom was studying for his GCSEs that one of his teachers recommended he approach Keele to get a greater insight into the subject.

The teenager soon found himself looking at data collected through surveys of the night skies, where millions of stars were being monitored.

“I was initially looking at the light curve when I noticed it,” he recalled. “I spoke to staff at the university and they said it looked interesting.”

Tom, who took GCSE astronomy as an extra subject at school, is now partway through his A-levels. He hopes to study physics at university and either go into astrophysics or particle physics for a career.

Physics teacher Andy Fishburne, from Newcastle-under-Lyme School, said: “Tom has always read a lot and done a lot of his own studying around physics. He’s ultra-keen.”

Astronomers at Keele have also been impressed. Professor Coel Hellier, who leads the WASP project there, took Tom under his wing during the work experience.

He said: “Tom is keen to learn about science, so it was easy to train him to look for planets.”

Albert Einstein Personal Letters

Albert Einstein Personal Letters, When he wasn’t working on the theory of relativity, Albert Einstein seems to have spent a fair amount of time writing letters.

And in some of those letters he touches on such topics as God, his son’s geometry studies, even a little toy steam engine he says helped change his life.

Now, more than two dozen letters from the pre-eminent physicist are going on sale Thursday at California-based auction house Profiles in History.

Some are written in longhand, others on typewriters. Some are in German, others in English.

Einstein discusses such subjects as his complicated feelings about God and cajoles one of his sons to study geometry.

He also wrote to an uncle on the man’s 70th birthday, telling him how the toy steam engine the uncle gave him spurred a lifelong interest in science.

Albert Einstein Personal Letters

Albert Einstein Personal Letters

New human ancestor discovered?: Eithiopia Hominid

New human ancestor discovered?: Eithiopia Hominid, In 1974, anthropologists in Ethiopia found the astonishing fossilized remains of a human-like creature who last walked the planet some 3.2 million years ago.

Was “Lucy,” as the hominid was called, the direct ancestor of Homo sapiens? Was she “The Mother of Mankind,” as some headlines claimed?

Over the years, the dramatic assertion has come under attack by doubters, who point to ancient yet inconclusive finds in Kenya and Chad.

But a new fossil, reported on Wednesday, may have dealt Lucy’s claimed status an irreversible blow.

Another species of hominid lived at the same time and in the same Afar region of Ethiopia, according to the paper, published in the journal Nature.

Named Australopithecus deyiremeda, the hominid and Lucy are probably only part of a wider group of candidates for being our direct forerunners, the finders said.

“The new species is yet another confirmation that Lucy’s species, Australopithecus afarensis, was not the only potential human ancestor species that roamed in what is now the Afar,” said Yohannes Haile-Selassie of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

“Current fossil evidence . . . clearly shows that there were at least two, if not three, early human species living at the same time and in close geographic proximity.”

The find, in the Woranso-Mille area of the Afar region, comprises fossilized remains of an upper and lower jaw, dated to a range of 3.3 million to 3.5 million years ago.

This overlaps with the range given to Lucy, of 2.9 million to 3.8 million years ago.

The bones are clearly different from Lucy’s, with teeth of different size, shape and enamel thickness and a more robust lower jaw, said the study.

They were found in March 2011 on top of silty clay in the Burtele area, about 500 km (325 miles) northeast of Addis Ababa and 35 km north of Hadar, where Lucy was found.

The estimated age is derived from radioactive dating of the soil and from paleomagnetic data, which trace changes in Earth’s magnetic field — recorded in iron-bearing sediment — as a calendar.

The name “deyiremeda” means “close relative” in the language of the Afar people.

Bernard Wood of George Washington University, who didn’t participate in the new work, said the discovery provides “compelling evidence” that a second creature lived in the vicinity of Lucy’s species at the same time.

The next question, he said, is how they shared the landscape.

But Tim White, an evolution expert at the University of California, Berkeley was unimpressed with the anatomical evidence cited as showing that the new fossils represent a previously unknown species. He said he thinks the fossils actually come from Lucy’s species.

“Anatomical variation within a biological species is normal,” he said in an email. “That’s why so many announcements of this sort are quickly overturned.”

Understanding the human odyssey has always been a fraught business, complicated by the rarity of fossil finds and sometimes fierce squabbles about where — or even if — they should be placed in the family tree.

The same team had previously found the 3.4-million-year remains of a foot in the same region, but were unable to assign the fossil to a particular hominid species.

“Some of our colleagues are going to be skeptical about this new species, which is not unusual,” Haile-Selassie admitted. “However, I think it is time that we look into the earlier phases of our evolution with an open mind and carefully examine the currently available fossil evidence rather than immediately dismissing the fossils that do not fit our long-held hypotheses.”

Only a week earlier, anthropologists shook the coveted position held by Homo habilis, the hominid deemed to have come before Homo sapiens.

Habilis — “handy man” in Latin — has traditionally been enshrined as a benchmark of hominid smartness, endowed with a bigger brain and greater dexterity than his predecessors.

But earlier hominids may have had some of his skills, if the May 20 study is right.