Octopuses Are Building Underwater ‘Cities’

By Nathaniel Scharping | September 19, 2017 2:06 pm
A Gloomy Octopus

A gloomy octopus (Credit: Sylke Rohrlach/Wikimedia Commons)

Underneath the waves lies a lost city, home to untold riches and guarded jealously by the strange creatures who make their homes within its confines.

Well, the riches are all shellfish, but “Octlantis,” a newly discovered settlement inhabited by around a dozen common Sydney octopuses, does have some strange residents. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: animals, ecology

This Exoplanet Is Burning Hot and Pitch Black

By Nathaniel Scharping | September 18, 2017 2:37 pm
This artist’s impression shows the exoplanet WASP-12b — an alien world as black as fresh asphalt, (Credit: NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI))

This artist’s impression shows the exoplanet WASP-12b — an alien world as black as fresh asphalt. (Credit: NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI))

An exoplanet twice the size of Jupiter is hot, egg-shaped and coal-black.

Wasp-12b is a gas giant orbiting around a Sun-like star some 1,400 light-years away. It makes a complete orbit around its sun in just 24 hours because it lies so close to its star, and the proximity pushes the temperature to around 4,700 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s so hot that molecules there are broken down into atomic hydrogen and helium, and the extreme conditions give it an albedo of just .064, making the planet’s atmosphere even darker than asphalt. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: exoplanets

Animal Hoarding Is a Unique Mental Disorder, Researchers Say

By Charles Choi | September 18, 2017 1:15 pm
shutterstock_552883786

(Credit: Shutterstock)

The “cat lady” may be more than just a stereotype. After investigating roughly 30 people who collected nearly 1,400 animals total in southern Brazil, researchers now suggest that such men and women are afflicted with what they called animal hoarding disorder—not to be lumped in with object hoarding.

The first scientific reports of people living with an excessive number of animals first appeared in 1981. Animal hoarding is currently thought of a variant of hoarding disorder, in which people have both the compulsive urge to acquire unusually large amounts of possessions and difficulty in disposing of them, regardless of their value. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
MORE ABOUT: mental health

Intravaginal Tunes and Didgeridoos: Your 2017 Ig Nobel Winners

By Leah Froats | September 18, 2017 12:23 pm
shutterstock_687320632

This man sleeps well. (Credit Shutterstock)

Not all science needs to be so serious. Since 1991, the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony has proven that the best scientific research can sometimes be a mix of impactful and irreverent.

Let’s check out this year’s winners, broken down by scientific category. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: personal health

Even With Police Body-Cam Footage, Witnesses Can Be Misled

By Charles Choi | September 15, 2017 3:17 pm
shutterstock_473262604

(Credit: Shutterstock)

Body-worn cameras on police are increasingly called for in the hope they might help ease heightened tensions between officers and communities. However, scientists now find that falsified police reports and personal biases may change a person’s memory of such footage to see things that were not there or never happened.

Cell phone videos of clashes between police and citizens, such as that involving the death of Eric Garner in 2014, have helped drive the call for body-worn cameras on police to shed light on whether officers used excessive or justified force during confrontations. Indeed, in 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice awarded $23.2 million to fund body-worn camera pilot programs in 32 states, and 43 of 68 major city police departments in the United States already have such programs, noted study senior author Deryn Strange, a cognitive psychologist at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, and her colleagues. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts
MORE ABOUT: memory & learning

Scientist Shocks Himself With an Electric Eel…Because Science

By Lauren Sigfusson | September 15, 2017 10:00 am
electric_eel_leap

Holy leaping eel! A hall-effect ammeter measured the current through the arm of a human subject as the eel leaped at the arm.  (Credit: Catania, Power Transfer to a Human during an Electric Eel’s Shocking Leap, Current Biology, 2017)

Electric eels are fascinating creatures. They emit high voltage electricity to track and control prey, but did you know they also jump out of water to attack threats? Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: animals

Quantifying the Burden of Global Disease

By Joanne Silberner | September 14, 2017 5:30 pm
shutterstock_298087034

(Credit: Shutterstock)

Later this month, global health luminaries will gather in Seattle to celebrate the anniversary of a relationship that had a rocky start back in 1986, when a brash young Rhodes scholar marched into the World Health Organization office of an epidemiologist who had published research papers on mortality in Africa.

