Tag: Maryland (page 1 of 2)

High School students spots relic of ancient sun with super wide orbit



Pulsars are types of neutron stars; the dead relics of massive stars. What sets pulsars apart from regular neutron stars is that they’re highly magnetized, and rotating at enormous speeds.

Excerpt from uncovercalifornia.com

A Pulsar with the widest orbit around a neutron star has been discovered by a team of high school students and the discovery has been confirmed by astronomers. High School students from many states who participated in NSF-funded educational outreach program have found the pulsar after analyzing data from Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT).

In a research paper accepted by the Astrophysical Journal, lead author Joe Swiggum, a graduate student in physics and astronomy at West Virginia University in Morgantown, said, “Pulsars are some of the most extreme objects in the universe. The students' discovery shows one of these objects in a really unique set of circumstances.”

The object has been codenamed PSR J1930-1852 by astronomers. It was discovered in 2012 by Cecilia McGough from Strasburg High School in Virginia and De'Shang Ray from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Baltimore, Maryland.

The discovery of a pulsar with extra wide orbit could help in understanding the concepts behind binary neutron star systems. Nearly 10 percent of known pulsars are in binary systems with most of them orbiting white dwarf companion stars. The Pulsar has been found with the widest separation from the other star in the binary neutron system.

During Pulsar Search Collaboratory (PSC) workshop in summer, students who are interested in analyzing survey data collected by Green Bank Telescope (GBT), spend weeks in checking data plots and searching for unique signatures of pulsars.

The Pulsar Search Collaboratory is a joint venture between the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and West Virginia University which offers real research opportunity to students.

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How the Secession Movement Could Break Up the U.S.



new U.S. map
Excerpt from charismanews.com  
A new map of the U.S. could include a state called Jefferson, made up of Northern California and Southern Oregon, a new state called Western Maryland and a new state called North Colorado. (CBN)

If you mention the word secession most people think of the South during the Civil War. But today, a new movement is gaining steam because of frustration over a growing, out-of-control federal government.
A number of conservative, rural Americans are taking about seceding and creating their own states, meaning a new map of the United States of America could include the following:
  • A 51st state called Jefferson, made up of Northern California and Southern Oregon
  • A new state called Western Maryland
  • A new state called North Colorado
These are real movements gaining traction with voters across the country. Jeffrey Hare runs the 51st State Initiative in Colorado, an effort to fight an out-of-control legislature trying to ram big government policies down the throats of voters.
"We're at this point of irreconcilable differences," Hare told CBN News.





