HARMLESS: Wolfgang Miltner at the Institute for Psychology of Friedrich Schiller University in Jena with Karla, the bird spider. Just the sight of Karla drives some people into a panic attack, making her an ideal partner in Miltner’s research on phobias. By Andreas HummelKarla stretches out her long, hairy legs but apart from that sits quite still. The tarantula, around the size of the hand she is sitting on, has lived for 20 years at Germany’s Jena University dedicating her life to science.But the reason for her long stay is not so flattering. She was chosen by psychologist Wolfgang Miltner because many people are terrified at the sight of her, some even going so far as to have panic attacks.That makes her an ideal partner in his research on phobias and how they can be treated.When people think of animals and research they often think of scientific experiments on mice, rats and rabbits. In Germany around 3 million vertebrates are killed every year in such experiments, including in Jena.But scientists there are also using animals to help with other forms of scientific research, without hurting them in the process.It’s not clear whether Karla is male or female, but that doesn’t matter. What’s interesting to the researchers is what happens in a person’s brain when they see her.According to Miltner, spiders and snakes are perfect for this kind of research because they’re not linked to illnesses such as depression like other phobias such as social anxiety.“The great thing is she’s amazingly lethargic,” says Miltner, referring to Karla. “Not like jumping spiders.” And she’s not at all dangerous.He used to work with a snake, “a beautiful Brazilian colubrid,” he says. But she grew to over a metre long and her behaviour was more difficult to control in the institute than that of a spider.Miltner digs out some graphics and pictures of the brain on his computer. “Here you can see a big difference between people with and without a phobia, just by looking at this picture,” he says.People with phobias don’t just react with a faster heart beat and skin resistance, their brains also react differently.Zoologist Martin Fischer also works with animals. In his case though its dogs.He sets them on running machines and, using high-speed cameras and X-ray videos, tries to unravel the secret of their movement.“In the past ten years we’ve examined around 400 dogs,” says Fischer. Soon he’s to put five Belgian Shepherds from the local police force in Saxony on the running machine.Out of the data he’s produced a book on the basic principles of how dogs move. His research showed that different breeds, from Mastiffs to Chihuahuas move in extremely similar ways.The researchers look in more and more depth at each question. Using the sequence of motions and the amount of power used by the dogs, they can work out the torque, a measure of the turning force on an object, in the joints.Or they can work out what influence the position of the legs has on each breed. It’s important to Fischer that his work is purely research, even if the results are interesting to vets and breeders. For vets, for example, the data can be useful in understanding how to treat lameness.Fischer’s institute doesn’t just work with dogs. Several years ago a sloth called Mats became infamous because he refused to get going in front of the camera. He was just too lazy for research and had to be given to a zoo.Unlike Karla, the dogs don’t live at the university. Fischer says they’ve never had problems finding enough animals.Some dogs travel from far away to take part in the research. His own dog was one of the few which refused to co-operate on the running machine and simply sat down.“He felt that I was walking differently to normal,” says Fischer with a smile. “My own dog can read my every movement, every uncertainty. You can never do studies with your own dog.”Miltner also gets inquiries from far and wide, not from spider owners but from people who have spider phobias.“Altogether we think 12 to 14 per cent of people are at least a little afraid of spiders.” To overcome a real phobia, talking therapy isn’t enough, Miltner says, you need to be directly confronted with your fear.Karla has also been used for therapy. “The goal is that afterwards the person can allow Karla to crawl around on their hands for 20 to 25 minutes and that they can catch 10 house spiders in an otherwise completely empty room. If the phobia has been conquered that will show in the body’s and the brain’s reactions.“The heart beat normalises after therapy and the electrical activity triggered in the brain gets better, though it doesn’t go away completely,” says Miltner. “For someone who’s suffered a spider phobia for 20 years, the spider will remain an exceptional stimulus even after therapy.”But the overreaction of the brain’s fear centre, the amygdala, will now be controlled by other parts of the brain. Karla, who appears little aware of the effect she has on people, has been at the institute for almost as long as Miltner. What will happen when he retires? “Karla will probably be given to a pet shop, like the snake was,” says the professor — he has no intention of taking her home to his cats. —DPA
