суббота, 25 августа 2018 г.

Learning to Walk Walking might seem like one of the simplest…

Learning to Walk

Walking might seem like one of the simplest activities, but it’s an incredibly complicated interplay between muscles, tendons and bones. To get an insight into how everything works together, researchers have developed sophisticated open-source software that can turn data from real human and animal movements into computer models than can be manipulated and monitored much more easily than flesh and blood. These pictures show a chimp (left) and human (centre), while the model on the right has been given a support splint. Not only does the software reveal more details about healthy movements in humans and other animals – even predicting how extinct species might have moved – it’s aiding the development of innovative treatments and rehabilitation therapies such as surgery or prosthetics. For example, it’s been used to inform the development of a robotic device to help long jumpers and revealed new ways of preventing ankle injuries in athletes.

Written by Kat Arney

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Malham Tarn, Yorkshire Dales, 25.8.18.

Malham Tarn, Yorkshire Dales, 25.8.18.

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Just Another Day on Aerosol Earth

NASA logo.

Aug. 25, 2018

Take a deep breath. Even if the air looks clear, it is nearly certain that you will inhale millions of solid particles and liquid droplets. These ubiquitous specks of matter are known as aerosols, and they can be found in the air over oceans, deserts, mountains, forests, ice and every ecosystem in between.

If you have ever watched smoke billowing from a wildfire, ash erupting from a volcano or dust blowing in the wind, you have seen aerosols. Satellites like NASA’s Earth-observing satellites, Terra, Aqua, Aura and Suomi NPP, “see” them as well, though they offer a completely different perspective from hundreds of kilometers above Earth’s surface. A version of a NASA model called the Goddard Earth Observing System Forward Processing (GEOS FP) offers a similarly expansive view of the mishmash of particles that dance and swirl through the atmosphere.

The visualization above highlights GEOS FP model output for aerosols on August 23, 2018. On that day, huge plumes of smoke drifted over North America and Africa, three different tropical cyclones churned in the Pacific Ocean, and large clouds of dust blew over deserts in Africa and Asia. The storms are visible within giant swirls of sea salt aerosol (blue), which winds loft into the air as part of sea spray. Black carbon particles (red) are among the particles emitted by fires; vehicle and factory emissions are another common source. Particles the model classified as dust are shown in purple. The visualization includes a layer of night light data collected by the day-night band of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on Suomi NPP that shows the locations of towns and cities.

Related links:

Goddard Earth Observing System Forward Processing (GEOS FP): https://gmao.gsfc.nasa.gov/GMAO_products/

Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS): https://jointmission.gsfc.nasa.gov/viirs.html

Suomi NPP (National Polar-orbiting Partnership): http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/NPP/main/index.html

Aqua Satellite: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/aqua/index.html

Aura Satellite: https://www.nasa.gov/subject/3184/aura

Terra Satellite: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/terra/index.html

Image, Text, Credits: NASA/Yvette Smith/Joshua Stevens/Adam Voiland.

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Long March 3B launches Beidou satellites

Beidou Navigation Satellite System logo.

August 24, 2018

Long March 3B carrying Beidou-3M11 and Beidou-3M12 launch

A new pair of navigation satellites were launched on Friday by China, marking its 23rd orbital launch this year. The launch of Beidou-3M11 and Beidou-3M12 took place from the LC3 Launch Complex of the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, Sichuan province, using a Long March-3B/Y1 (Chang Zheng-3B/Y1) launch vehicle. Launch time was 23:52 UTC and took around four hours to complete the mission.

BeiDou-3 satellites launched by Long March-3B

Also designated Beidou-35 and Beidou-36, the MEO satellites are the Medium Earth Orbit component of the third phase of the Chinese Beidou (Compass) satellite navigation system. The satellites are part of a fleet that will expand the system to a global navigation coverage.

Artist’s view of a BeiDou-3 satellite by J. Huart

The satellites are using a bus that features a phased array antenna for navigation signals and a laser retroreflector, with a launch mass 1,014 kg. Spacecraft dimensions are noted to be 2.25 by 1.0 by 1.22 meters. Usually, the satellites reside in a 21,500 – 21,400 km nominal orbit at 55.5 degrees.

Three new pairs of Beidou-3M satellites are schedule to launch before years end. Beidou-3M13 and Beidou-3M14 will be launched in September, followed by Beidou-3M15 and M16 in October. Beidou-3M17 and Beidou-3M18 will be launched in November.