Secessionist talk has filled town hall meetings and the divide discussed is not just ideological.
"It's predominately left versus right, but it's urban versus rural because you typically find more typical conservative values in rural America," Hare said.
An Attack on Colorado?
That's the crux of the issue. Rural Americans across many states feel they're not being heard. Their laundry list is long and at the top of that list are stricter gun control laws.
According to Weld County, Colo., Sheriff John Cooke, the state legislature is out of control.
"They are out of touch with rural Colorado," he said. "There is an attack on rural Colorado and it's not just on gun control laws. It's on several of the other bills that they passed."
Government mandates on renewable energy, environmental policies restricting oil and gas drilling, and controversial social issues like gay marriage have also led to this divide and talk of secession.
Organizers want to create "North Colorado," an idea that went to voters in 11 counties this past fall. But not everyone in Colorado thinks secession is a great idea.
"I don't think that's necessarily the way to make something happen within the area you live," Colorado resident Greg Howe told CBN News. "You're supposed to work within our electoral services."
The so-called secession movement in Colorado had mixed results this past November. Some counties approved it. Others didn't.
But the organizers of the 51st State Initiative are undaunted, saying this type of movement takes time.
"Movements take a while; education takes time," Hare said. "People do have a hard time saying ,'I want to live in a different state,' even though physically they live in the same house."
"It's hard for them since their lives have been Coloradoans," he explained. "Their whole lives to say that 'I'm going to be a new Coloradoan' or 'I want to live in the state of liberty' or something different."
An 'Amicable' Divorce
That desire for something different can also be felt in Arizona, Michigan, and in Western Maryland where thousands have signed secession petitions.
One website reads, "We intend to exercise our right of self-determination and self-governance to better secure our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Scott Strzelczyk, the leader of the Western Maryland movement, is ready to get going.
"If they are not going to listen or take our needs into consideration and govern in a way that's more in accordance with the way we want to be governed we are seeking an amicable divorce," he said.
Meanwhile, in Northern California and Southern Oregon, activists want to come together in the state of "Jefferson."
Their proposed state flag includes two "Xs," representing their feeling of being double-crossed by the state capitals of Sacramento, Calif., and Salem, Ore.
No Small Task
Creating a new state isn't easy. The last time a state actually gave up territory was in 1820, when Maine split from Massachusetts. Since then, additional efforts have been unsuccessful. 
The first step is getting it passed by the state legislature and then the U.S. Congress.
"This is a valid constitutional process that our founding fathers specifically wrote into the Constitution," Hare said. "Well, if they didn't write this into the Constitution to be used, then why did they write it in?"
But supporters have an uphill battle since the media will not be their friend.
"The danger is once the outside media start to grab hold of it, the attention is on the difficulty, the almost impossibility of it happening," professor Derek Everett, with Metropolitan State University in Denver, explained.
Voter 'Disconnect'
State secession proponents, like Roni Bell Sylvester of Colorado, say they will keep fighting because the dismissive attitude of state legislative bodies must end.
"I find the sort of arrogant, dismissive to be further proof as to just how disconnected the urban is from the rural," Sylvester said.
Movements like the one in Colorado and other states could be just the beginning—at least that's the talk at town hall meetings in places like Colorado and elsewhere.
It's called 'voter disconnect" where the people say they've had enough and are crying out for something to be done.
"We, at some point, have to figure out a way to get our point across or at least be able to have a dialogue and not be ignored because you haven't seen anything yet over the next 5 to 10 years," one resident warned at a recent town hall meeting in Colorado.
As for Hare, he said it boils down to one simple concept.
"I think ultimately what people want, whether you look at it from a right or left paradigm, is government to stay out of their business," he said.

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NASA video illustrates ‘X-ray wind’ blasting from a black hole

This artist's illustration shows interstellar gas, the raw material of star formation, being blown away.Excerpt from cnet.com It takes a mighty wind to keep stars from forming. Researchers have found one in a galaxy far, far away -- and NASA mad...

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Ancient ‘Blue’ Mars Lost an Entire Ocean to Space


Artist impression of Mars ocean

Excerpt from news.discovery.com

Mars was once a small, wet and blue world, but over the past 4 billion years, Mars dried up and became the red dust bowl we know today.

But how much water did Mars possess? According to research published in the journal Science, the Martian northern hemisphere was likely covered in an ocean, covering a region of the approximate area as Earth’s Atlantic Ocean, plunging, in some places, to 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) deep.

“Our study provides a solid estimate of how much water Mars once had, by determining how much water was lost to space,” said Geronimo Villanueva, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the new paper, in an ESO news release. “With this work, we can better understand the history of water on Mars.”

Over a 6-year period, Villanueva and his team used the ESO’s Very Large Telescope (in Chile) and instruments at the W. M. Keck Observatory and the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility (both on Mauna Kea in Hawaii) to study the distribution of water molecules in the Martian atmosphere. By building a comprehensive map of water distribution and seasonal changes, they were able to arrive at this startling conclusion.

It is becoming clear that, over the aeons, Mars lost the majority of its atmosphere to space. That also goes for its water. Though large quantities of water were likely frozen below the surface as the atmosphere thinned and cooled, the water contained in an ocean of this size must have gone elsewhere — it must have also been lost to space.

This artist’s impression shows how Mars may have looked about four billion years ago. The young planet Mars would have had enough water to cover its entire surface in a liquid layer about 140 meters deep, but it is more likely that the liquid would have pooled to form an ocean occupying almost half of Mars’s northern hemisphere. 
The water in Earth’s oceans contains molecules of H2O, the familiar oxygen atom bound with 2 hydrogen atoms, and, in smaller quantities, the not-so-familiar HDO molecule. HDO is a type of water molecule that contains 1 hydrogen atom, 1 oxygen atom and 1 deuterium atom. The deuterium atom is an isotope of hydrogen; whereas hydrogen consists of 1 proton and an electron, deuterium consists of 1 proton, 1 neutron and 1 electron. Therefore, due to the extra neutron the deuterium contains, HDO molecules are slightly heavier than the regular H2O molecules.