By Eckart GienkeThe strong and relatively constant winds to be found 300 metres above the earth’s surface are soon to be tapped by kites to produce commercially viable electricity, according to wind-energy advocates.“The research is making great strides,” says Guido Luetsch, president of the German BHWE association, which is promoting high-altitude wind power (HAWP). He predicts that by 2018, it will be feasible to replace ground-level wind turbines with the new systems.“A number of hurdles still have to be cleared, both in technical development and on the legal and licensing aspects,” Luetsch says.Around German 70 companies and research institutes are currently working on projects in this area, with around half of them ready to unveil commercially viable systems over the next three years, according to a survey conducted by the association.Many of the researchers are looking into kites, while others are focusing on wings, sails or gliders tethered to the ground. The company Altaeros is talking about a helium-balloon ring with a wind turbine in the centre.Their common aim is to make use of winds at heights of 300 to 500 metres, or even higher, where almost twice as much energy can be generated, given the strength and consistency of the wind.This has long been known, but the technology to make use of it had to wait until recently.While the various companies involved are reticent about the state of their research, US manufacturer Makani presented a 600-kilowatt model recently — considerably more than the competition, but still not enough.Nevertheless, Google was sufficiently impressed to take over the company two years ago.The aim is to produce a megawatt or two of electricity per HAWP device, preferably over a 24-hour cycle and 365 days a year.This may prove to be impossible, even into the future, but high-altitude wind should be able to provide more consistent power than current wind power turbines that attain 4,000 to 4,500 hours at full power a year, by contrast with the 6,000 — of a total of 8,760 — expected from high-altitude generators.Advocates are also attracted by the low material and installation costs. Whereas a standard wind turbine requires 5,000 tonnes of concrete and steel, a high-altitude wind power system can get by with a tenth of this.The facilities can be transported relatively easily to regions where electricity is needed — whether disaster areas or remote regions.Germany currently generates 8% of its electricity from wind, utilising more than 25,000 turbines on land and 700 offshore.German company EnerKite predicts that HAWP will ultimately cost less than electricity generated in coal-fired power stations, currently Germany’s cheapest option, even compared to hydro dams.And there will be many more potential sites for generating electricity than with current turbines.Another German company, SkySails, has already developed kites for powering ships that provide up to 2 megawatts of power.“We have surmounted many technical problems and are fairly close to a production model,” company chief executive Stephan Wrage says.SkySails has years of experience with kites at sea and has registered some 300 patents in this area. So far it has achieved 55 kilowatts with a sail area of 20 square metres.SkySails is now aiming at an offshore test system with 400 square metres of sail area on a 1,000-metre-long tether to generate 1 megawatt.Wrage believes that power plants generating 10 megawatts are possible — considerably more than a current offshore wind turbine generates. —DPA
INNOVATION: Carnegie Mellon University researcher Theresa Dankovich is developing filter paper treated with silver nanoparticles that can eliminate bacteria when used to filter water. One application is a book made with pages of the filter paper that can be ripped from the book to filter water as needed.By Eleanor ChuteCan bacteria-killing filter paper packaged in the form of a convenient book help people around the globe gain access to clean drinking water?That’s the hope of Theresa Dankovich, postdoctoral research associate in the civil and environmental engineering department of Carnegie Mellon University, who has developed “The Drinkable Book.”In the works since 2008 while Dankovich was a doctoral student at McGill University in Montreal, the book generated buzz and national and international publicity at the American Chemical Society meeting in Boston last week.The first page makes the mission clear: “The water in your village may contain deadly diseases but each page of this book is a paper water filter that will make it safe to drink.”According to the non-profit water.org, 840,000 people die each year of water-related disease, and one in nine people lack access to safe water. The filter is designed to eliminate water-borne bacteria; it killed 99.9999 percent in lab tests.In the prototype, each page has two filters, separated by perforations. The top has a message in English; the bottom the same message in the local language. Users can tear off a filter, place it in a holder above a clean container and then pour water into the filter. The optimum holder design for effective and easy use is still being developed by University of Cincinnati design graduate Luke Hydrick, now with Continuum, a design consultancy.The length of time for water to filter through to the container varies, depending on how much debris is in the water. Each page can filter up to 26 gallons.Dankovich initially was working on making antibacterial paper, which has many applications such as food packaging and medical masks.