The Chinese Navigation Constellation

The Beidou Phase III system includes the migration of its civil Beidou 1 or B1 signal from 1561.098 MHz to a frequency centered at 1575.42 MHz – the same as the GPS L1 and Galileo E1 civil signals – and its transformation from a quadrature phase shift keying (QPSK) modulation to a multiplexed binary offset carrier (MBOC) modulation similar to the future GPS L1C and Galileo’s E1.

The Radio Navigation Satellite Service (RNSS) is very similar to that provided by GPS and Galileo and is designed to achieve similar performances.

For more information about Beidou navigation system: http://www.beidou.gov.cn/

For more information about China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC): http://english.spacechina.com/n16421/index.html

Images, Video, Text, Credits: CASC/Beidou/SciNews/NASA Spaceflight.com/Rui C. Barbosa.

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Aboyne Stone Circle, Aboyne, Aberdeenshire Walk Around Video,…

Aboyne Stone Circle, Aboyne, Aberdeenshire Walk Around Video, 17.8.18. (Silent Footage)

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Asteroid 2018 CB Earth Flyby

Asteroid 2018 CB was discovered on February 4th by the Catalina Sky Survey at visual magnitude 19. This week has been a busy one with regard to Asteroid close approaches to Earth. There have been no less than seven asteroid passes near the Earth-Moon system since last weekend. This latest asteroid (2018 CB) is another very close flyby at just 44,000 miles.

Asteroid 2018 CB will be the third of these asteroids to be listed on the ‘potentially hazardous’ (PHA) list. Asteroids receive this honor by meeting two criteria. Firstly, the object has to be at least 328 feet across and secondly approaching within 4.6 million miles of Earth. 2018 CB falls well in to these categories.

Observing Opportunities

The Asteroid is expected to reach a peak magnitude of 12.8-13.0 travelling at 26,000 mph as it dashes through Perseus and Pisces as viewed from Earth.

By Tom Ruen

The space rock be bright enough to be observed in amateur telescopes over 6 inches in aperture.  However, the speed and size of the object will make this a difficult object to track. A better option would be watching a live webcast using professional telescopes (see below)

Live Webcasts

The Virtual Telescope Project are hosting a live webcast of the flyby from 20:00 UTC.


The post Asteroid 2018 CB Earth Flyby appeared first on Comet Watch.

2018 August 25 Stripping ESO 137-001 Image Credit: NASA, ESA,…

2018 August 25

Stripping ESO 137-001
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, CXC

Explanation: Spiral galaxy ESO 137-001 hurtles through massive galaxy cluster Abell 3627 some 220 million light years away. The distant galaxy is seen in this colorful Hubble/Chandra composite image through a foreground of the Milky Way’s stars toward the southern constellation Triangulum Australe. As the spiral speeds along at nearly 7 million kilometers per hour, its gas and dust are stripped away when ram pressure with the cluster’s own hot, tenuous intracluster medium overcomes the galaxy’s gravity. Evident in Hubble’s near visible light data, bright star clusters have formed in the stripped material along the short, trailing blue streaks. Chandra’s X-ray data shows off the enormous extent of the heated, stripped gas as diffuse, darker blue trails stretching over 400,000 light-years toward the bottom right. The significant loss of dust and gas will make new star formation difficult for this galaxy. A yellowish elliptical galaxy, lacking in star forming dust and gas, is just to the right of ESO 137-001 in the frame.

∞ Source: apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap180825.html

Tomnavrie Stone Circle Walk Around Video, Tarland,…

Tomnavrie Stone Circle Walk Around Video, Tarland, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, 17.8.18. (Silent Footage)

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Take a deep breath. Even if the air looks clear, it is nearly…

Take a deep breath. Even if the air looks clear, it is nearly certain that you will inhale millions of solid particles and liquid droplets. These ubiquitous specks of matter are known as aerosols, and they can be found in the air over oceans, deserts, mountains, forests, ice, and every ecosystem in between.

If you have ever watched smoke billowing from a wildfire, ash erupting from a volcano, or dust blowing in the wind, you have seen aerosols. Satellites like Terra, Aqua, Aura, and Suomi NPP “see” them as well, though they offer a completely different perspective from hundreds of kilometers above Earth’s surface. A version of one of our models called the Goddard Earth Observing System Forward Processing (GEOS FP) offers a similarly expansive view of the mishmash of particles that dance and swirl through the atmosphere.