Also known as “semi-heavy water,” HDO is less susceptible to being evaporated away and being lost to space, so logic dictates that if water is boiled (or sublimated) away on Mars, the H2O molecules will be preferentially lost to space whereas a higher proportion of HDO will be left behind.

By using powerful ground-based observatories, the researchers were able to determine the distribution of HDO molecules and the H2O molecules and compare their ratios to liquid water that is found in its natural state.

Of particular interest is Mars’ north and south poles where icecaps containing water and carbon dioxide ice persist to modern times. The water those icecaps contain is thought to document the evolution of water since the red planet’s wet Noachian period (approximately 3.7 billion years ago) to today. It turns out that the water measured in these polar regions is enriched with HDO by a factor of 7 when compared with water in Earth’s oceans. This, according to the study, indicates that Mars has lost a volume of water 6.5 times larger than the water currently contained within the modern-day icecaps.

Therefore, the volume of Mars’ early ocean must have been at least 20 million cubic kilometers, writes the news release.

Taking into account the Martian global terrain, most of the water would have been concentrated around the northern plains, a region dominated by low-lying land. An ancient ocean, with this estimate volume of water, would have covered 19 percent of the Martian globe, a significant area considering the Atlantic Ocean covers 17 percent of the Earth’s surface.

“With Mars losing that much water, the planet was very likely wet for a longer period of time than previously thought, suggesting the planet might have been habitable for longer,” said Michael Mumma, also of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

This estimate is likely on the low-side as Mars is thought to contain significant quantities of water ice below its surface — a fact that surveys such as this can be useful for pinpointing exactly where the remaining water may be hiding.

Ulli Kaeufl, of the European Southern Observatory and co-author of the paper, added: “I am again overwhelmed by how much power there is in remote sensing on other planets using astronomical telescopes: we found an ancient ocean more than 100 million kilometers away!”
Source: ESO

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NASA creates ingredients of life in harsh simulated space conditions


The machine NASA scientists used to zap out three components of our hereditary material from a chunk of ice.


Excerpt from cnet.com

We know a whole lot about life on our planet, but one mystery persists: how it got here.

NASA scientists working at the Ames Astrochemistry Laboratory in California and the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland may have just found a clue to that mystery. They've determined that some of the chemical components of our DNA can be produced in the harsh crucible of space.


To reach their conclusion, they created a chunk of ice in their lab containing molecules known as pyrimidine. These molecules, which consist of carbon and nitrogen, form the core of three chemicals found in DNA and RNA, the genetic composition of all Earth-based life.

Pyrimidine is also found on meteorites, which prompted the researchers to explore how it reacts when frozen in water in space.
So they put their chunk of ice in a machine that reproduces the vacuum of space, along with temperatures around -430°F and harsh radiation created by high-energy ultraviolet (UV) photons from a hydrogen lamp.

They found that not only could the pyrimidine molecules survive these brutal conditions, but the radiation actually morphed some of them into three chemical components found in DNA and RNA: uracil, cytosine and thymine. 

"We are trying to address the mechanisms in space that are forming these molecules," Christopher Materese, a NASA researcher working on these experiments, said in a statement. "Considering what we produced in the laboratory, the chemistry of ice exposed to ultraviolet radiation may be an important linking step between what goes on in space and what fell to Earth early in its development."
Added Scott Sandford, a space science researcher at Ames, "Our experiments suggest that once the Earth formed, many of the building blocks of life were likely present from the beginning. Since we are simulating universal astrophysical conditions, the same is likely wherever planets are formed."

While this research might help fill in a piece of the puzzle of our cosmic origins, another mystery remains. Scientists don't exactly know where meteoric pyrimidine comes from in the first place, although they theorize that it could arise when giant red stars die. And the search continues...