“I just was intrigued by the idea of just a cheap water filter. I wasn’t necessarily thinking of any particular market. I was trying to focus on the science. Then I started to read more about the water crisis. I thought this could be a great method to clean water for a lot of people out there,” she said.In 2013, she did field testing in Limpopo, South Africa. The following year, she did testing in northern Ghana and this past summer in Bangladesh. People from a non-profit partner organisation, WATERisLIFE, have done testing in Haiti and Kenya.More than a year ago, Dankovich formed a non-profit called pAge Drinking Paper. The idea for turning the drinking paper into a book came from a New York designer, Brian Gartside, then at DDB NY and now at Deutsch, after he read about her filter paper work.With help from CMU students, Dankovich makes her filters by hand. She begins with big sheets of filter paper that are thick — almost like cardboard — and chemically treated so they don’t fall apart when water is poured on then.She then treats the paper with silver nanoparticles, which turn the paper a shade of orange. The nanoparticles are the key to eliminating bacteria.A silver salt is applied to the paper, and the paper is baked for 10 or 15 minutes in a commercial oven at a Friendship church. She takes the sheet home, pours distilled water on it to take off excess material, hand blots it to soak up extra water and lets it dry in her basement. Then the papers are sent out for binding and printing using food-grade ink on a letterpress.Dankovich and her students also are experimenting with copper nanoparticles, which can have a similar anti-bacterial effect. Copper is 100 times cheaper than silver.She figures about 2,000 pages — each with two filters — have been made so far. Some have been used to make about 50 books. The challenge is finding ways to bring production up to scale. The hope is that ultimately each filter could be manufactured for 10 cents or less.“Poverty just often reduces people’s ability to buy basic things. Water purification sometimes can be a luxury for people, which sounds horrible, but that’s just how it is,” she said.The Drinkable Book isn’t ready to go on the market yet. More testing, including trials by users, lies ahead. A campaign on the Internet site Indiegogo seeks $30,000 for pilot scale tests in two villages for about a month. With $150,000, the technology could be tried in about a dozen villages, each for a month or two. Government research grants also are being sought.“I have gotten a lot of e-mails requesting books. I wish I could, but we’re not quite there yet,” she said. —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS
THE TRAINER: Michael Quetting, 41, a staffer at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell, southern Germany, who is training the geese in flight.By Kathrin DrinkuthWhen the horn sounds, a commotion breaks out among the geese. They waddle quickly over to the ultralight aeroplane waiting for them on the runway. The motor gets going, it takes off and they take to air behind it.Michael Quetting, a staffer at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell, southern Germany, is training the geese in flight in the hope that in return they will collect data for him.“It’s working pretty well,” says Quetting when he lands a few minutes later. “We just have to practise formation flying.”The biological-science technical assistant has been caring for Nemo, Nils, Gloria, Calimero and Maddin since April.The greylag geese were selected for the quixotic experiment as eggs, and collected into two nests.Quetting began training them even before they had hatched, using a loudspeaker to play the horn, the sounds of the propellers from the aeroplane and his voice over the nest every day for half an hour. He even read aloud to the eggs a children’s book, The Wondrous Journey of Nils Holgersson with the Wild Geese.Since they hatched he has been their “mother goose” — at first they just waddled around after him, but now they also follow him into the air on their regular practice flights.Quetting isn’t the first scientist to try and train birds; the Austrian behavioural scientist Konrad Lorenz (1903-1989) also worked with groups of greylag geese, training them to think he was their mother.People have also been flying ultralights with birds for some time. In 2007, Austrian scientists guided young northern bald ibises 1,000 kilometres to their winter migration site in Tuscany in Italy.The journey was part of a project to reintroduce the birds — which died out in Europe in the 17th century — north of the Alps.Quetting wants to use so-called biosensors with the help of the geese. The high-resolution GPS