The visualization above highlights GEOS FP model output for aerosols on August 23, 2018. On that day, huge plumes of smoke drifted over North America and Africa, three different tropical cyclones churned in the Pacific Ocean, and large clouds of dust blew over deserts in Africa and Asia. The storms are visible within giant swirls of sea salt aerosol(blue), which winds loft into the air as part of sea spray. Black carbon particles (red) are among the particles emitted by fires; vehicle and factory emissions are another common source. Particles the model classified as dust are shown in purple. The visualization includes a layer of night light data collected by the day-night band of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on Suomi NPP that shows the locations of towns and cities.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.

Space Station Science Highlights: Week of August 20, 2018

ISS – Expedition 56 Mission patch.

Aug. 24, 2018

Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted science this week on high-tech fabric, expanding space-based imaging of Earth, growing crystals and more. 

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Looking forward, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) “Kounotori7” HTV-7 cargo ship is scheduled to take supplies to the space station in mid-September and Expedition 56 crew members plan to conduct two spacewalks in late September.

Read more details about the scientific work aboard your orbiting laboratory:

Getting ready for Earth’s close-ups

Crew members installed the German Aerospace Center (DLR) Earth Sensing Imaging Spectrometer (DESIS) onto the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) Airlock Sliding Table. Its transfer by the JEM Remote Manipulator System (JECM-RMS) to the Multiple User System for Earth Sensing (MUSES) Platform is planned for next week to allow commissioning and performance verification operations. These are a necessary step before declaring the spectrometer operational for science.

Image above: European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst installs the DLR Earth Sensing Imaging Spectrometer (DESIS) on the Airlock Slide Table Install in preparation for operations next week. Image Credit: NASA.

DESIS expands the use of space-based hyperspectral imaging (using the visual to near infrared spectrum) for Earth remote sensing, producing high-value hyperspectral imagery for commercial purposes. After collection, requested images are transferred to the MUSES server for delivery to a hosted cloud for user access. DESIS has a number of commercial and humanitarian applications.

Astronaut exercise wear put to the sweat test

European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Alexander Gerst wore a special shirt and monitoring equipment during an exercise session using the Cycle Ergometer with Vibration Isolation and Stabilization (CEVIS) for two ESA investigations.

One, SpaceTex-2, evaluates a fabric that provides a much higher rate of sweat evaporation and a corresponding higher evaporative heat loss than conventional cotton. Astronauts exercise daily while aboard the space station to prevent cardiovascular deconditioning and its associated health problems. Scientists suspect that lack of gravity impairs natural convective heat transfer from the body surface, affecting the comfort of crew members.

Image above: NASA astronaut Drew Feustel fills a subset of the new PCG card wells. The CASIS PCG 13 investigation seeks to enhance the way crystals are grown in a microgravity environment. Image Credit: NASA.

The other, Metabolic Space, demonstrates a wearable technology that supports cardio-pulmonary diagnosis during physical activities, yet maintains unrestricted mobility for the wearer.

Learning to control complex colloids with temperature

The crew configured the Light Microscopy Module (LMM) in the Fluids Integrated Rack (FIR) and installed a sample for Advanced Colloids Experiment-Temperature-2 (ACE-T-2), which looks at the assembly of complex structures from micron-scale colloidal particles. Regulating the temperature enables control of the particle interactions, leading to growth of complex structures.

Image above: External cameras on the International Space Station captured this picture of Hurricane Lane in the Pacific Ocean as it approached Hawaii. Image Credit: NASA.

Colloids consist of small particles suspended in a mixture. The investigation provides a better understanding of how complex interactions lead to complex structures, and the dynamics of the way these structures grow.

Demonstrating crystal growth in real time

The crew performed operations for BioServe Protein Crystallography (BPC-1) this week, observing samples and photographing sample wells using the microscope. BPC-1 seeks to demonstrate the feasibility of conducting protein crystal growth in real time aboard the space station. Crew members can observe crystal formation and adjust for follow-on experiments. This approach optimizes a scientist’s ability to grow crystals in microgravity without having to wait for samples to return to Earth and launch a follow-up investigation.

Swabbing the decks, and the curtains, for science

For the Biomolecule Extraction and Sequencing Technology (BEST) investigation, crew members swabbed surfaces on the Permanent Multi-purpose Module (PMM) blackout curtain and areas around crew quarters. They stowed the samples in a Minus Eighty Degree Celsius Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI). The BEST investigation studies using genetic sequencing to identify unknown microbial organisms living on the space station and how humans, plants, and microbes adapt to living in the orbiting laboratory.

