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The Ancient Edge

Ancient Halls of the Dead Found in Britain

July 31st 2013

Click to select Image

The remains of two large 6000-year-old halls, each buried within a prehistoric burial mound, have been discovered by archaeologists from The University of Manchester and Herefordshire Council -- in a UK first.

The sensational finds on Dorstone Hill, near Peterchurch in Herefordshire, were thought to be constructed between 4000 and 3600 BC.

Some of the burnt wood discovered at the site shows the character of the building's structure above ground level -- in another UK first. The buildings, probably used by entire communities, are of unknown size, but may have been of similar length to the Neolithic long barrows beneath which they were found – 70metres and 30m long. They were, say the team, deliberately burnt down after they were constructed and their remains incorporated into the two burial mounds. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Capturing Black Hole Spin Could Further Understanding of Galaxy Growth

July 29th 2013

Swift J1544+57 (black hole)

Astronomers have found a new way of measuring the spin in supermassive black holes, which could lead to better understanding about how they drive the growth of galaxies.

The scientists at Durham University, UK, observed a black hole - with mass 10 million times that of our Sun - at the centre of a spiral galaxy 500 million light years from Earth while it was feeding on the surrounding disc of material that fuels its growth and powers its activity.

By viewing optical, ultra-violet and soft x-rays generated by heat as the black hole fed, they were able to measure how far the disc was from the black hole.

This distance depends on black hole spin as a fast spinning black hole pulls the disc in closer to itself, the researchers said. Using the distance between the black hole and the disc, the scientists were able to estimate the spin of the black hole. The scientists said that understanding spin could lead to greater understanding of galaxy growth over billions of years. Read more ..


The Cyber Edge

Hacker Dies Days Before Scheduled Revelation on How to Remotely Kill Pacemaker Patients

July 28th 2013

Computers/Nerd Silhouette

Security researcher Barnaby Jack has passed away in San Francisco, only days before a scheduled appearance at a Las Vegas hacker conference where he intended to show how an ordinary pacemaker could be compromised in order to kill a man. Jack, who previously presented hacks involving ATMs and insulin pumps at the annual Black Hat conference in Vegas, was confirmed dead Friday morning by the San Francisco Medical Examiner’s office, Reuters reported. He passed away Thursday this week, but the office declined to offer any more details at this time.

Jack’s death came one week to the day before he was scheduled to detail one of his most recent exploits in a Black Hat talk called “Implantable Medical Devices: Hacking Humans.” Read more ..


The Edge of Space

NASA Unveils New Sun Images

July 26th 2013

Solar-Eruption

NASA's new solar observatory is already giving scientists an unprecedented glimpse of the sun.  The U.S. space agency has released the first images from the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, known as IRIS, which was launched one month ago.

The images show an active, dynamic region.  NASA describes spots that quickly brighten and dim, and thread-like towers of energy that reveal major temperature differences in the sun's lower atmosphere.  The IRIS satellite looks at the little-understood, lowest layers of the sun's atmosphere. 

John Grunsfeld, of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, described the moment on July 17 when the solar observatory's telescope caught its first glimpse of the sun. "When the aperture door opened, it was truly a grand opening of a new era of solar physics," he told reporters.  

Grunsfeld described the sun's interface region as "a crucial link in that story of unraveling the mysteries of the sun."   Among those mysteries is just how the sun's upper atmosphere is so much hotter than its surface, even though it's farther from the sun's heat-generating core.  IRIS observes the way solar material gathers energy and heats up as it rises through the sun's lower atmosphere. Read more ..


The Solar System Edge

Solar System's Youth Gives Clues to Planet Search

July 24th 2013

Solar System Birth

Comets and meteorites contain clues to our solar system's earliest days. But some of the findings are puzzle pieces that don't seem to fit well together. A new set of theoretical models from Carnegie's Alan Boss shows how an outburst event in the Sun's formative years could explain some of this disparate evidence. His work could have implications for the hunt for habitable planets outside of our solar system. It is published by The Astrophysical Journal.

One way to study the solar system's formative period is to look for samples of small crystalline particles that were formed at high temperatures but now exist in icy comets. Another is to analyze the traces of isotopes—versions of elements with the same number of protons, but a different number of neutrons—found in primitive meteorites. These isotopes decay and turn into different, so-called daughter, elements. The initial abundances of these isotopes tell researchers where the isotopes may have come from, and can give clues as to how they traveled around the early solar system. Read more ..