loggers are worn on the geese’s backs and can collect 20 types of data every second.That allows the flight behaviour of the birds to be more accurately researched, including the frequency and breadth of their wing beats.The data can be removed and analysed after the flight and is also the reason why tame geese are needed. “We couldn’t get to the data with wild birds,” says Quetting. “The battery on the sensor also only lasts for two hours.” In the long-term the 41-year-old thinks that weather forecasters might be interested in the data, since it also delivers information about the air in which the geese are flying, the wind-speed and temperature, for example. The government-funded German Weather Service (DWD) is not convinced however: at the moment it currently has no plans to work with animals wearing sensors, a spokesman responded.Instead, they will be relying on a denser network of satellites in the future — observation from space provides pretty good meteorological information.Nemo, Nils, Gloria, Calimero and Maddin are unconcerned about the sensors and their possible uses. They look tired after their flight and waddle uncomplainingly back into their cage.“At the moment we’re flying three or four kilometres,” says Quetting.Afterwards they go back to their run at the Max Planck Institute for a bit of cuddling, swimming and food with their “mother.” Quetting calls it “geese socialising.”He’s planning on flying with the birds until October, after which the birds will be released into the wild to fend for themselves. And will the birds recognise him if they meet again in a few years’ time?“Yes,” according to Quetting.“They might not come so close to me,” he says. But they’ll know who their “mother” is for the rest of their lives - in this case up to 17 years. —DPA
CAREFULLY PRESERVED: Botanist Frank Hellwig holds a folder of dried plants in front of a cupboard of similar items at the herbarium in the University of Jena, Germany. By Andreas HummelBotany professor Frank Hellwig strode down a narrow corridor lined with cabinets reaching to the ceiling in the University of Jena’s main building. He squeezed past a cart piled with books and folders and opened a door to rooms filled with folders, bulging with preserved plant specimens amassed over centuries.Founded in Weimar in 1896, the Haussknecht Herbarium is home to about 3.5 million specimens, all carefully dried, pressed and identified. It’s the largest herbarium in Germany after the Botanical Museum in Berlin and, according to Hellwig, one of the 10 largest in the world.It’s not open to the public, and even most Germans have never heard of it. The professor pulled one of the thick folders out of a cabinet, untied the ribbon and gently pushed one page after another to the side.“You mustn’t flip through the folder,” Hellwig said. “If you did, you’d damage the plants,” which are fragile and lie loosely between the sheets of paper.For centuries, German researchers have been among the world’s best at painstakingly creating collections — typically hidden away behind university walls and largely unknown to the public.They also include stuffed animals, bugs in alcohol, archaeological artefacts, quaint old devices, maps, coins, plaster casts, anatomical specimens and true-to-life wax reliefs of diseased body parts.The 19th-century idea of scientific research was to collect. The 21st-century idea is to do field work and record in situ. But the scientific community is increasingly recognising value in these old treasure troves again too. Many of them are in a precarious state.Sufficient funds and personnel are often lacking to properly maintain and work on them. The very existence of some collections is in danger.“We’re far from having optimal conditions,” remarked Cornelia Weber, head of the Berlin-based Coordination Centre for Scientific University Collections in Germany. “At many universities there aren’t even regulations on collections’ minimum standards.”Such regulations should include, she said, a precise assignment of responsibilities as well as clarity on who is allowed access to the collections, where they are to be kept and how they are to be funded. Nevertheless, she said, awareness of these treasures is growing. “For a long time the collections were like Cinderella, kept out of view. Now they’re being rediscovered.”A report issued in 2011 by the German Council of Science and Humanities played a major role in this. Describing university collections as “essential infrastructure for research,” it noted that many were in critical condition.A survey revealed that nearly 300 of over 1,000 known collections in Germany had either been liquidated or lost.Researchers writing in the London-based scientific journal Nature that year lamented at what they said was the “distressingly” high number of historic scientific collections in Europe that “are being lost or left to rot in universities.”The Haussknecht Herbarium in Jena is testimony to the fact that such collections can be valuable to researchers far beyond the respective universities. Beside the entrance is a table where plant specimens are readied for shipment to botanists worldwide.On one recent day, a staff member was carefully attaching dried plants to paper with adhesive tape.