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NASA To Study Mysterious ‘Magnetic Explosions’ Between Earth, Sun That Unleash Dangerous X-Rays By Brandon Mercer


(NASA)



Excerpt from sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com

NASA AMES RESEARCH CENTER (CBS SF) — Earth and the Sun may be 93 million miles apart, but cosmic explosions between the two celestial spheres occur often and with devastating effects–unleashing waves of X-ray radiation and disrupting GPS communications, and it is with this danger in mind that next month, NASA will launch four “Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission” satellites, studying these “magnetic reconnections” and better predicting the consequences of these cosmic phenomena.

NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View uses supercomputers to create theoretical models of the magnetic fields on the sun, but the new mission will be able to actually observe what is happening, from a lofty vantage point `far above the Earth’s pole.




The mysterious magnetic reconnections actually transfer energy and physical particles from the Sun to Earth. The forces at work can accelerate particles to nearly the speed of light, with devastating consequences.

In October 2003, a massive release of X-ray radiation hit Earth in what became known as the Halloween Storms. The energy triggered the first ever radiation warning to aircraft, alerting pilots that high altitude flights could expose passengers and crew to unhealthy levels of radiation.

Simultaneously, the GPS location system was impacted. Back then, this wasn’t as great a concern for the general public. It mainly affected the military, pilots, and sea captains, but were the same event to occur today, it may be much more noticeable with today’s smartphone world where everything we do is geo-tagged and coordinated using the GPS signals. In the future, it could evven impact autonomous self-driving vehicles and airborne drones that rely on GPS.

Karen C. Fox from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland writes, “Understanding vast systems in space requires understanding what’s happening on widely different scales. Giant events can turn out to have tiny drivers — take, for example, what rocked near-Earth space in October 2003.”
The Halloween geomagnetic storms had a beautiful side too. The Northern Lights were visible clear down to Southern California, and even Texas.

The Magnetospheric Multiscale, or MMS, mission will be the first ever mission dedicated to studying this universal process by orbiting Earth, and passing directly through nearby magnetic reconnection regions.

“Armed with this data, scientists will have their first chance to watch magnetic reconnection from the inside, right as it’s occurring. By focusing on the small-scale process, scientists open the door to understanding what happens on larger scales throughout the universe,” wrote Fox. 

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Robots Can Learn to Perform Tasks by “Watching” YouTube Videos


http://www.darpa.mil/uploadedImages/Content/NewsEvents/Releases/2015/MSEEresearchers.png
University of Maryland computer scientist Yiannis Aloimonos (center) is developing robotic systems able to visually recognize objects and generate new behavior based on those observations. DARPA is funding this research through its Mathematics of Sensing, Exploitation and Execution (MSEE) program. (University of Maryland Photo)

From darpa.mil

January 29, 2015

DARPA program advances robots’ ability to sense visual information and turn it into action  

Robots can learn to recognize objects and patterns fairly well, but to interpret and be able to act on visual input is much more difficult.  Researchers at the University of Maryland, funded by DARPA’s Mathematics of Sensing, Exploitation and Execution (MSEE) program, recently developed a system that enabled robots to process visual data from a series of “how to” cooking videos on YouTube. Based on what was shown on a video, robots were able to recognize, grab and manipulate the correct kitchen utensil or object and perform the demonstrated task with high accuracy—without additional human input or programming.  

“The MSEE program initially focused on sensing, which involves perception and understanding of what’s happening in a visual scene, not simply recognizing and identifying objects,” said Reza Ghanadan, program manager in DARPA’s Defense Sciences Offices. “We’ve now taken the next step to execution, where a robot processes visual cues through a manipulation action-grammar module and translates them into actions.”

Another significant advance to come out of the research is the robots’ ability to accumulate and share knowledge with others. Current sensor systems typically view the world anew in each moment, without the ability to apply prior knowledge.

“This system allows robots to continuously build on previous learning—such as types of objects and grasps associated with them—which could have a huge impact on teaching and training,” Ghanadan said. “Instead of the long and expensive process of programming code to teach robots to do tasks, this research opens the potential for robots to learn much faster, at much lower cost and, to the extent they are authorized to do so, share that knowledge with other robots. This learning-based approach is a significant step towards developing technologies that could have benefits in areas such as military repair and logistics.”

The DARPA-funded researchers presented their work today at the 29th meeting of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence. The University of Maryland paper is available here: http://ow.ly/I30im

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The Weirdest, Coolest Stuff We’ve Learned About Rosetta’s Comet So Far


Various features on a smooth part of the comet's surface in the region named Imhotep.


