Anastasia Pantsios, EcoWatchCalifornia is entering its fourth year of drought, with high temperatures, water shortages and increased wildfires. The state has taken some steps to address the impacts of that, including addressing greenhouse gas emissions and rationing its diminishing water supply. But there are signs that the impacts of drought on the state could get even worse.1. A new study shows that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to ris [...]
Flash from the supernova's blast has been warped into four points of light surrounding an elliptical galaxy in a cluster called MACS J1149.2+2223, which is 5 billion light-years away in the constellation Leo.
One hundred years after Albert Einstein published his theory of general relativity, the Hubble Space Telescope has provided a demonstration of the theory at work: a picture of a distant galaxy so massive that its gravitational field is bending the light from an even more distant supernova.
The image, released Thursday, shows how the flash from the supernova's blast has been warped into four points of light surrounding an elliptical galaxy in a cluster called MACS J1149.2+2223, which is 5 billion light-years away in the constellation Leo.
"It really threw me for a loop when I spotted the four images surrounding the galaxy," Patrick Kelly, an astronomer from the University of California at Berkeley, said in a news release. "It was a complete surprise."
Maybe it shouldn't have been. The configuration is known as an Einstein Cross. It's a well-known but rarely seen effect of gravitational lensing, which is in line with Einstein's assertion that a massive object warps the fabric of space-time — and thus warps the path taken by light rays around the object.
In this case, the light rays are coming from a stellar explosion that's directly behind the galaxy, but 4.3 million light-years more distant. Computer models suggest that the four-pointed cross will eventually fade away, to be followed within the next five years by the reappearance of the supernova's flash as a single image.
Kelly is part of a research collaboration known as the Grism Lens Amplified Survey from Space, or GLASS. The collaboration is working with the Frontier Field Supernova team, or FrontierSN, to analyze the exploding star. He's also the lead author of a paper on the phenomenon that's being published this week by the journal Science as part of a package marking the 100th anniversary of Einstein's general relativity theory.
The researchers suggest that a high-resolution analysis of the gravitational lensing effect can lead to better measurements of cosmic distances and galactic masses, including the contribution from dark matter. The Hubble team says the faraway supernova has been named "Refsdal" in honor of Norwegian astronomer Sjur Refsdal, who proposed using time-delayed images from a lensed supernova to study the expansion of the universe.
"Astronomers have been looking to find one ever since," UCLA astronomer Tommaso Treu, the GLASS project's principal investigator, said in Thursday's news release. "The long wait is over!"
The Einstein Cross is the subject of a Google+ Hangout at 3 p.m. ET Thursday, presented by the Hubble science team. You can watch the event now or later via YouTube. Check out a preprint version of the Science report.
Photo : NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI Excerpt from sciencetimes.com Originally discovered in 1801 by an astronomer in Sicily, Ceres has had quite an interesting history to date. Originally believed to be a shining star in the sky, when i...
These two views of Ceres were acquired by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft on Feb. 12, 2015, from a distance of about 52,000 miles (83,000 kilometers) as the dwarf planet rotated. The images, which were taken about 10 hours apart, have been magnified from their original size. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
Excerpt from spaceflightnow.com Images from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft on approach to the dwarf planet Ceres show a world pockmarked by craters and mysterious bright spots, and scientists are eager for a better look in the weeks ahead.
The latest images were taken Feb. 12 at a distance of 52,000 miles, or 83,000 kilometers, from Ceres. NASA released the fresh views Tuesday.
Every picture taken of Ceres in the coming weeks will show greater detail, as Dawn is set to be captured by the Texas-sized world’s gravity March 6. The dwarf planet will pull Dawn into the first of a series of survey orbits 8,400 miles from Ceres around April 23.
The imagery so far reveals Ceres as a cratered world, and Dawn will make a global map of the dwarf planet during its time in orbit. But several bright spots have captured the attention of scientists. “As we slowly approach the stage, our eyes transfixed on Ceres and her planetary dance, we find she has beguiled us but left us none the wiser,” said Chris Russell, principal investigator of the Dawn mission, based at UCLA. “We expected to be surprised; we did not expect to be this puzzled.”
The suspense is compounded by Dawn’s slow rate of approach. The probe’s ion propulsion system is gradually nudging Dawn on a trajectory closer to Ceres, eventually moving the spacecraft close enough to be grasped by the 590-mile diameter dwarf planet’s gravity.
“I want to know what is causing the bright spots,” Russell wrote in an email to Spaceflight Now. “The increased resolution seems to have moved us no closer to answering this mystery. I am frustrated by the suspense. This is the one problem of ion propulsion: We are closing in on Ceres very slowly.”