The Edge Climate Change

New Theory Points To Areas At Risk Of Rapid Iceberg Disintegration

July 23rd 2013

Melting Arctic glacier by Angus Duncan

In events that could exacerbate sea level rise over the coming decades, stretches of ice on the coasts of Antarctica and Greenland are at risk of rapidly cracking apart and falling into the ocean, according to new iceberg calving simulations from the University of Michigan.

"If this starts to happen and we're right, we might be closer to the higher end of sea level rise estimates for the next 100 years," said Jeremy Bassis, assistant professor of atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences at the U-M College of Engineering, and first author of a paper on the new model published in the current issue of Nature Geoscience.

Iceberg calving, or the formation of icebergs, occurs when ice chunks break off larger shelves or glaciers and float away, eventually melting in warmer waters. Although iceberg calving accounts for roughly half of the mass lost from ice sheets, it isn't reflected in any models of how climate change affects the ice sheets and could lead to additional sea level rise, Bassis said. Read more ..


The Solar Edge

Major Solar Storm Could Be Heading for Earth

July 22nd 2013

Solar-Eruption

With the sun nearing the peak of its 11-year cycle, scientists say a powerful solar storm may be headed our way, which could shut down electricity supply networks and disorient GPS and satellite systems.

The worst known geomagnetic solar storm hit Earth in 1859, observed and sketched by astronomer Richard Carrington. The Carrington event upset global telegraph communications. Surprised operators watched sparks fly from telegraph lines and set telegraph paper on fire.

While not nearly as powerful, other storms in history have cut power, knocked out telephone service, short-circuited satellites and caused radio blackouts. 

The Earth is overdue for another Carrington-like storm, according to a new report released by Lloyd’s of London, the world oldest insurance market.

Co-author Neil Smith says it could be even more devastating, given the worldwide dependence on electric power supply grids. “We are estimating that 20-40 million people might be without power from anywhere up to one, even two years," he said. "That has to do with the critical issue of replacement transformers. That number of people without power could result in an economic cost somewhere between $0.6 trillion to $2.6 trillion.” Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

iKnife Improves Removal of Cancerous Tissue

July 21st 2013

Surgeons

An experimental surgical scalpel is helping surgeons target only cancerous tissue when they remove a tumor. The iKnife — or "intelligent knife" — “sniffs” the smoke produced as it cauterizes the tissue, distinguishing malignant cells from surrounding healthy tissue.

From the moment patients wake up after an operation to remove a cancerous tumor, the first question most ask their surgeons is, “Did you get it all?”

Jeremy Nicholson, head of the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial College London, where the iKnife technology was developed, says that is a difficult question to answer with certainty, because even the best surgeons often have trouble distinguishing cancerous from healthy tissue.

“You can’t absolutely guarantee that, but ... what you can say is that this sort of technology guarantees a great deal more precision about what you cut out, so you are much more likely to have removed all the offending material, whatever that is, and you are also much more likely not to have cut out good stuff," he said. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Interspecies Transplant Paves the Way for Diabetes Therapy

July 20th 2013

Diabetes

Researchers have come closer to the “Holy Grail” of treatment for people with type 1 diabetes. They have successfully transplanted insulin-producing islet cells from one species into another without the use of immunity-suppressing drugs. In the future this could provide an unlimited supply of tissue to treat people whose bodies cannot produce insulin.

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that delivers glucose - a form of sugar that the body uses for fuel - to cells for energy. Since the immune systems of people with type 1 diabetes attack and destroy the islet cells that produce insulin, many sufferers must inject themselves with insulin frequently, simply in order to survive.

It has long been a goal of scientists to transplant islets into humans - from other humans or pigs - without their bodies rejecting them. Human cadaver transplants are difficult, while animal-to-human transplants have proved nearly impossible. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

US Unveils Green Supercomputer

July 19th 2013

Oak Ridge Super Computer

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago is home to one of the newest, fastest, most efficient supercomputers in the country, called MIRA.  But despite the new equipment, lawmakers are concerned that the United States is losing the international supercomputing race, a field it has dominated for decades.

Lined up in a sprawling room on the second floor of Argonne National Laboratory’s Theory and Computing Sciences building is the future of supercomputing. Argonne Director Eric Isaacs says MIRA can go where few computers can. “A machine like this enables us to start solving complex problems, and by complex problems, I mean problems that have many moving parts," he said. "Like a jet engine, a photovoltaic cell, like a grid, if you think about a power grid, a power grid is a very complicated thing.” Read more ..