Excerpt from wired.com

The Rosetta spacecraft has been studying comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko up close since August, collecting data of unprecedented detail and taking pictures of a starkly beautiful comet-scape. While the Philae lander has enjoyed much of the spotlight—partly thanks to its now-famous triple landing—Rosetta has been making plenty of its own discoveries.  

One of the biggest came last month, when scientists found that the chemical signature of the comet’s water is nothing like that on Earth, contradicting the theory that crashing comets supplied our planet with water. Comet 67P belongs to the Jupiter family of comets, and the findings also imply that these kinds of comets were formed at a wider range of distances from the sun than previously thought, says Michael A’Hearn, a planetary scientist at the University of Maryland, College Park, and member of the Rosetta science team.  

Today, scientists have published the first big set of results from Rosetta in a slew of papers in the journal Science. The results include measurements and analyses of the comet’s shape, structure, surface, and the surrounding dust and gas particles. Here are just a few of the amazing things they’ve discovered about Rosetta’s comet so far: 

The surface is fantastically weird  

The comet has quite the textured landscape, covered with steep cliffs, boulders, weird bumps, cracks, pits, and smooth terrain. There are fractures of all sizes, including one that’s several yards wide and stretches for more than half a mile along the comet’s neck. Researchers don’t yet know what caused these cracks.  The pits have steep sides and flat bottoms, ranging in size from a few tens to hundreds of feet wide. Jets of dust shoot out from some of the pits, suggesting that the ejection of material formed these features.  Another strange feature is what scientists are calling goosebumps—weird bumpy patches found particularly on steep slopes.

While other features such as pits and fractures range in sizes, all of the goosebumps are about 10 feet wide. No one knows what kind of process would make the bumps, but whatever it is could have played an important part in the comet’s formation. It may be breezy  Rosetta spotted dune- and ripple-like patterns,wind tails behind rocks, and even moats surrounding rocks, suggesting that a light breeze may blow dust along the surface. Such a gentle wind would have to come from gases leaking from below.

Because of the extremely low gravity on the comet, it wouldn’t take a strong gust to blow things around. It may have formed from two separate pieces  Or not. The most distinct feature of comet 67P is its odd, two-lobed shape, which resembles a duck. Although scientists have seen this lobed structure in other comets before, namely Borrelly and Hartley 2, none are as pronounced as comet 67P’s. Borrelly and Hartley 2 look more like elongated potatoes while 67P has a clearly defined head and body. The strange shape suggests the comet was once two separate pieces called cometesimals—what are now the duck’s head and body—that stuck together. 

The other possibility is that erosion ate away the parts around the neck. Preliminary evidence points to the first hypothesis.

“Probably most of us on the OSIRIS team lean toward thinking it was two cometesimals,” A’Hearn said. (OSIRIS is one of Rosetta’s imaging instruments.) But the scientists won’t have conclusive evidence until they study the comet in more detail. For example, they now see layering along the neck—if erosion carved out the comet’s duck shape, they should find the same same layering pattern continuing onto the other side of the neck. 

Black, with a tinge of red  

Even Rosetta’s color pictures show a grayish comet, but if you were to see it in person, you would see a pitch-black chunk of dust and ice, as it reflects only six percent of incoming light. By comparison, the moon reflects 12 percent of incoming light and Earth reflects 31 percent. But comet 67P’s not completely black, as it has a hint of red. Water, water, nowhere?  The comet’s covered in opaque, organic compounds. Although comet 67P is undoubtedly icy, it hardly shows any water ice on its surface at all. 

Which isn’t too surprising, as comets Tempel 1 and Hartley 2 didn’t have much ice on their surfaces either, A’Hearn says. Rosetta has yet to see sunlight reach every side of the comet yet, so there may still be some icy patches hidden from view.  But, researchers do see the comet spraying water vapor into space, which means water ice likely lies just beneath the surface. The ice doesn’t have to be more than a centimeter deep to be invisible from the infrared instruments that detect the ice. Indeed, the data from Philae’s first bounce suggested that there’s a hard layer of ice beneath 4 to 8 inches of dust. 