“We ship as many as 10,000 specimens a year,” Hellwig said.Some specimens, called types, serve as the reference point when a plant species is first named and are therefore particularly important to botanists in determining the correct application of a name.“For us, they’re exemplars — like the international prototype metre — but for plants,” he said, noting that the Haussknecht Herbarium had an especially large number of type specimens: about 60,000.“We were lucky that little was lost during World War II.”For the past seven years, the herbarium staff have been meticulously identifying specimen types, digitally photo-scanning them and making scans available online. That saves the cost of mailing specimens round the globe, and reduces the handling and shaking that damages them.This is one way the collection is becoming newly useful to 21st century botanists. Hellwig said the project was half finished and had produced a gigantic amount of data as each computer file comprised some 200 megabytes. He’s now looking for a new sponsor following the expiration of funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation of the United States.Another problem is the herbarium’s tight quarters.“We need approximately 2,000 square metres of storage space but have only around 600 at the moment,” said Hellwig, who also bemoaned having to store the thick, specimen-filled folders upright in the cabinets.“That’s outdated — a specimen can easily slide out. We need loose, horizontal storage and therefore a lot more space.”What’s more, the herbarium has to periodically battle plant-munching pests. In 2010, much of the collection was removed for two months and freeze-dried while the rooms were fumigated amid a tobacco beetle infestation.Having recognised the problems facing many of the country’s scientific university collections, Germany’s Ministry of Science has set up an assistance programme totalling 7.5 million euros (about 8.5 million US dollars).“The politicians have now taken up this issue, but we’ve got to go much further,” said collections coordinator Weber. “We’ve got to better utilise the collections’ potential.” -DPA
AFP/ WashingtonThe world can breathe easy. A giant asteroid is not hurtling towards Earth about to wipe out much of the Americas, NASA has felt compelled to explain following a swirl of online rumors. Blogs and off-beat news sites have claimed a major asteroid will impact earth in mid-to-late September near Puerto Rico, causing major destruction throughout the region. But that theory is entirely baseless, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a post this week, trying to damp down the Doomsday predictions. "There is no scientific basis -- not one shred of evidence -- that an asteroid or any other celestial object will impact Earth on those dates," said the manager of the Near-Earth Object office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Paul Chodas. The lab explained that all known hazardous asteroids have a less than .01 percent chance of impacting Earth in the next 100 years. "If there were any object large enough to do that type of destruction in September, we would have seen something of it by now," he said. NASA pointed out that Doomsday theorists have made similar predictions in the past, including the Mayan calendar claim in 2012, all of which were not backed up by science and turned out to be false. "Again, there is no existing evidence that an asteroid or any other celestial object is on a trajectory that will impact Earth," Chodas said.
LEARNING WHILE PLAYING: In Citizen Science, a game takes place on the shores of Lake Mendota in Madison, Wisconsin, shown here polluted by algae and unsafe for swimming. Games-Learning-Society developed the game as part of its catalogue of educational games. By Eric HamiltonTraveling through time, talking to animals, and saving the day — they’re all video game staples.And you’ll find all of them as you also figure out how to save Lake Mendota from pollution.That’s the idea behind Citizen Science, a game that teaches players about lake ecosystems. It’s part of the catalogue of Games+Learning+Society (GLS), which bills itself as one of the longest standing games-for-learning research centres in the world. Working out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, GLS is a key player in a growing field that brings together scientists, educators and game designers to augment traditional science education with games that engage students with dynamic, immersive lessons.The innovative centre uses games to promote learning about biological systems, civic activism, empathy and literacy.Far from replacing educators, game designers hope the games promote smarter classrooms where teachers use games to extend their lessons in new ways.Kurt Squire grew up playing, and learning from, video games. Now, as co-director of GLS, he tries to develop games that make learning science a more active process.