Image above: ESA Astronaut Alexander Gerst remotely operates the DLR robot “Rollin’ Justin,” which is on Earth, from the International Space Station. Image Credit: ESA.

Other work was done on these investigations: : Wetlab-2 Parra,  ZeroG, Sextant Navigation, ISS HAM, MELFI, BCAT-CS, CEO, MagVector, Microbial Tracking 2, PK-4, ACE-M2, Rodent Research-7, Tropical Cyclone, Time Perception, ELF, SCAN Testbed, J-SSOD 9,  SPHERES, SmoothNav, CASIS PCG 13, Atomization, Cerebral Autoregulation, Barrios PCG, Plant Habitat and Lighting Effects.

Related links:

Expedition 56: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/expeditions/expedition56/index.html

DESIS: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=1778

Japanese Experiment Module (JEM): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/structure/elements/jem.html

MUSES: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Facility.html?#id=1147

CEVIS: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Facility.html?#id=821

SpaceTex-2: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7571

Metabolic Space: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7574

Light Microscopy Module (LMM): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Facility.html?#id=531

Fluids Integrated Rack (FIR): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Facility.html?#id=351

ACE-T-2: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7433

BioServe Protein Crystallography (BPC-1): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7729

BEST: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7687

PMM: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/structure/elements/pmm.html

MELFI: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Facility.html?#id=56

Wetlab-2 Parra: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7688

ZeroG: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7712

Sextant Navigation: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7646

ISS HAM: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=337

BCAT-CS: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7668

CEO: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=84

MagVector: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=1070

Microbial Tracking 2: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=1663

PK-4: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=1192

ACE-M2: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=1197

Rodent Research-7: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7425

Tropical Cyclone: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=1712

Time Perception: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7504

ELF: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=1738

SCAN Testbed: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=156

J-SSOD 9: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Facility.html?#id=883

SPHERES: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=303

SmoothNav: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7532

CASIS PCG 13: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7690

Atomization: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=282

Cerebral Autoregulation: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=1938

Barrios PCG: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7726

Plant Habitat: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=2032

Lighting Effects: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=2013

Spot the Station: https://spotthestation.nasa.gov/

Space Station Research and Technology: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/index.html

International Space Station (ISS): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/Yuri Guinart-Ramirez, Lead Increment Scientist Expeditions 55 & 56.

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jason-1971: The Eassie Stone is a Class II Pictish stone of…


The Eassie Stone is a Class II Pictish stone of about the mid 8th century AD in the village of Eassie, Angus, Scotland. The stone was found in Eassie burn in the late 18th century and now resides in a purpose-built perspex building in the ruined Eassie church.

The stone is a cross-slab 2.04 metres (6 ft 8 in) high and 1.02 metres (3 ft 4 in) wide, tapering to 0.84 metres (2 ft 9 in) at the top, and is 23 centimetres (9.1 in) thick.The slab is carved on both faces in relief and, as it bears Pictish symbols, it falls into John Romilly Allen and Joseph Anderson’s classification system as a class II stone.

The cross face bears a cross with circular rings in its angles, surrounding a circular central boss decorated with a keywork design.The arms and shaft are decorated with a variety of complex interlaced knotworkdesigns. The upper quadrants held a pair of angels, but have suffered some damage, the right-hand figure being almost completely lost. A similar four-winged angel can be found on the nearby Glamis 2 stone.The lower left-hand quadrant shows a cloaked warrior armed with a small square buckler and spear, and the lower right-hand quadrant depicts a stag and hunting hounds.

The rear face of the slab bears a mixture of figural representations and Pictish symbols. At the top of the face is a damaged Pictish beast over a double disc and Z-rod. Below this is a trio of cloaked figures, and to the right is a figure standing in front of a potted tree, which historian Lloyd Laing has interpreted as having human heads suspended from its branches.Below this lie heavily weathered horseshoe and Pictish beast symbols. The bottom of the face holds representations of cattle that have suffered some weathering.

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New Antarctic rift data has implications for volcanic evolution

New data revealing two tectonic plates fused to form a single Antarctic Plate 15 million years later than originally predicted and this extra motion has major implications for understanding of the tectono-volcanic activity surrounding the Pacific Ocean, from the Alpine mountains in New Zealand to the California geological setting, according to research from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU).