This duck floats  

If you could find a big enough pond, that is. Like other known comets, the density of comet 67P is about half that of water ice. Initial measurements reveal that it’s also very porous—as much as 80 percent of it may be empty space. Rosetta has found depressions, which may have formed when the surface collapsed over particularly porous material underneath. 

Different from every angle

As the comet nears the sun, it heats up, and ices and other volatile chemicals sublimate, spraying gases into space. So far, the most prominent gases that have been ejected are water vapor, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide. They spew out in different amounts from different parts of the comet. In particular, a lot of the water has been observed gushing out from the neck.

The comet will continue to get more active as it reaches its closest approach to the sun in mid-August. It will burst with stronger jets of gas and dust, and maybe even blast off chunks of itself. If the comet is this interesting now, A’Hearn says, just wait until it gets to its nearest point to the sun, when it’s just 1.29 times farther from the sun than Earth is.

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Stunning 3-D Models Reveal Bizarre Double Star Ready to Explode


Picture of Eta Carinae star in the southern constellation of Carina
The supermassive star pair Eta Carinae erupted in the 1840s and produced this double-lobed cloud of dust called the Homunculus Nebula.

Excerpt from news.nationalgeographic.com

The star system Eta Carinae sends out the brightest flares yet recorded.

SEATTLE—Armed with a 3-D printer, a supercomputer, and several space telescopes, astronomers have gotten their best look yet at one of the galaxy's biggest, weirdest double star systems.

Surprising new observations of the system, known as Eta Carinae, described Wednesday at the American Astronomical Society's annual winter meeting, include a set of oddly bright flares that might signal a change in the two stars' billowing stellar winds. What's more, 3-D printed simulations show unexpected anatomy within the star system's churning, tempestuous center.

Scientists have kept a close eye on Eta Carinae since the 1840s, when a series of unexpected eruptions briefly transformed it into the brightest star in the southern sky. At any time, the unstable system could explode in a spectacular supernova. (Don't worry—Earth will be fine. But the light show will be unforgettable.)

The new observations don't pin down when Eta Carinae might explode, but they are helping astronomers better understand the turbulent pair.

"It's not only the most massive and luminous object that's close to us, but it's also extremely erratic," says astronomer Michael Corcoran of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Maryland.

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Dinosaur Researchers Say They’re in a ‘Golden Age’ of Discovery Due to the ‘Jurassic Park’ effect




Excerpt from nbcnews.com

This was a great year for dinosaurs. Dreadnoughtus, "Jar Jar Binks," and a swimming Spinosaurus all made headlines — and 2015 could hold even more surprises. 

It wasn't always like this. From 1984 to 1994, there were about 15 new dinosaur species named per year. This year, nearly one species was discovered every week. 

"We're absolutely in a golden age of dinosaur discovery," David Evans, who oversees dinosaur research at the Royal Ontario Museum, told NBC News. "It is probably a better time to be a dinosaur paleontologist now than any other time in the last century." 

The 'Jurassic Park' effect

When it comes to finding dinosaurs in the dirt, paleontologists are using the same tools that they were 30 years ago. Satellite images might give them a better view of dig sites, but for the most part the process has not changed much. 

So why are there so many dinosaur discoveries these days? More people are looking for them. Evans estimates that the number of dinosaur paleontologists has more than quadrupled in the last 30 years. 

Every paleontologist interviewed for this story pointed to one catalyst for the paleontology boom: Steven Spielberg's 1993 blockbuster "Jurassic Park." 

"It put the most lifelike, scientifically accurate dinosaurs ever on the big screen," Evans said. "That helped the public moved beyond the classical view of dinosaurs as slow, dim-twitted creatures."
Famed Montana State University paleontologist Jack Horner admits he has a special affection for the film. He served as scientific adviser for the original "Jurassic Park" and was the inspiration for Dr. Alan Grant, the movie's protagonist. He also consulted on the upcoming "Jurassic World" starring Chris Pratt.

"'Jurassic Park' attracted an incredible number of people to the field," Horner told NBC News. "I'm hoping that we put together something cool with 'Jurassic World' that people will really like and get more children interested in paleontology." 

Increased interest led to increased paleontology budgets for museums and universities, Evans said. That has made a big difference in places like China and Argentina, relatively unexplored areas where a new generation of paleontologists has unearthed most of the recent headline-grabbing discoveries. 