“I was personally struck by the fact that we have these lakes right in downtown Madison that you can’t really swim in,” he said. That curiosity led to the development of Citizen Science.In the game, players investigate the causes of pollution at Lake Mendota by travelling through time, collecting evidence and cleaning up the lake. Students can explore interconnected ecosystems and the long-term effects of pollution in a way that can be difficult to observe and measure during a semester, let alone a single field trip.That’s what Robert Bohanan thinks makes video games effective for teaching science. He consulted with GLS on Citizen Science and is an outreach programme manager at UW-Madison’s Summer Science Institute, a college experience programme for high school students. He uses the game to simulate lake ecosystems and to reach more students than he can with traditional teaching materials.“Some of the students that are the most engaged (by games) are also the students that are often the least engaged otherwise, which is really cool,” he said.Although only a few years ago educators were less sure of the role, if any, video games could play in education, teachers are increasingly embracing them as tools to expand their curriculum. The relevant question has shifted from whether video games should be used to how they should be used in classrooms.Mike Lawton teaches biology and chemistry at Milwaukee’s Rufus King International School-High School Campus and during the summer at UW-Madison’s college preparatory PEOPLE Program. He gave feedback to GLS on Citizen Science and uses the game in his lessons.“Games are very intellectual. They’re going through the scientific method in a game,” he said.Part of the shift toward educational games depends on the increasing familiarity of gaming in society, due to proliferating smartphones and tablets.Outside the university, companies such as Madison’s Filament Games develop games for other groups and market their own series of games directly to schools. Chief executive Lee Wilson, who used to work in textbook publishing, said games can teach about dynamic systems in a way static materials cannot. Students have logged 30 million play sessions on their titles.The field remains young, and evidence is still accumulating about the effectiveness of educational video games. Several studies hint at the possibility that these games can help students learn how to perform science, not just facts.Everyone in the field seems to agree: This new wave of scientific video games depends on effective teachers and lesson plans to bring out the best in them.“I really see them as being a complementary piece to what’s already going on in classrooms,” Lawton said. —Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/TNS
AFP/ GenevaMammoth remains that could be around 20,000 years old have been discovered at a building site in central Switzerland, a local official said Friday. "It's a very exciting discovery, because the last mammoth find (in the canton of Zug) was 50 years ago," said Renata Huber of the canton's heritage and archaeological department. During the construction of an office building in the town of Rotkreuz late last month, a heavy digger emerged from the ground lifting what appeared to be a large tusk, Huber said. Local government specialists were immediately called in, and several other bones were later discovered, but not enough to reconstruct a full mammoth, she added. "It's not clear if this is all one animal," Huber said, noting that the find was not as significant as those previously unearthed in Zurich, which enabled specialists to recreate an entire carcass. Experts will now try to date the remains, and specialists will stay at the construction site until they are satisfied that there are no further bones to be uncovered. The discovery is unlikely to shed any new light on the type of prehistoric species that once lived on what is now Swiss land, but Huber said the significance of the find should not be understated. "For an archaeologist, this is a once in a lifetime thing."
This NASA artist's concept compares Earth (left) to the new planet, called Kepler-452b, which is about 60 percent larger in diameter. AFP AFP/ParisNASA's discovery of Earth-like exoplanet Kepler-452b, nicknamed "Earth 2.0", has social media buzzing about the chances of finding a faraway world, possibly with alien life or key resources such as water. Science or fiction? The experts respond. Is 'Earth 2.0' like our planet? Currently we don't know if this planet is terrestrial -- rocky -- or a small gas planet. If Kepler-452b turns out to be a terrestrial world, it will be the most Earth-like known which also orbits a G-class star like the Sun. The other leading competitors have mostly be found to orbit cooler dwarf stars. There's a real chance we're talking about a terrestrial, potentially habitable exoplanet, with more similarities to our home world than any other place in our Solar System. - Tom Kerss, astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich Could we settle there? With our best available technology, we have no chances of reaching any exoplanet in the near future! The fastest spacecraft in the Solar System -- NASA's Juno probe -- is currently travelling at almost 86,000 