The Edge of Health

Engineering a Solution to Anti-Biotic Resistant Bacteria Super-Bugs

July 16th 2013

Purple super bugs bacteria

Medical professionals and researchers warn that hospitals are becoming hotbeds for antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and without action, mortality rates could rise to early-20th century levels or higher. University of Michigan engineers are taking action – exploring approaches that can prevent bacteria from gaining a foothold or help antibiotics work more effectively.

While antibiotics stop bacteria in a variety of ways, no method is foolproof. Bacteria can pick up drug resistance from one another, from genes that happen to be loose in their environment, and from viruses that infect them. There might be relatively few drug-resistant bacteria in an initial infection, but after antibiotics have decimated the population, only the resistant bacteria are around to reproduce. If the body’s immune system can’t pick up the slack on those resistant types, the disease becomes difficult – if not impossible – to treat. Read more ..


The Ancient Edge

Inscription from Time of King David Found Near Temple Mount

July 14th 2013

Jar fragment King David Jerusalem

Working near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Hebrew University of Jerusalem archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar has unearthed the earliest alphabetical written text ever uncovered in the city.

The inscription is engraved on a large pithos, a neckless ceramic jar found with six others at the Ophel excavation site. According to Dr. Mazar, the inscription, in the Canaanite language, is the only one of its kind discovered in Jerusalem and an important addition to the city's history.

Dated to the tenth century BCE, the artifact predates by two hundred and fifty years the earliest known Hebrew inscription from Jerusalem, which is from the period of King Hezekiah at the end of the eighth century BCE. A third-generation archaeologist working at the Hebrew University's Institute of Archaeology, Dr. Mazar directs archaeological excavations on the summit of the City of David and at the southern wall of the Temple Mount. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

The Dark Side of Artificial Sweeteners

July 13th 2013

Soda

More and more Americans are consuming artificial sweeteners as an alternative to sugar, but whether this translates into better health has been heavily debated. An opinion article published by Cell Press on July 10th in the journal Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism reviews surprising evidence on the negative impact of artificial sweeteners on health, raising red flags about all sweeteners—even those that don't have any calories.

"It is not uncommon for people to be given messages that artificially-sweetened products are healthy, will help them lose weight or will help prevent weight gain," says author Susan E. Swithers of Purdue University. "The data to support those claims are not very strong, and although it seems like common sense that diet sodas would not be as problematic as regular sodas, common sense is not always right." Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Scientists Observe Solar System's Tail for First Time

July 11th 2013

Solar System Tail

If you've ever seen a speeding comet or even an image of one, you've seen that it has a tail.  Scientists have thought that our solar system also has a tail, but they just observed it for the first time. 

NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer, or IBEX, is a satellite that peers out toward the edge of our solar system.  It allowed scientists to actually map out the tail of our heliosphere, that region of space that is influenced by the Sun.

Eric Christian, an IBEX mission scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, said scientists have seen tails around other stars. "We know that the Sun is moving relative to interstellar gas, and so we presumed there was a tail, but this is actually the first real data that we have that gives us the shape of the tail," he said in a NASA-organized Google Plus Hangout Wednesday. Read more ..


The Race for Water

Tiny “Water Chip” Desalinates Water With the Power of a Store-Bought Battery

July 10th 2013

glass water

Water scarcity is probably the most pressing environmental concern in the Middle East region and current desalination technologies are too costly and energy-intensive to rely on as a sustainable solution. But a new nano “water chip” that uses the power of a store-bought battery holds promise.

Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Marburg in Germany sought to develop a method of removing salt from water that did not require a membrane. That was the first priority, since membranes used in current desalination plants is prone to contamination.

Secondly, they wanted to reduce the energy-intensity associated with reverse osmosis and other common desalination methods and they wanted a system that would be affordable for just about anyone living near salt or brackish water.

The research team worked with Okeanos Technologies, a small startup created to first develop and then finally distribute the technology.

“People are dying because of a lack of freshwater,” said Tony Frudakis, founder and CEO of Okeanos. “And they’ll continue to do so until there is some kind of breakthrough, and that is what we are hoping our technology will represent.”

Called electrochemically mediated seawater desalination, the technology uses a water-filled plastic chip that has two branches or pathways. A small electric charge is applied to the chip, neutralizing chloride ions and creating an ion depletion zone, and fresh water is diverted to one channel while the salts are pushed out of the other. “Like a troll at the foot of the bridge, the ion depletion zone prevents salt from passing through, resulting in the production of freshwater,” the researchers wrote in a press statement. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Graphene on Its Way to Conquer Silicon Valley

July 9th 2013

graphene

The unique properties of graphene such as its incredible strength and, at the same time, its little weight have raised high expectations in modern material science. Graphene, a two-dimensional crystal of carbon atoms packed in a honeycomb structure, has been in the focus of intensive research which led to a Nobel Prize of Physics in 2010. One major challenge is to successfully integrate graphene into the established metal-silicide technology.