New Antarctic rift data has implications for volcanic evolution
Mt Erebus, an active Antarctic volcano. The rocks in the foreground are the remnants of several young subglacially
and subaerially erupted volcanic centres [Credit: antarcticglaciers.org]

In a study published in Nature Communications, Dr. Roi Granot of BGU’s Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, and Dr. Jérôme Dyment from the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, France, present marine magnetic data collected near the northern edge of the West Antarctic rift system that shows motion between East and West Antarctica, which was assumed to have ended abruptly 26 million years ago, actually continued for another 15 million years.
“Since Antarctica tectonically connects the Pacific Plate to the rest of the world, these results have important ramifications for understanding the tectonic evolution around the Pacific Ocean — the rise of New Zealand’s Alpine Mountains, motions along the San Andreas Fault in California, and more,” says Dr. Granot.

Over 200 million years ago, a rift bisected Antarctica. The motion between East Antarctic and West Antarctic Plates accommodated along the length of this rift created one of the longest mountain ranges in the world (the Transantarctic Mountains). It also caused the eruption of hundreds of volcanoes, mostly under the ice sheets, and shaped the sub-ice topography. These motions dictated, and still dictate, the heat flow rate that the crust releases under the ice and is one of the factors controlling the rate by which the glaciers are advancing toward the surrounding southern ocean.

GPS data and a lack of seismic activity suggest that the rift in Antarctica is no longer tectonically active. According to the researchers, one of the key unanswered question was: How did the plates drift relative to each other over the last 26 million years and when did the rift stop being active?

New marine geophysical data recorded during two excursions on a French icebreaker enabled Drs. Roi Granot and Jérôme Dyment to date the ocean floor and calculate the relative motion between the Antarctic Plates and the Australian Plate.

“Antarctica forms an important link in the global plate tectonic circuits which enable to calculate the motion along different plate boundaries. Understanding past plate motions between East and West Antarctica therefore affects our ability to accurately predict the kinematic evolutions of other plate boundaries,” says Dr. Granot.

Source: American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev [August 21, 2018]



Neolithic menhir discovered in north-western France

A menhir dating back 5000 years BC was discovered in a field in Châtillon-sur-Loire situated the Loiret department in north-central France, by Phillipe Jarret, president of the Friends of Archaeology Society.

Neolithic menhir discovered in north-western France
Credit: © France 3 Centre-Val de Loire

The composition of the rock, sandstone and flint, had aroused Philippa Jarret’s curiosity. A survey undertaken in early August confirmed the stone’s authenticity.
The two-ton, two-metre-high stone is believed to have been moved some three kilometres. The menhir is thought to indicate the presence of a nearby spring or grave.

In Loiret, 45 megaliths are listed by the French Commission for the Protection of Historical and Rural Heritage.

Source: France 3 Centre-Val de Loire [August 21, 2018]



Japan fleet catches 177 whales in latest hunt

A fleet of Japanese whaling ships caught 177 minke and sei whales during a three-month tour of the northwestern Pacific, the government said Wednesday.

Japan fleet catches 177 whales in latest hunt
Credit: Institute of Cetacean Research, via AFP

The three-ship mission returned home as Tokyo prepares to make its case to resume commercial whaling at a meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Brazil next month.

During the latest 98-day mission, the ships caught 43 minke whales and 134 sei whales, the Fisheries Agency said in a statement.

Foreign pressure on Japan to stop whaling has only made conservatives and politicians more resolute about continuing their push to resume commercial whaling. It is a rare thorny issue in Tokyo’s otherwise amiable diplomacy.

“Data that were gathered during this mission will be analysed, along with results from coastal research programmes,” the agency said.

The data “will be presented to IWC’s scientific committee, and will enhance scientific knowledge for conserving and managing cetacean resources.”

The latest mission was part of a 12-year project to study the number, eating patterns, and biology of whales that Japan wants to analyse to support its claim that certain whales are not endangered and could be caught for consumption.

Japan is a signatory to the moratorium on whale hunting, but exploits a loophole which allows whales to be killed in the name of scientific research.

It makes no secret of the fact that meat from the expeditions ends up on dinner tables, despite a significant decline in the popularity of whale meat.

Source: AFP [August 22, 2018]



Evolution and the concrete jungle

New research conducted by evolutionary biologists worldwide paints cities as evolutionary “change agents”, says a trio of biologists from the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) who selected and edited the studies.