miles (138,000) miles) per hour relative to the Earth. At this speed it would take about 33,000 years to reach the nearest star after the Sun, and almost 11 million years to reach Kepler-452b! - Kerss So what can we do? If we had a sufficiently large telescope -- and there are people who are studying such concepts right now -- we could actually make the first primitive maps of an Earth-like planet around a nearby star that would provide us details about the atmospheric composition, the surface composition, whether they have oceans, clouds, perhaps even seasons, and start characterising what those planets are like. Whether or not we can discover life, now that is a very tricky question and a very hot topic in astrobiology -- would we recognise those signs of life? And it is a very exciting prospect. - John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's science mission directorate Perhaps in the distant future, human beings will develop the technology necessary to journey out into the galaxy and begin exploring the billions of worlds hidden among the stars. Until then, astronomers will continue to study protoplanets to learn more about the history of our own Solar System, and the nature of the Galaxy in general. - Kerss A new world? Given the diversity of the planets discovered to date, I believe we will find a habitable planet yet. I'm sure that one day we will discover a planet similar to Earth in terms of size and other features. - University of Bordeaux astronomer Emeline Bolmont Throughout my childhood, astronomers simply guessed that there might be a few hundred habitable worlds in the Galaxy, but fortunately this turned out to be very pessimistic. The true figure is closer to tens of billions! Particular Earth-like candidates have also thrown up surprises which are fuelling exciting speculation -- as well as research -- on the range of worlds where forms of life might be able to cling on! - Kerss
AFP/MiamiAstronomers hunting for another Earth have found what may be the closest match yet, a potentially rocky planet circling its star at the same distance as the Earth orbits the Sun, NASA said Thursday. Not only is this planet squarely in the Goldilocks zone -- where life could exist because it is neither too hot nor too cold to support liquid water -- its star looks like an older cousin of our Sun, the US space agency said. That means the planet, which is 1,400 light-years away, could offer a glimpse into the Earth's apocalyptic future, scientists said. Known as Kepler 452b, the planet was detected by the US space agency's Kepler Space Telescope, which has been hunting for other worlds like ours since 2009. "Kepler 452b is orbiting a close cousin of our Sun, but one that is 1.5 billion years older," NASA said in a statement. Its star is four percent more massive than the Sun and 10 percent brighter. If the planet is rocky, and scientists believe that it has a better than even chance of being just that, then it could be in the midst of a fearful scenario, as the heat from its dying star evaporates Kepler 452b's lakes and oceans. "If Kepler 452b is indeed a rocky planet, its location vis-a-vis its star could mean that it is just entering a runaway greenhouse phase of its climate history," said Doug Caldwell, a Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute scientist working on the Kepler mission. "The increasing energy from its aging sun might be heating the surface and evaporating any oceans. The water vapor would be lost from the planet forever," he added. "Kepler 452b could be experiencing now what the Earth will undergo more than a billion years from now, as the Sun ages and grows brighter." Planetary catalog The Kepler mission launched in 2009 to search for exoplanets, which are planets outside our solar system, particularly those about the size of Earth or smaller. "Today, and thousands of discoveries later, astronomers are on the cusp of finding something people have dreamed about for thousands of years -- another Earth," NASA said in a statement. On Thursday, NASA released the latest catalog of exoplanet candidates, adding more than 500 new possible planets to the 4,175 already found by the space-based telescope. "This catalog contains our first analysis of all Kepler data, as well as an automated assessment of these results," said SETI Institute scientist Jeffrey Coughlin. The new catalog includes 12 candidates that are less than twice the diameter of Earth and which are orbiting in the habitable zones of their stars. Of those 12 new candidates, Kepler 452b "is the first to be confirmed as a planet," NASA said. Kepler identifies possible planets by watching for dips in the brightness of stars, which could be caused by a planet passing between the star and the telescope. Other scientific tools are needed to judge whether the planet is gassy or rocky. The Kepler mission has cost NASA about $600 million, and the US space agency said in 2013 that two of its orientation wheels had lost function, leaving the space telescope beyond repair. But scientists have years to pore over the data it has returned in order to narrow the search for Earth-like worlds.