Scientists from the University of Vienna and their co-workers from research institutes in Germany and Russia have succeeded in fabricating a novel structure of high-quality metal silicides all nicely covered and protected underneath a graphene layer. These two-dimensional sheets are as thin as single atoms. Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Untangling Snakes' Deceptive Coloration Mimicking Venomous Relatives

July 7th 2013

Ground snakes color morphs

Red on yellow, kill a fellow. Red on black, friend of Jack.

That folk rhyme is supposed to help people distinguish venomous coral snakes from several non-venomous "mimics," animals that discourage predators by deceptively imitating a dangerous species.

The problem is that the rhyme is unreliable due to the vast amount of color and pattern variation, called color polymorphism, found in both coral snakes and their mimics. The harmless ground snake, a common coral snake mimic, displays four strikingly different color patterns, only one of which closely resembles its dangerous red-and-black-and-yellow-banded counterpart.

If a mimicry system offers protection from predators, then why hasn't evolution eliminated the "failed mimics," such as ground snakes sporting color patterns that don't remotely resemble a coral snake? Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Using Kickstarter to Launch Micro-Satellites into Inter-Planetary Space

July 6th 2013

CubeSat in space

Two University of Michigan engineering professors are turning to the Kickstarter online community to help fund an interplanetary satellite mission. They are teaming up to create two new technologies in a matter of months, with the goal of using a plasma thruster to push a CubeSat into deep space – something that has never been done before.

"We're using Kickstarter to develop a new miniature thruster technology to mount on CubeSats, a small spacecraft that is about the size of a loaf of bread. We'll use this new thruster to escape Earth's orbit and send them into interplanetary space," said Benjamin Longmier, assistant professor of aerospace engineering and a propulsion specialist in the Plasmadynamics and Electric Propulsion Lab (PEPL) in the College of Engineering. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Intel Offers Glimpse of Future

July 5th 2013

Driving Simulator

High tech companies are busy developing the next generation of products that will help us drive our cars, do our shopping and even care for our children. High tech giant Intel showed reporters some experimental devices in San Francisco.

A vehicle mock-up shows a driver whose brain activity, monitored by head sensors, and eye movement, tracked by a dashboard camera, tell how alert he is at the wheel. Intel Labs senior fellow Justin Rattner says devices like these will make driving safer.

"We're not monitoring brain waves. We're seeing how much of the brain is occupied in a given situation, how much of the brain is occupied when you're driving your car, or when you're driving and trying to send text messages," said Rattner. Read more ..


Environmental Edge

New Carbon-14 Test Reveals Age of Poacher's Ivory

July 4th 2013

A University of Michigan researcher worked with University of Utah colleagues to develop a new weapon to fight poachers who kill elephants, hippos, rhinos and other wildlife.

By measuring radioactive carbon-14 deposited in tusks and teeth following open-air nuclear bomb tests, the method reveals the year an animal died, and thus whether the ivory was taken illegally.This African elephant has what are believed to be the biggest tusks among elephants at Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve. Illegal poaching of some 30,000 elephants a year for their ivory tusks threatens the animals with extinction. Read more ..


Ancient Times

Archaeologists Find Roman Idol in British Dung Heap

July 4th 2013

Roman god found at Durham

An 1,800-year-old carved stone head of what is believed to be a Roman god has been unearthed in an ancient rubbish dump. Archaeologists made the discovery at Binchester Roman Fort, near Bishop Auckland in County Durham, England.
First year Durham University archaeology student Alex Kirton found the artefact, which measures about 20cm by 10cm, in buried late Roman rubbish within what was probably a bath house.

The sandstone head, which dates from the 2nd or 3rd century AD, has been likened to the Celtic deity Antenociticus, thought to have been worshipped as a source of inspiration and intercession in military affairs. A similar sandstone head, complete with an inscription identifying it as Antenociticus, was found at Benwell, in Newcastle upon Tyne, in 1862. Dr David Petts, Lecturer in Archaeology at Durham University, said "We found the Binchester head close to where a small Roman altar was found two years ago. We think it may have been associated with a small shrine in the bath house and dumped after the building fell out of use, probably in the 4th century AD."