Evolution and the concrete jungle
Burrowing owls in South America [Credit: Jakob Mueller]

A compilation of 15 new research papers, published today as a special issue of Proceedings of the Royal Society B, confirms that (a) cities frequently alter evolution by natural selection; (b) species are adapting to cities worldwide; and (c) new commensal species – those that live alongside humans – have arisen in response to the environmental demands and challenges imposed by urbanization.

Marc Johnson holds clover”These papers greatly advance our knowledge of urban evolutionary biology,” says Marc Johnson, an associate professor of biology at UTM and director of the Centre for Urban Environments. “These are the same evolutionary mechanisms first identified by Charles Darwin more than 150 years ago and the findings from these studies will be increasingly important as more and more of the world’s population flocks to urban environments.

“It’s pretty remarkable. For years, biologists ignored cities, seeing them as ‘anti-life’, and only recently biologists began to realize that cities are agents of change, driving evolution of organisms living around us and even some living on us.”

In creating the issue, Johnson co-edited the project with two PhD candidates in ecology and evolutionary biology at UTM, James Santangelo and Ruth Rivkin. Santangelo also contributed a study to the compilation, developing the first theoretical models that predict evolutionary outcomes in urban environments.

The special issue contains many other studies that also illustrate its key evolutionary findings. For example, a Belgian study of Daphnia magna, a type of zooplankton of freshwater ponds and lakes, demonstrates that cities frequently alter natural selection. Leuven researcher Kristien Brans and her colleagues collected Daphnia from ponds in both urban and rural locations and put them into holding tanks in the lab. They elevated the water temperature in the tanks and by measuring their protein metabolization and development were able to determine that the urban Daphnia were able to handle the stress of warmer temperatures more easily than their rural counterparts. Given that cities are warmer than rural areas, this ability to adapt to a warmer and often more stressful climate is essential, Johnson notes.

Parallel evolutionary changes in diverse urban locations are shown by a study of burrowing owl populations in South America, a project led by Jakob Mueller in Germany. He and his colleagues determined that separate groups of burrowing owls native to various South American cities had developed similar genetic responses, even though there was no cross-breeding between the populations. Urban environments share numerous features that likely account for these similar changes.

The issue also illustrates how urban areas influence the evolution of invasive species and pests; in many cases, humans become agents for the dispersal and movement of their genes. For instance, Tina Arredondo and her colleagues at Portland State University in Oregon studied the spread of an invasive grass species, Brachypodium sylvaticum, across urban-rural boundaries and discovered that humans were actively involved in its spread, unwittingly carrying seeds as they pursued recreational activities on local waterways.

“We are facilitating the dispersal and expansion of the plant’s range to new areas,” says Rivkin. “Humans are complicit in altering the genetic distribution of a variety of species.”

The special issue of Proceedings of the Royal Society B addresses some of the most pressing gaps in our understanding of urban evolutionary ecology and points the way forward for further study.

“This issue marks the beginning of a very important area of research,” Johnson says. “It will allow us to understand evolutionary biology more generally and to realize how important it is for humans and the environment in which we live. It also has important implications for understanding how organisms persist.

Santangelo notes that additional research into urban evolutionary biology can also help us become better stewards of our urban environments.

“Understanding how cities shape the evolution of urban populations can facilitate designing management strategies for urban pests and help minimize the impact of humans on the spread of invasive species,” he says.

Johnson adds, “There’s lots to explore. This is just the start of a long and interesting road of scientific discovery.”

Source: University of Toronto [August 22, 2018]



NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Begins Asteroid Operations Campaign

NASA – OSIRIS-REx Mission patch.

Aug. 24, 2018

After an almost two-year journey, NASA’s asteroid sampling spacecraft, the  Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx), caught its first glimpse of asteroid Bennu last week and began the final approach toward its target. Kicking off the mission’s asteroid operations campaign on Aug. 17, the spacecraft’s PolyCam camera obtained the image from a distance of 1.4 million miles (2.2 million km).

Animation above: On Aug. 17, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft obtained the first images of its target asteroid Bennu from a distance of 1.4 million miles (2.2 million km), or almost six times the distance between the Earth and Moon. This cropped set of five images was obtained by the PolyCam camera over the course of an hour for calibration purposes and in order to assist the mission’s navigation team with optical navigation efforts. Bennu is visible as a moving object against the stars in the constellation Serpens. Animation Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona.

OSIRIS-REx is NASA’s first mission to visit a near-Earth asteroid, survey the surface, collect a sample and deliver it safely back to Earth. The spacecraft has traveled approximately 1.1 billion miles (1.8 billion km) since its Sept. 8, 2016, launch and is scheduled to arrive at Bennu on Dec. 3.