"The number of dinosaur researchers is much higher now than in the '90s," Thomas Holtz, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Maryland, told NBC News. "Anytime you are exploring a region and a slice of time that hasn't been sampled before, chances are that everything you are finding is new."

2014 and beyond

Some of the biggest discoveries of the year were not new species. Instead, they were more complete fossils of dinosaurs the scientific community knew very little about. 

Take Spinosaurus, a massive carnivore that was even bigger than Tyrannosaurus rex. While its teeth indicated it ate fish, scientists were divided on whether it roamed the land and water looking for prey.

This year, the matter was settled. A new paper showed that the dinosaur's unique body structure — tiny hind limbs, dense bones, crocodile-like receptors in its snout — was best suited for the water and caused it to waddle on land. 

"That was probably the most significant find of the year," Horner said. 

There were other big discoveries in 2014. Dreadnoughtus fossils discovered in Argentina belonged to a creature that measured 85 feet (26 meters) long and weighed about 65 tons (59 metric tons), or about as much as a dozen elephants. 


Image: Deinocheirus mirificus, the largest known member of a group of ostrich-like dinosaurs 
This undated handout image provided by Michael Skrepnick, Dinosaurs in Art, Nature Publishing Group, shows a Deinocheirus mirificus, the largest known member of a group of bird-like dinosaurs.

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NASA selects four key commercial partners for improved spaceflight



Excerpt from
thespacereporter.com



According to a NASA statement, on December 23, the agency released the names of the four American companies selected for future developmental collaborations. The companies were chosen under the auspices of the Collaborators for Commercial Space Capabilities program, which facilities industry access to NASA’s spaceflight resources. The products of the partnerships will be made available to governmental and non-governmental entities within the next five years.

The four companies that have been chosen are the following: ATK Space Systems of Beltsville, Maryland, which is space transportation capacity; Final Frontier Design of Brooklyn, New York, which is developing space suits for intra-vehicular operations; Space Exploration Technologies of Hawthorne, California, which is developing space transportation means that could be used to facilitate future deep space missions; and United Launch Alliance of Centennial, Colorado, which is developing new, less expensive launch vehicles with greater performance.

“These awards demonstrate the diversity and maturity of the commercial space industry. We look forward to working with these partners to advance space capabilities and make them available to NASA and other customers in the coming years,” said Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight at NASA. Although NASA will contribute expertise, technology, evaluations and the resultant data and insights, it is up to the four companies to cover the costs of their collaboration with NASA.

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Sleepy space probe New Horizons awakens for close-up with Pluto

Excerpt from (CNN) -- Three billion miles away from Earth, in an unchartered slice of our solar system, a small space probe is shaking off its deep sleep and getting ready to become the first spacecraft to visit Pluto and its moons.It's the "beginni...

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It’s Alive! NASA’s New Horizons Pluto Probe ‘Wakes Up’ for Work


View image on Twitter


Excerpt from nbcnews.com
By Alan Boyle
The first signals were received at the mission's control center at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland via a giant radio antenna in Australia just before 9:30 p.m. ET, nearly four and a half hours after it was sent by the piano-sized probe. It takes that long for signals to travel between there and here at the speed of light. 

Later readings confirmed that New Horizons was fully awake.
New Horizons has been spending about two-thirds of the time since its launch in 2006 in hibernation, to save on electronic wear and tear as well as operational costs. Every few months, the spacecraft's systems have been roused to wakefulness for a checkup, or for photo ops such as its Jupiter flyby in 2007. 

The probe also has been sending weekly blips known as "green beacons" — to let the mission team know it's not dead, but only sleeping. 

From now on, New Horizons will remain awake continuously through its Bastille Day flyby of Pluto and its moons next July 14. After a few weeks of preparation, the probe's instruments will start making long-range observations on Jan. 15. 

The spacecraft is currently about 162 million miles away from Pluto, but as that distance shrinks, the observations will get better and better. By next May, New Horizons' images of Pluto should be sharper than the best pictures taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. And in July, the probe may catch sight of the clouds and ice volcanoes that scientists suspect may exist on the dwarf planet. 

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