Petts added, "It is probably the head of a Roman god – we can't be sure of his name, but it does have similarities to the head of Antenociticus found at Benwell in the 19th century." Read more ..


The Edge of the Universe

New Knowledge About Early Galaxies

July 3rd 2013

Galaxies

The early galaxies of the universe were very different from today's galaxies. Using new detailed studies carried out with the ESO Very Large Telescope and the Hubble Space Telescope, researchers, including members from the Niels Bohr Institute, have studied an early galaxy in unprecedented detail and determined a number of important properties such as size, mass, content of elements and have determined how quickly the galaxy forms new stars. The results are published in the scientific journal, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

"Galaxies are deeply fascinating objects. The seeds of galaxies are quantum fluctuations in the very early universe and thus, understanding of galaxies links the largest scales in the universe with the smallest. It is only within galaxies that gas can become cold and dense enough to form stars and galaxies are therefore the cradles of starsbirths", explains Johan Fynbo, professor at the Dark Cosmology Centre at the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen.

Early in the universe, galaxies were formed from large clouds of gas and dark matter. Gas is the universe's raw material for the formation of stars. Inside galaxies the gas can cool down from the many thousands of degrees it has outside galaxies. When gas is cooled it becomes very dense. Finally, the gas is so compact that it collapses into a ball of gas where the gravitational compresion heats up the matter, creating a glowing ball of gas – a star is born. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Researchers Design Sensitive New Microphone Modeled on Fly Ear

July 2nd 2013

Man cupping his ear

Using the sensitive ears of a parasitic fly for inspiration, a group of researchers has created a new type of microphone that achieves better acoustical performance than what is currently available in hearing aids. The scientists will present their results at the 21st International Congress on Acoustics, held June 2-7 in Montreal. Ronald Miles, Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Binghamton University, studies the hearing of Ormia ochracea, a house fly-sized insect that is native to the southeast United States and Central America. Unlike most other flies, Ormia ochracea has eardrums that sense sound pressure, as do our ears, and they can hear "quite well," says Miles. The female flies use their "remarkable" directional hearing to locate singing male crickets, on which they deposit their larvae. Previously, Miles and colleagues Daniel Robert and Ronald Hoy described the mechanism by which the fly achieves its directional hearing, despite its small size. Now Miles and his group have designed a new microphone inspired by the fly's ears. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Is That Bacteria Dead Yet?

June 30th 2013

TB Bacteria

Researchers at EPFL have built a matchbox-sized device that can test for the presence of bacteria in a couple of minutes, instead of up to several weeks. A nano-lever vibrates in the presence of bacterial activity, while a laser reads the vibration and translates it into an electrical signal that can be easily read—the absence of a signal signifies the absence of bacteria. Thanks to this method, it is quick and easy to determine if a bacteria has been effectively treated by an antibiotic, a crucial medical tool especially for resistant strains. Easily used in clinics, it could also prove useful for testing chemotherapy treatment. The research is published in the latest issue of Nature Nanotechnology. "This method is fast and accurate. And it can be a precious tool for both doctors looking for the right dosage of antibiotics and for researchers to determine which treatments are the most effective," explains Giovanni Dietler. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Microscopy Technique Could Help Develop 3-D Components

June 28th 2013

computer chip

A technique developed several years ago at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) for improving optical microscopes now has been applied to monitoring the next generation of computer chip circuit components, potentially providing the semiconductor industry with a crucial tool for improving chips for the next decade or more.

The technique, called Through-Focus Scanning Optical Microscopy (TSOM), has now been shown able to detect tiny differences in the three-dimensional shapes of circuit components, which until very recently have been essentially two-dimensional objects. TSOM is sensitive to features that are as small as 10 nanometers (nm) across, perhaps smaller—addressing some important industry measurement challenges for the near future for manufacturing process control and helping maintain the viability of optical microscopy in electronics manufacturing. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Kenya Repurposing Satellite Dishes for Space Exploration

June 27th 2013

Radio-Telescopes

The construction of a huge radio telescope in South Africa is giving a boost to the science and space industries in Kenya.  The country’s top space physicist says telecommunication companies are leasing out their now-obsolete satellite dishes for use in the new project.

Several African countries are working to build a large radio telescope known as the Square Kilometer Array, or SKA.  The core station will be in South Africa, while other countries across the continent - Ghana, Mauritius, Botswana and Kenya - will host nodes that will operate together.

Professor Paul Baki, head of pure and applied science at the Technical University of Kenya, is looking for land to build on in the east African country.  Baki says Kenya's node of the SKA needs about one square kilometer of land that is free from electronic interference. Read more ..