“Now that OSIRIS-REx is close enough to observe Bennu, the mission team will spend the next few months learning as much as possible about Bennu’s size, shape, surface features, and surroundings before the spacecraft arrives at the asteroid,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “After spending so long planning for this moment, I can’t wait to see what Bennu reveals to us.”

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Approaches Asteroid Bennu

Video above: NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission launched in 2016 and now (August, 2018) is entering its approach phase. OSIRIS-REx will arrive at asteroid Bennu in December, 2018. OSIRIS-REx will help unveil the mysteries of our solar system’s formation. Video Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Katrina Jackson.

As OSIRIS-REx approaches the asteroid, the spacecraft will use its science instruments to gather information about Bennu and prepare for arrival.  The spacecraft’s science payload comprises the OCAMS camera suite (PolyCam, MapCam, and SamCam), the OTES thermal spectrometer, the OVIRS visible and infrared spectrometer, the OLA laser altimeter, and the REXIS x-ray spectrometer.

During the mission’s approach phase, OSIRIS-REx will:

– Regularly observe the area around the asteroid to search for dust plumes and natural satellites, and study Bennu’s light and spectral properties;

– Execute a series of four asteroid approach maneuvers, beginning on Oct. 1, slowing the spacecraft to match Bennu’s orbit around the Sun;

– Jettison the protective cover of the spacecraft’s sampling arm in mid-October and subsequently extend and image the arm for the first time in flight; and

– Use OCAMS to reveal the asteroid’s overall shape in late-October and begin detecting Bennu’s surface features in mid-November.

After arrival at Bennu, the spacecraft will spend the first month performing flybys of Bennu’s north pole, equator and south pole, at distances ranging between 11.8 and 4.4 miles (19 and 7 km) from the asteroid. These maneuvers will allow for the first direct measurement of Bennu’s mass as well as close-up observations of the surface. These trajectories will also provide the mission’s navigation team with experience navigating near the asteroid.

“Bennu’s low gravity provides a unique challenge for the mission,” said Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “At roughly 0.3 miles [500 meters] in diameter, Bennu will be the smallest object that any spacecraft has ever orbited.”

OSIRIS-REx Approach Trailer

Video above: NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission launched in 2016 and now (August, 2018) is entering its approach phase. Video Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Katrina Jackson.

The spacecraft will extensively survey the asteroid before the mission team identifies two possible sample sites. Close examination of these sites will allow the team to pick one for sample collection, scheduled for early July 2020. After sample collection, the spacecraft will head back toward Earth before ejecting the Sample Return Capsule for landing in the Utah desert in Sept. 2023.   

Artist’s view of OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. Image Credits: NASA

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center provides overall mission management, systems engineering and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona also leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the spacecraft and is providing flight operations. Goddard and KinetX Aerospace are responsible for navigating the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the agency’s New Frontiers Program for its Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more information on the mission, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/osiris-rex

Animation (mentioned), Videos (mentioned), Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Karl Hille/GSFC/Nancy Neal Jones.

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Astronauts Busy With Exercise Study, Satellite and Astronomy Work

ISS – Expedition 56 Mission patch.

August 24, 2018

Ongoing exercise research and gym maintenance took place aboard the International Space Station to ensure astronaut health and mission success. The Expedition 56 crew members also worked on autonomous satellite operations and botany and astronomy gear.

European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst has been participating in an exercise study all week developed by the German Aerospace Centre (DLR). He has been working out in a custom t-shirt with a specialized fabric for the SpaceTex-2 experiment that may improve an astronaut’s comfort and thermal relief while working out in space.

Image above: Expedition 56 Commander Drew Feustel is inside the Harmony module working on the Protein Crystal Growth-13 experiment which is seeking to fine-tune the research process in space and help public and private organizations deliver results and benefits sooner. Image Credit: NASA.

A treadmill is getting its twice-yearly checkup today in the Tranquility module. Flight Engineer Serena Auñón-Chancellor of NASA spent Friday morning checking the treadmill’s belt tension, greasing axles and replacing parts. Engineers on the ground will review its condition before the crew gets back on the treadmill for daily runs.

Commander Drew Feustel set up a pair of tiny internal satellites today, known as SPHERES, and tested the autonomous operation of the free-floating devices.  The SmoothNav experiment is researching using algorithms that spacecraft may use to operate and communicate with each other when conducting space-based tasks.