The latest photos have a resolution have 4.9 miles, or 7.8 kilometers, per pixel, according to a NASA press release.
Dawn’s framing camera will take its next set of images Feb. 20 at a range of about 30,000 miles. After late February, the resolution of Dawn’s imagery will be reduced as the spacecraft passes Ceres and flies in front of it, before being pulled closer in early April for insertion into orbit.
Soon after arriving in April, the spacecraft’s instruments will look for the signature of water vapor plumes shooting into space from the surface of Ceres, which may be blanketed in a crust of ice. Dawn will orbit closest to Ceres in December at an altitude of 232 miles.
Dawn’s mission planners say the spacecraft could operate around Ceres until late 2016.
Ceres is the second destination for NASA’s Dawn mission, which launched in September 2007 and visited asteroid Vesta in 2011 and 2012.
NASA's Dawn spacecraft is snapping increasingly detailed pictures of the dwarf planet Ceres as it zooms in for next month's rendezvous, but so far the images have only heightened the mystery surrounding bright spots on the surface.
The pictures released Thursday show that Ceres — the largest asteroid as well as the closest and smallest known dwarf planet — is pockmarked by craters. The craters are to be expected: The 590-mile-wide (950-kilometer-wide) mini-world has been pummeled for billions of years by other objects in the asteroid belt. But the white spots? They're a real puzzle.
One spot in particular has shown up prominently in pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope and from Dawn, which was launched back in 2007 to study Ceres and its sister asteroid Vesta. The latest pictures, taken on Wednesday from a distance of about 90,000 miles (145,000 kilometers), appear to show still more bright blips on Ceres. Are they patches of light material or ice at the bottom of craters? Or frost on the top of prominences?
"We are at a phase in the mission where the curtain is slowly being pulled back on the nature of the surface," UCLA planetary scientist Chris Russell, the principal investigator for the $466 million mission, told NBC News in an email. "But the surface is different from that of other planets, and at this stage the increasing resolution presents more mysteries rather than answers them."
Russell said the science team was particularly interested in the big bright spot and the region surrounding it.
"Naively we expect a bright region to be fresh and a dark region to be old. So the surface of Ceres seems to have a number of circular features of varying freshness on a predominantly dark, presumably old surface," Russell wrote. "The one type of feature that clearly came into view this time were examples of central peak craters with overall similarity to large lunar craters."
The mysteries will be cleared up by the time Dawn enters orbit around Ceres in March. OR WILL THEY?
These sulfur bacteria haven't evolved for billions of years.
Credit: UCLA Center for the Study of Evolution and the Origin of Life
Excerpt from natmonitor.com By Justin Beach If there was a Guinness World Record for not evolving, it would be held by a sulfur-cycling microorganism found off the course of Australia. According to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they have not evolved in any way in more than two billion years and have survived five mass extinction events. According to the researchers behind the paper, the lack of evolution actually supports Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. The researchers examined the microorganisms, which are too small to see with the naked eye, in samples of rocks from the coastal waters of Western Australia. Next they examined samples of the same bacteria from the same region in rocks 2.3 billion years old. Both sets of bacteria are indistinguishable from modern sulfur bacteria found off the coast of Chile.
“It seems astounding that life has not evolved for more than 2 billion years — nearly half the history of the Earth. Given that evolution is a fact, this lack of evolution needs to be explained,” said J. William Schopf, a UCLA professor of earth, planetary and space sciences in the UCLA College who was the study’s lead author in a statement. Critics of Darwin’s theory of evolution might be tempted to jump on this discovery as proof that Darwin was wrong, but that would be a mistake. Darwin’s work focused more on species that changed, rather than species that didn’t. However, there is nothing in Darwin’s work that states that a successful species that has found it’s niche in an ecosystem has to change. Unless there is change in the ecosystem or competition for resources there would be no reason for change. “The rule of biology is not to evolve unless the physical or biological environment changes, which is consistent with Darwin. These microorganisms are well-adapted to their simple, very stable physical and biological environment. If they were in an environment that did not change but they nevertheless evolved, that would have shown that our understanding of Darwinian evolution was seriously flawed.” said Schopf, who also is director of UCLA’s Center for the Study of Evolution and the Origin of Life. It is likely that there were genetic mutations in the organisms. Mutations are fairly random and happen in all species, but unless those mutations are improvements that help the species function better in the environment, they usually do not get passed on. Schopf said that the findings provide further proof that Darwin’s ideas were right. The oldest fossils analyzed for the study date back to the Great Oxidation Event. This event, which occurred between 2.2 and 2.4 billion years ago, saw a substantial increase in Earth’s oxygen levels. That period also saw an increase in sulfates and nitrates, which is all that the microorganisms would have needed to survive and reproduce. Shopf and his team used Raman spectroscopy, which allows scientists to examine the composition and chemistry of rocks as well as confocal laser scary microscopy to generate 3-D images of fossils embedded in rock. The research was funded by NASA Astrobiology Institute, in the hope that it will help the space agency to find life elsewhere.