Laser Edge

New Laser Provides New Eyes for Military and Security Applications

June 26th 2013

A new laser that can show what objects are made of could help military aircraft identify hidden dangers such as weapons arsenals far below. "For the defense and intelligence communities, this could add a new set of eyes," said Mohammed Islam, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science and biomedical engineering at the University of Michigan.

The system, which is made of off-the-shelf telecommunications technology, emits a broadband beam of infrared light. While most lasers emit light of one wavelength, or color, super-continuum lasers like this one give off a tight beam packed with columns of light covering a range of wavelengths – a blend of colors. Because this beam is in the infrared region, it's invisible to human eyes. But it can illuminate deep information. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Mining the Brain's History

June 25th 2013

Eye biometrics

What if experts could dig into the brain, like archaeologists, and uncover the history of past experiences? This ability might reveal what makes each of us a unique individual, and could enable the objective diagnosis of a wide range of neuropsychological diseases. New research at the Weizmann Institute hints that such a scenario is within the realm of possibility: It shows that spontaneous waves of neuronal activity in the brain bear the imprints of earlier events for at least 24 hours after the experience has taken place.

The new research stems from earlier findings in the lab of Prof. Rafael (Rafi) Malach of the Institute’s Department of Neurobiology and others showing that the brain never rests, even when its owner is resting. When a person is resting with closed eyes – that is, no visual stimulus is entering the brain – the normal bursts of nerve cell activity associated with incoming information are replaced by ultra-slow patterns of neuronal activity. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Solar Splashdown

June 23rd 2013

Solar-Eruption

 On June 7, 2011, our Sun erupted, blasting tons of hot plasma into space. Some of that plasma splashed back down onto the Sun's surface, sparking bright flashes of ultraviolet light. This dramatic event may provide new insights into how young stars grow by sucking up nearby gas.

The eruption and subsequent splashdown were observed in spectacular detail by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. This spacecraft watches the Sun 24 hours a day, providing images with better-than-HD resolution. Its Atmospheric Imaging Assembly instrument was designed and developed by researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).

"We’re getting beautiful observations of the Sun. And we get such high spatial resolution and high cadence that we can see things that weren’t obvious before," says CfA astronomer Paola Testa.

Movies of the June 7th eruption show dark filaments of gas blasting outward from the Sun's lower right. Although the solar plasma appears dark against the Sun's bright surface, it actually glows at a temperature of about 18,000 degrees Fahrenheit. When the blobs of plasma hit the Sun's surface again, they heat up by a factor of 100 to a temperature of almost 2 million degrees F. As a result, those spots brighten in the ultraviolet by a factor of 2 – 5 over just a few minutes. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Say Goodbye to Surgical Stiches and Staples

June 22nd 2013

pregnancy

If a new Israeli product from IonMed gets market approval, surgeons will have a revolutionary tool in their hands for scar-free incision closure.

Women giving birth by Caesarean section could be the first to benefit from a revolutionary Israeli invention for closing surgical incisions without stitches or staples. The technique also promises to leave patients less prone to infection and scarring. BioWeld1, a unique trademarked product from Israeli startup IonMed, welds surgical incisions using cold plasma.

Plasma is a gas in which a certain proportion of the particles are ionized. It has been shown to offer manifold benefits including tissue welding, control of bleeding, enhancement of tissue repair, disinfection and destruction of cancer cells. However, plasma has enjoyed a limited role in surgery due to the high temperatures it creates and resulting harmful effects on body tissue. IonMed’s scientists found a way to make use of cold plasma as the power behind the BioWeld1. The procedure takes a few minutes, seals the area completely, leaves minimal scarring or painful stitches, and does not require complex training. Read more ..


The Edge of Science

Particle Acceterator that Can Fit on a Tabletop

June 21st 2013

Tabletop-Accelerator

Physicists at The University of Texas at Austin have built a tabletop particle accelerator that can generate energies and speeds previously reached only by major facilities that are hundreds of meters long and cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build.

"We have accelerated about half a billion electrons to 2 gigaelectronvolts over a distance of about 1 inch," said Mike Downer. "Until now that degree of energy and focus has required a conventional accelerator that stretches more than the length of two football fields. It's a downsizing of a factor of approximately 10,000."