“Are you Alan Lopez?” the visitor asked. “Yes,” Lopez remembers answering. “Well, I’m Chris Murray, and everything you’ve written about Africa is wrong.” Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
MORE ABOUT: personal health

Getting a Tattoo Might Also Stain Your Lymph Nodes

By Leah Froats | September 14, 2017 2:42 pm
shutterstock_624372230

(Credit: Shutterstock)

It’s not news that tattoos are hitting the mainstream, but a new study reported in the journal Scientific Reports reveals that tattoo inks’ nanoparticles are adding color to other parts of your body.

As the tattooed population knows all too well, the process of tattooing consists of placing insoluble deposits of pigmented ink just below the epidermis, or outermost layer of skin. As they also know, your body does pretty much anything it can to get that ink out — which is why new tattoos excrete ink, plasma, and lymphatic fluid through the epidermis while healing. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
MORE ABOUT: personal health

A Little Synthesized Sugar Yields Cotton That Glows

By Carl Engelking | September 14, 2017 1:00 pm
glow-cotton

A microscopic image of glowing cotton fibers. (Credit: Filipe Natalio)

Everything is getting “smarter” these days: automobiles, refrigerators, garage door openers…trashcans?

Even the shirt on your back is wising up and feasting on the data you generate with every step. The emerging e-textiles market promises threads that communicate, conduct energy, control body temperature and shapeshift. There are smart yoga pants, for example, that feature built in haptic vibrations to guide you into the perfect downward dog. The Supa sports bra links to an app and will provide feedback about your workout. And Apple has several patents on clothing that would double as a remote control for all your connected devices—who needs a watch? Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: biology, plants

Goodbye, Cassini

By Mika McKinnon | September 14, 2017 11:54 am
The Cassini spacecraft is ending its mission of more than a decade tomorrow morning, September 15. For many, it’s like losing a friend — but the data this landmark mission has collected will live on. (Credit: NASA)

The Cassini spacecraft is ending its mission of more than a decade tomorrow morning, September 15. For many, it’s like losing a friend — but the data this landmark mission has collected will live on. (Credit: NASA)

After 13 years and hundreds of orbits around Saturn, Cassini is in its final fall towards the gas giant. Before the dawn breaks tomorrow, the spacecraft will be vaporized. Now, we reflect on Cassini’s many triumphs, and stand vigil to witness the spacecraft’s last moments, pushing the boundaries of what engineering can do one final time.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft launched on October 15, 1997, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. It slung around Venus, Earth, and Jupiter, using the gravitational potential of each planet to redirect its path during its seven-year journey to Saturn.

Soon after arriving at the gas giant in 2004, Cassini released its passenger, the Huygens probe. This ESA-built probe delved into the rich atmosphere of Saturn’s largest moon Titan, providing the first close look at the complex world.

Starlit Wanderer

During Cassini’s thirteen years in orbit around Saturn, it danced among the moons and rings to study the world in unprecedented detail. Mission scientists learned to use Titan as a dance partner for the spacecraft, dipping into the moon’s gravitational potential to fling Cassini onto new trajectories while conserving precious fuel. But even efficient spacecraft driving burns some fuel — with 6,504 pounds (2,950 kilograms) of propellent burned and just 1 pound (0.5kg) left in Cassini’s tank, it’s time to end the mission and crash the spacecraft into Saturn while NASA’s team still has control.

Faced with dwindling propellent supplies, Cassini’s engineering team dreamt up an audacious plan to get the most interesting science results possible before safely disposing of the spacecraft. This plan was the Grand Finale, 22 ever-more-daring orbits skimming Saturn’s atmosphere and darting between the rings until finally, inevitably, steepening Cassini’s near-misses into a final plunge directly into Saturn.