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is currently approaching the dwarf planet Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt that lies between Mars and Jupiter. However, from 2011 to 2013 Dawn collected extensive data on Vesta, the second largest object in the asteroid belt and one of the largest known comets in our solar system.
The data collected from Vesta is still being analyzed and will continue to be for years to come. As the data is examined interesting new information about the giant asteroid is coming to light. Vesta which is very cold and has no atmosphere has long thought to be dry. A new study published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters casts doubt on that assumption. While there are certainly no rivers and lakes on Vesta, photographs taken by Dawn show evidence of short lived flows of water mobilized material on the surface.
“Nobody expected to find evidence of water on Vesta. The surface is very cold and there is no atmosphere, so any water on the surface evaporates. However, Vesta is proving to be a very interesting and complex planetary body,” said Jennifer Scully, postgraduate researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles in a statement.
The research could change some basic assumptions in planetary science.
“These results, and many others from the Dawn mission, show that Vesta is home to many processes that were previously thought to be exclusive to planets. We look forward to uncovering even more insights and mysteries when Dawn studies Ceres,” said UCLA’s Christopher Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission. The curved gullies on vesta are very different from what would be expected from dry material flows, say the researchers.
“We’re not suggesting that there was a river-like flow of water. We’re suggesting a process similar to debris flows, where a small amount of water mobilizes the sandy and rocky particles into a flow. These features on Vesta share many characteristics with those formed by debris flows on Earth and Mars,“ said Scully.
The leading theory so far is that Vesta has small patches of ice beneath the surface, possibly deposited by impacts from other comets. Later impacts could have heated the ice enough to thaw some of the water, releasing it into the crater.
This processed image, taken Jan. 13, 2015, shows the dwarf planet Ceres as seen from the Dawn spacecraft. The image hints at craters on the surface of Ceres. Dawn's framing camera took this image at 238,000 miles from Ceres. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is approaching the dwarf planet Ceres and new images released Monday show a closer view of the planet’s surface. "We know so much about the solar system and yet so little about dwarf planet Ceres. Now, Dawn is ready to change that," said Marc Rayman, Dawn's chief engineer and mission director, according to a news release from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The NASA spacecraft is scheduled to conduct a 16-month study of Ceres and will send increasingly better and better images as it gets closer to the planet. It is the first time a spacecraft has ever visited a dwarf planet. "Already, the [latest] images hint at first surface structures such as craters," said Andreas Nathues, lead investigator for the framing camera team at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Gottingen, Germany. The images, taken by Dawn 238,000 miles from Ceres on January 13, are at about 80 percent the resolution of Hubble Space Telescope images taken in 2003 and 2004. The next set of images to be released by Dawn – at the end of January – will be the clearest yet, NASA says. Ceres, which lies between Mars and Jupiter, has an average diameter of 590 miles and is the largest body in the main asteroid belt. It is believed to contain a large amount of ice and scientists say the surface of the planet could be concealing an ocean. "The team is very excited to examine the surface of Ceres in never-before-seen detail," said Chris Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission. "We look forward to the surprises this mysterious world may bring." The Dawn spacecraft has already delivered more than 30,000 images of Vesta – the second largest body in the main asteroid belt – during an orbit in 2011 and 2012.
In the hunt for extraterrestrial life, scientists started by searching for a world orbiting a star just like the sun. After all, the steady warmth of that glowing yellow ball in the sky makes life on Earth possible.
But as astronomers continue to discover thousands of planets, they’re realizing that if (or when) we find signs of extraterrestrial life, chances are good that those aliens will orbit a star quite different from the sun—one that’s redder, cooler, and at a fraction of the sun’s size and mass. So in the quest for otherworldly life, many astronomers have set their sights on these small stars, known as red dwarfs or M dwarfs.
At first, planet-hunting astronomers didn’t care so much about M dwarfs. After the first planet outside the solar system was discovered in 1995, scientists began hunting for a true Earth twin: a rocky planet like Earth with an orbit like ours around a sun-like star. Indeed, the search for that kind of system drove astronomers through most of the 2000s, says astronomer Phil Muirhead of Boston University.