Image above: Happy Friday fellow Earthlings from the crew of Expedition 56! A.J. (Drew) Feustel, S. Auñón-Chancellor, Alexander Gerst, Oleg Artemyev, Sergey Prokopyev, Ricky Arnold. Image Credits: NASA/Ricky Arnold.

NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold worked on botany and astronomy gear inside the orbital lab. The former teacher reinstalled the Plant Habitat during the morning after some maintenance work on the Japan Kibo lab module’s EXPRESS rack.

In the afternoon, Arnold switched to the METEOR experiment installing new computer software and positioning a camera in the U.S. Destiny lab module’s Window Observational Research Facility. METEOR observes and takes spectral measurements of the chemical composition of meteors entering Earth’s atmosphere.

Related article:

Space Station Science Highlights: Week of August 20, 2018

Related links:

Expedition 56: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/expeditions/expedition56/index.html

SpaceTex-2: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7571

SPHERES: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=303

SmoothNav: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7532

Plant Habitat: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Facility.html?#id=2036

METEOR: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=1174

European Space Agency (ESA): https://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Human_Spaceflight

German Aerospace Centre (DLR): https://www.dlr.de/dlr/en/

Spot the Station: https://spotthestation.nasa.gov/

Space Station Research and Technology: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/index.html

International Space Station (ISS): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia.

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Sunhoney Recumbent Stone Circle, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, 17.8.18.

Sunhoney Recumbent Stone Circle, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, 17.8.18.

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Getting to the root of plant evolution

Despite plants and vegetation being key to the Earth’s ecosystem, little is known about the origin of their roots. However in new research, published in Nature, Oxford University scientists describe a transitional root fossils from the earliest land ecosystem that sheds light on how roots have evolved.

Getting to the root of plant evolution
Examination of the meristem under a confocal laser scanning microscope revealed the exceptional cellular
preservation of the 407 million year old fossil [Credit: Dr Sandy Hetherington]

The findings suggest that plant roots have evolved more than once, and that the characteristics of roots developed in a step-wise manner—with the central root organ evolving first. And the root cap subsequently coming later.

Dr. Sandy Hetherington and Professor Liam Dolan—both of Oxford’s Department of Plant Sciences and Magdalen College Oxford, conducted a microscopic study of the oldest known plant ecosystem—the 407 million-year-old Rhynie chert.

Dr. Hetherington said: ‘The level of preservation in the Rhynie chert is truly remarkable—it never ceases to amaze me that I am able to examine the cellular organisation of plants that were growing 407 million years ago. It provides an exceptional window into life on the terrestrial surface at that time.’

The defining feature of modern-day plant roots is the meristem—a self-renewing structure that is covered by a cap at its apex. Root meristems are hard to spot in the fragmentary fossil record, which can make it challenging to unearth the evolutionary origin of roots.

The authors found evidence of root meristems belonging to the lycopsid plant Asteroxylon mackiei. Lycopsids—commonly known as club mosses, are vascular plants (those with tissues that internally move resources) whose lineage branched off early, before the other higher plants (the euphyllophytes).

Getting to the root of plant evolution
Uncut specimen of the 407 million year old Rhynie chert in the collections
of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History
[Credit: Gem Toes-Crichton]

The team were able to build a 3-D reconstruction of the fossil meristem. The fossil analysis reveals that the meristems of A. mackiei lack both root hairs and caps—they are covered instead by a continuous layer of surface tissue. This structure makes these roots unique among the vascular plants.

The paper’s conclusion suggests that these roots are a transitional step towards modern-style, rooted vascular plants. The findings support the idea that, as this cap-less transitional structure appears in a plant that is already a lycopsid, roots with caps evolved separately in lycopsids and euphyllophytes from their common, root-less ancestors.

Discussing plans to expand on this work, Professor Dolan said: ‘Our discovery suggests that plant organs were built up step-by-step during the course of plant evolution.

‘The evolution of roots was a critical time in Earth’s history and resulted in a dramatic reduction of atmospheric carbon. Now that we know that roots evolved in a step by step manner, we can go back to ancient rocks looking for structures that are missing “parts” that are present in extant roots.

‘I really want to find out where root caps came from. They seemed to have appeared out of thin air. They are very important in extant roots; the root cap is important to protect the root as it pushes through the soil and it is the site where roots detect gravity. How did these ancient roots manage without a cap to provide these functions?’

Source: University of Oxford [August 22, 2018]




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