On September 9, 2017, Cassini began its final orbit around Saturn as its mission team started to gather in Pasadena, California, for a final science meeting. On September 11, 2017, the spacecraft swung past Titan for a gravitational nudge as it had so many orbits before, but this time in a “goodbye kiss” nudging Cassini so that after it reached apoapsis September 12, it would start the long fall directly into Saturn’s gravitational well.

This timeline charts Cassini’s final flyby of the moon Titan, leading to its demise in Saturn’s atmosphere September 15. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This timeline charts Cassini’s final flyby of the moon Titan, leading to its demise in Saturn’s atmosphere September 15. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Today, Cassini takes its final photograph, calls home with its last pre-packed data, and transitions to continuous real-time transmission to squeeze science out of every last final second before destruction.

At 12:58 p.m. Pacific time on September 14, 2017, the Cassini spacecraft will look around Saturn’s system for the final time. Its cameras will capture a wide view of the planet and its rings, watch Enceladus set behind Saturn, glance at a half-phase hazy Titan, check one last time if the “Peggy” disturbance in the outer rings has broken free as a new moon, and observe the strange shape of propellers in the rings. Finally, Cassini will look ahead into the darkness on the night side of Saturn, taking its final photograph straight ahead at the patch of the gas giant that will soon destroy it.

By 1:22 p.m., Cassini’s camera will shut down for the final time. The spacecraft will align its antenna with Earth and downlink the photographs via the Deep Space Network. The transmission will start in Goldstone, California, then get handed off to Canberra, Australia, as Earth turns below the steady stream of data.

For 13 years, Cassini has explored, gathered data, and sent it back to Earth in discrete packages later. That changes just after midnight on September 15th, when the spacecraft transitions to real-time transmission of streaming data from its few instruments still switched on.

Bittersweet Vigil

In the wee hours of the morning, the people who have dedicated their careers to Cassini will gather to stand vigil, the core operations staff at Mission Control in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the remaining scientists and engineers across town at the California Institute of Technology. At 4:00 a.m. Pacific time, NASA TV will stream a live broadcast so others around the world can follow along.

The spacecraft is expected to start feeling the effects of Saturn’s atmosphere at 1,193 miles (1,920km) above the cloud tops at 4:43 a.m. Pacific time. It will use its thrusters to try to maintain an orientation pointed at Earth and relaying data for as long as possible, but the spacecraft designed to operate in deep vacuum will rapidly be overcome by Saturn’s relentless storms. Wrenched out of position, Cassini’s signal will be lost with no chance of recapture.

 Cassini will follow a steep trajectory deep into Saturn’s atmosphere, where it will “fade away” as its components melt and finally vaporize. Each tick mark on this image represents an elapsed time of 10 seconds. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Cassini will follow a steep trajectory deep into Saturn’s atmosphere, where it will “fade away” as its components melt and finally vaporize. Each tick mark on this image represents an elapsed time of 10 seconds. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Cassini won’t technically “burn up” when entering Saturn’s atmosphere. Instead, the spacecraft will fade away, vaporized as its aluminum parts quickly overheat and melt. The last fragments to survive will be its plutonium power supplies, still wrapped in the iridium and shielding meant to reduce risk to Earth during its launch nearly two decades ago.

By dawn, the mission will be over.

And yet, the data will live on. After rounds of congratulations on a mission well done and condolences on a mission ended, the scientists will get back to work. For some, it will be paperwork. For others, interpreting the final data streamed on Cassini’s descent. For many extending beyond the mission team, it will be analyzing the 635 GB of scientific data collected and adding to the 3,948 papers already published. For more than a few, it will be taking the lessons learned during Cassini and applying them to other missions, including NASA’s plans for a Europa Clipper exploring the ocean world circling Jupiter. And for all, it will be a time of reflection.

Goodbye, Cassini. Thank you, and good luck.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics
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