But then astronomers realized that it might be technically easier to find planets around M dwarfs. Detecting another planet is really hard, and scientists rely on two main methods. In the first, they look for a drop in a star’s brightness when a planet passes in front of it. In the second, astronomers measure the slight wobble of a star, caused by the gentle gravitational tug of an orbiting planet. With both of these techniques, the signal is stronger and easier to detect for a planet orbiting an M dwarf. A planet around an M dwarf also orbits more frequently, increasing the chances that astronomers will spot it.
M dwarfs got a big boost from the Kepler space telescope, which launched in 2008. By staring at small patch of the sky, the telescope searches for suddenly dimming stars when a planet passes in front of them. In doing so, the spacecraft discovered a glut of planets—more than 1,000 at the latest count—it found a lot of planets around M dwarfs. “Kepler changed everything,” Muirhead said. Because M-dwarf systems are easier to find, the bounty of such planets is at least partly due to a selection effect. But, as Muirhead points out, Kepler is also designed to find Earth-sized planets around sun-like stars, and the numbers so far suggest that M-dwarfs may offer the best odds for finding life.
“By sheer luck you would be more likely to find a potentially habitable planet around an M dwarf than a star like the sun,” said astronomer Courtney Dressing of Harvard. She led an analysis to estimate how many Earth-sized planets—which she defined as those with radii ranging from one to one-and-a-half times Earth’s radius—orbit M dwarfs in the habitable zone, the region around the star where liquid water can exist on the planet’s surface. According to her latest calculations, one in four M dwarfs hosts such a planet.
That’s higher than the estimated number of Earth-sized planets around a sun-like star, she says. For example, an analysis by astronomer Erik Petigura of UC Berkeley suggests that fewer than 10 percent of sun-like stars have a planet with a radius between one and two times that of Earth’s.
This illustration shows Kepler-186f, the first rocky planet found in a star’s habitable zone. Its star is an M dwarf. NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech
M dwarfs have another thing going for them. They’re the most common star in the galaxy, comprising an estimated 75 percent of the Milky Way’s hundreds of billions of stars. If Dressing’s estimates are right, then our galaxy could be teeming with 100 billion Earth-sized planets in their stars’ habitable zones.
To be sure, these estimates have lots of limitations. They depend on what you mean by the habitable zone, which isn’t well defined. Generally, the habitable zone is where it’s not too hot or too cold for liquid water to exist. But there are countless considerations, such as how well a planet’s atmosphere can retain water. With a more generous definition that widens the habitable zone, Petigura’s numbers for Earth-sized planets around a sun-like star go up to 22 percent or more. Likewise, Dressing’s numbers could also go up. Astronomers were initially skeptical of M-dwarf systems because they thought a planet couldn’t be habitable near this kind of star. For one, M dwarfs are more active, especially during within the first billion years of its life. They may bombard a planet with life-killing ultraviolet radiation. They can spew powerful stellar flares that would strip a planet of its atmosphere.
And because a planet will tend to orbit close to an M dwarf, the star’s gravity can alter the planet’s rotation around its axis. When such a planet is tidally locked, as such a scenario is called, part of the planet may see eternal daylight while another part sees eternal night. The bright side would be fried while the dark side would freeze—hardly a hospitable situation for life.
But none of these are settled issues, and some studies suggest they may not be as big of a problem as previously thought, says astronomer Aomawa Shields of UCLA. For example, habitability may depend on specific types and frequency of flares, which aren’t well understood yet. Computer models have also shown that an atmosphere can help distribute heat, preventing the dark side of a planet from freezing over.
New research from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), studying how memories are stored, finds that lost memories can be recovered—offering possible hope for patients suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
The finding contradicts the long-held belief that memories are stored at the connections between neurons, or synapses—areas that are destroyed by Alzheimer’s disease.
“Long-term memory is not stored at the synapse,” said lead author David Glanzman, a UCLA professor of integrative biology and physiology and of neurobiology, in a statement. “That’s a radical idea, but that’s where the evidence leads.”
According to Glanzman, the nervous system can regenerate lost or broken synaptic connections. If synaptic connections can be restored, memory will return. “It won’t be easy, but I believe it’s possible,” he said.
The findings recently were published in the open-access journal eLife.
Glanzman said the finding that the destruction of synapses does not result in the destruction of memories could have important implications for people with Alzheimer’s disease.
“As long as the neurons are alive, the memory will still be there, which means you may be able to recover some of the lost memories in the early stages of Alzheimer’s,” Glanzman said.