The results, which were published this week in Nature Communications, mark a major milestone in the advance toward the day when multi-gigaelectronvolt (GeV) laser plasma accelerators are standard equipment in research laboratories around the world. Downer said he expects 10 GeV accelerators of a few inches in length to be developed within the next few years, and he believes 20 GeV accelerators of similar size could be developed within a decade. Read more ..


The Edger of Space

Humans Could Visit Asteroid in 2021

June 20th 2013

Phoebe from Cassini

The U.S. space agency says its proposed asteroid capture mission takes several of NASA's ongoing initiatives and aligns them for one major mission. 

These chunks of ancient space rocks hold clues about the formation of the universe, pose threats to our planet, and present new territory for explorers. NASA's proposed asteroid mission is a logical next leap for the space agency, says associate administrator for human exploration and operations Bill Gerstenmaier.

"It essentially fits right with what we were doing already.  This whole mission activity captures a lot of what we were doing before.  It captures the observation things.  It captures the electric propulsion, and it captures and utilizes our Orion [capsule] and SLS [rocket] just as it was envisioned," said Gerstenmaier. Astronomers already are identifying and tracking near-Earth asteroids in an attempt to find potential threats, which will help as NASA chooses a target. Read more ..


Environmental Edge

Record 'Dead Zone' Expected in Gulf of Mexico

June 19th 2013

Click to select Image

Spring floods across the Midwest are expected to contribute to a very large and potentially record-setting 2013 Gulf of Mexico "dead zone," according to a University of Michigan ecologist and colleagues who released their annual forecast today, along with one for the Chesapeake Bay. The Gulf forecast, one of two announced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, calls for an oxygen-depleted, or hypoxic, region of between 7,286 and 8,561 square miles, which would place it among the 10 largest on record.

The low end of the forecast range is well above the long-term average and would be roughly equivalent to the size of Connecticut, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia combined. The upper end would exceed the largest ever reported (8,481 square miles in 2002) and would be comparable in size to New Jersey.

Farmland runoff containing fertilizers and livestock waste, some of it from as far away as the Corn Belt, is the main source of the nitrogen and phosphorus that cause the annual Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone. In its 2001 and 2008 action plans, the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force, a coalition of federal, state and tribal agencies, set the goal of reducing the five-year running average areal extent of the Gulf hypoxic zone to 5,000 square kilometers (1,950 square miles) by 2015. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

New Array Measures Vibrations Across Skin

June 15th 2013

Woman Finge/Handr manicured

In the near future, a buzz in your belt or a pulse from your jacket may give you instructions on how to navigate your surroundings. Think of it as tactile Morse code: vibrations from a wearable, GPS-linked device that tell you to turn right or left, or stop, depending on the pattern of pulses you feel. Such a device could free drivers from having to look at maps, and could also serve as a tactile guide for the visually and hearing impaired.

Lynette Jones, a senior research scientist in MIT's Department of Mechanical Engineering, designs wearable tactile displays. Through her work, she's observed that the skin is a sensitive — though largely untapped — medium for communication.

"If you compare the skin to the retina, you have about the same number of sensory receptors, you just have them over almost two square meters of space, unlike the eye where it's all concentrated in an extremely small area," Jones says. "The skin is generally as useful as a very acute area. It's just that you need to disperse the information that you're presenting." Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Israelis Build World's First Eye-Free Smartphone

June 14th 2013

Eye-Free-Smartphone

Project RAY, now launching in the US, opens the benefits of digital access to commercial and public services to people with visual disabilities.

The world’s first smartphone for people with visual disabilities, already making daily life easier for many Israelis, is launching in the United States in collaboration with Qualcomm, Amazon and T-Mobile. Three Israelis poured extensive mobile telecommunications experience into Project RAY. They leveraged advanced smartphone technologies (multiple sensors, camera, compass and audio) and communication services (phone, messaging and cloud) to give users greater independence and accessibility to essential public digital services. Read more ..


The Healthy Edge

Activating Brain Circuits Can Block Compulsive Disorders and Tourettes's Syndrome

June 13th 2013

Baby Boomer

By activating a brain circuit that controls compulsive behavior, neuroscientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have shown that they can block a compulsive behavior in mice — a result that could help researchers develop new treatments for diseases such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and Tourette’s syndrome. About 1 percent of U.S. adults suffer from OCD, and patients usually receive antianxiety drugs or antidepressants, behavioral therapy, or a combination of therapy and medication. For those who do not respond to those treatments, a new alternative is deep brain stimulation, which delivers electrical impulses via a pacemaker implanted in the brain.