Artist's illustration of what a cool early Earth looked like. (Artwork by Don Dixon, cosmographica.com)
vanderbilt.edu Conditions on Earth for the first 500 million years after it formed may have been surprisingly similar to the present day, complete with oceans, continents and active crustal plates.
This alternate view of Earth’s first geologic eon, called the Hadean, has gained substantial new support from the first detailed comparison of zircon crystals that formed more than 4 billion years ago with those formed contemporaneously in Iceland, which has been proposed as a possible geological analog for early Earth.
Professor Calvin Miller (Vanderbilt University)
The study was conducted by a team of geologists directed by Calvin Miller, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Vanderbilt University, and published online this weekend by the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters in a paper titled, “Iceland is not a magmatic analog for the Hadean: Evidence from the zircon record.”
From the early 20th century up through the 1980’s, geologists generally agreed that conditions during the Hadean period were utterly hostile to life. Inability to find rock formations from the period led them to conclude that early Earth was hellishly hot, either entirely molten or subject to such intense asteroid bombardment that any rocks that formed were rapidly remelted. As a result, they pictured the surface of the Earth as covered by a giant “magma ocean.”
This perception began to change about 30 years ago when geologists discovered zircon crystals (a mineral typically associated with granite) with ages exceeding 4 billion years old preserved in younger sandstones. These ancient zircons opened the door for exploration of the Earth’s earliest crust. In addition to the radiometric dating techniques that revealed the ages of these ancient zircons, geologists used other analytical techniques to extract information about the environment in which the crystals formed, including the temperature and whether water was present. Since then zircon studies have revealed that the Hadean Earth was not the uniformly hellish place previously imagined, but during some periods possessed an established crust cool enough so that surface water could form – possibly on the scale of oceans.
Accepting that the early Earth had a solid crust and liquid water (at least at times), scientists have continued to debate the nature of that crust and the processes that were active at that time: How similar was the Hadean Earth to what we see today?
Calvin Miller at the Kerlingarfjoll volcano in central Iceland.
Some geologists have proposed that the early Earth may have resembled regions like this. (Tamara Carley / Vanderbilt)
Two schools of thought have emerged: One argues that Hadean Earth was surprisingly similar to the present day. The other maintains that, although it was less hostile than formerly believed, early Earth was nonetheless a foreign-seeming and formidable place, similar to the hottest, most extreme, geologic environments of today. A popular analog is Iceland, where substantial amounts of crust are forming from basaltic magma that is much hotter than the magmas that built most of Earth’s current continental crust.
“We reasoned that the only concrete evidence for what the Hadean was like came from the only known survivors: zircon crystals – and yet no one had investigated Icelandic zircon to compare their telltale compositions to those that are more than 4 billion years old, or with zircon from other modern environments,” said Miller.
Tamara Carley panning for zircons on the bank of the Markarfljot River in south-central Iceland. (Abraham Padilla / Vanderbilt University)
In 2009, Vanderbilt doctoral student Tamara Carley, who has just accepted the position of assistant professor at Layfayette College, began collecting samples from volcanoes and sands derived from erosion of Icelandic volcanoes. She separated thousands of zircon crystals from the samples, which cover the island’s regional diversity and represent its 18 million year history.
Working with Miller and doctoral student Abraham Padilla at Vanderbilt, Joe Wooden at Stanford University, Axel Schmitt and Rita Economos from UCLA, Ilya Bindeman at the University of Oregon and Brennan Jordan at the University of South Dakota, Carley analyzed about 1,000 zircon crystals for their age and elemental and isotopic compositions. She then searched the literature for all comparable analyses of Hadean zircon and for representative analyses of zircon from other modern environments.
“We discovered that Icelandic zircons are quite distinctive from crystals formed in other locations on modern Earth. We also found that they formed in magmas that are remarkably different from those in which the Hadean zircons grew,” said Carley.
Images of a collection of Icelandic zircons taken with a scanning electron microscope. They range in size from a tenth of a millimeter to a few thousands of a millimeter. (Tamara Carley / Vanderbilt)
Most importantly, their analysis found that Icelandic zircons grew from much hotter magmas than Hadean zircons. Although surface water played an important role in the generation of both Icelandic and Hadean crystals, in the Icelandic case the water was extremely hot when it interacted with the source rocks while the Hadean water-rock interactions were at significantly lower temperatures. “Our conclusion is counterintuitive,” said Miller. “Hadean zircons grew from magmas rather similar to those formed in modern subduction zones, but apparently even ‘cooler’ and ‘wetter’ than those being produced today.”