For this study, the MIT team used optogenetics to control neuron activity with light. This technique is not yet ready for use in human patients, but studies such as this one could help researchers identify brain activity patterns that signal the onset of compulsive behavior, allowing them to more precisely time the delivery of deep brain stimulation. “You don’t have to stimulate all the time. You can do it in a very nuanced way,” says Ann Graybiel, an Institute Professor at MIT, a member of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research and the senior author of a Science paper describing the study. Read more ..


The Race for EVs

Alternative Fuel Automobiles are No Cure-All for Environmental Woes

June 12th 2013

Click to select Image

Making cars more fuel-efficient is great for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but rather than promoting sales of electric and other alternative-fuel vehicles, policymakers should turn their focus to cutting emissions in other energy sectors—from oil wells and power plants to farms and forests affected by biofuels production—says a University of Michigan researcher.

"While the rush to get alternative fuels on the road has become dogma in many policy circles, such haste cannot be justified by careful analysis," said John DeCicco, a research professor at the U-M Energy Institute and professor of practice at the School of Natural Resources and Environment.

Alternative fuel vehicles have been promoted for decades—plug-in electric cars as well as those powered by ethanol, natural gas, hydrogen or other nonpetroleum fuels. Federal tax credits for electric vehicles range up to $7,500 per car and many other alternative fuels are also subsidized. Read more ..


The Healthy Edge

Reduced Calorie Intake Delays Nerve Cell Loss

June 9th 2013

Activating an enzyme known to play a role in the anti-aging benefits of calorie restriction delays the loss of brain cells and preserves cognitive function in mice, according to a study published in the May 22 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. The findings could one day guide researchers to discover drug alternatives that slow the progress of age-associated impairments in the brain.

According to a release from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, previous studies have shown that reducing calorie consumption extends the lifespan of a variety of species and decreases the brain changes that often accompany aging and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. There is also evidence that caloric restriction activates an enzyme called Sirtuin 1 (SIRT1), which studies suggest offers some protection against age-associated impairments in the brain.

In the current study, Li-Huei Tsai — director of the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory and Picower Professor of Neuroscience at MIT — along with postdoc Johannes Gräff and others at MIT tested whether reducing caloric intake would delay the onset of nerve cell loss that is common in neurodegenerative disease, and if so, whether SIRT1 activation was driving this effect. The group not only confirmed that caloric restriction delays nerve cell loss, but also found that a drug that activates SIRT1 produces the same effects.

“There has been great interest in finding compounds that mimic the benefits of caloric restriction that could be used to delay the onset of age-associated problems and/or diseases,” says Dr. Luigi Puglielli, who studies aging at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and was not involved in this study. “If proven safe for humans, this study suggests such a drug could be used as a preventive tool to delay the onset of neurodegeneration associated with several diseases that affect the aging brain." Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Astronomers Gear Up to Discover Earth-Like Plants

June 8th 2013

Exoplanet candidate UCF-1.01

As part of an international team of exoplanets hunters, astronomers at the University of Arizona are developing a technique to detect faint dust clouds around other stars, many of which might hide Earth-like planets.

If one looks only for the shiniest pennies in the fountain, chances are one misses most of the coins because they shimmer less brightly. This, in a nutshell, is the conundrum astronomers face when searching for Earth-like planets outside our solar system.

Astronomers at the University of Arizona are part of an international team of exoplanets hunters developing new technology that would dramatically improve the odds of discovering planets with conditions suitable for life – such as having liquid water on the surface. The team presented its results at a scientific conference sponsored by the International Astronomical Union in Victoria, British Columbia. Read more ..


The Edge of Geology

Meteor Shower Deposited a Ton on Earth

June 7th 2013

Meteor Crater

Every 6.6 years, the comet Giacobini-Zinner circulates through the inner solar system and passes through the perihelion, the closest point to the Sun of its orbit. Then, the comet sublimates the ices and ejects a large number of particles that are distributed in filaments. The oldest of these particles have formed a swarm that the Earth passes trough every year in early October. The result is a Draconid meteor shower –meteors from this comet come from the northern constellation Draco–, which hits the Earth's atmosphere at about 75,000 km/h, a relatively slow speed in comparison with other meteoric swarms.

Josep Maria Trigo, researcher from the CSIC Institute of Space Sciences (ICE), states: "When a comet approaches the Sun, it sublimates part of its superficial ice and the gas pressure drives a huge number of particles that adopt orbits around the Sun, forming authentic swarms. The study shows that in the evening from October 8th to 9th 2011, the Earth intercepted three dense spindles of particles left behind by the comet when it crossed through the perihelion". Read more ..



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