Paul Hammond. Right; THE CAST: From left, Jonathan Grundy played Peter Pan; Amy King essayed Wendy; and Robert Traynor played Captain Hook.By Umer NangianaYou must have seen Peter Pan, the boy who never grows up, flying to and around Neverland many a time on screen. How about seeing him live in the act? Dohaites just enjoyed the feat. It was a dream come true for children, in particular, when Peter Pan and his gang of Lost Boys brought the live adventure to town this Eid festival.Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) collaborated with City Centre to bring Peter Pan’s Neverland to Doha, a high-flying, hi-tech fantasy adventure that combined the drama and excitement of live theatre with the epic visuals of a blockbuster movie.Peter, pursuing his arch enemy, Captain Hook, indeed flew high above the stage before hundreds of people in the audience at City Centre’s festival space. Breathtakingly audacious scenes ensued as Peter, Wendy, Tinkerbell and the Lost Boys crossed swords with Captain Hook and his Pirates.Featuring an international cast of acrobats, dancers, stuntmen and magicians, Peter Pan by Hammond Feel the Magic Company from United Kingdom was an experience that gave live entertainment a new dimension. Invited by QTA to entertain Doha audiences this Eidul al-Fitr, the performers from Britain spiced up Peter Pan’s adventures with their high-octane original music scores and stunning acrobatic stunts on stage.Created by Scottish novelist and playwright J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan is a mischievous boy who can fly and never grows up. He spends his never-ending childhood having adventures on the small island of Neverland as the leader of his gang, the Lost Boys, interacting with mermaids, native Americans, fairies, pirates, and occasionally, ordinary children from the world outside Neverland.In addition to two distinct works by Barrie, the character has been featured in a variety of media and merchandise, both adapting and expanding on Barrie’s works. These include an animated film, a dramatic film, a TV series and other works. Hammond’s version was unique in its own way, another variant of the previously staged versions.“We have taken this show many places, although this version is special for Qatar and unique. We are a company from England and we were invited by QTA to bring this show to Qatar. We do all sorts of performances in shopping malls around the world. In England, we do it in theatres and amusement parks,” Paul Hammond, the producer of the show and the owner of the company, tells Community.The original Barrie play is more than 250 pages but Hammond and his performers summed it up within the allotted 35 minutes, managing to tell the complete story with all its adventures. The choreography, music and stunts came together smoothly and the show, in fact, felt like much more than just 35 minutes.“I think it comes over, all the elements are there. You just have to do it quicker. You just sit down and work out in your head what will work, and then, you write,” Hammond says to elaborate how they mould the story in order to make it fit for the short-time performance, making use of inter-connector acrobatic stunts. The performers came to Qatar prepared.“When we get to Qatar, we had little time to put the show together but before we came we had rehearsals but it is very quick,” Hammond tells Community backstage.Peter, played by young Jonathan Grundy, wears an outfit that consists of a short-sleeved green tunic and tights made of cloth. He came out as a perfect Peter Pan and delivered a punch with his performance. The scene where he flies high along with a co-actor on silks above the stage was the highlight of the show.“Myself and the girl have specialised in silk and acrobatics in England. We have been flown in here and it was great fun. I have done it before but I loved the audience here. It was really nice,” Grundy says after the show.“The cast is completely professional. I have been acting for about 30 years and my colleagues here have done a little less, but nonetheless they are all professionals. As you know the J. M. Barrie book is about 250 pages and we had 35 minutes so there were few bits that were missed (laughs). (But) I think we told most of the story,” Robert Traynor, who portrayed Captain Hook, reels.Captain Hook is Peter Pan’s arch-enemy, whose left hand was cut off in a duel. Hook’s crew, including Smee and Starkey, also consider him a foe. Captain Hook’s two principal fears are the sight of his own blood and one crocodile. His name plays on the iron hook that replaced his hand cut off by Peter Pan and eaten by a saltwater crocodile, which continues to pursue Hook.Amy King played Wendy in the show here. “It was my first time playing Wendy so it was fantastic, really loved the opportunity,” she spells out. Traynor has staged Peter Pan many times before this performance. “I don’t know if it was the original Barrie play, but I have certainly done it where Captain Hook also doubled as Mr. Darling at the end and the beginning of the show,” recalls the veteran actor.The actors for the show were selected after hectic auditions. All of them fit into their roles smoothly.“Some of the performers work permanently with us, some work for a different job so it depends on what your casting has to be and then you pick the right people for the job. We had auditions in London and so many people wanted to come to Qatar,” says Hammond.“We had 200 people who applied to be Wendy, another 100 wanted to be Peter Pan because Qatar is a very popular tourist destination now. Many people wanted to come and so we chose from the ones that auditioned,” he added.These guys are multi-talented, acrobats, actors and singers, says the producer, adding that he trains people besides doing the dancing and acting.“I started out when I was 10 and have been a performer, singer, writer, actor, director; and now, I have my company. I have been doing it for many years. In England, I have been on television when I was an actor and I have done a lot of theatre, but I like to create and make. This is my thing I think,” says Hammond.Starting at school, he trained in performing art before excelling in it to become a creator. In school, they had long days, he recalls, where he would put up little shows with people to entertain the rest of the school, and one day, somebody saw him and sounded out that his talent could be made use of in a play. That is how it began.“I then went to drama school and trained for three years,” says the producer of Peter Pan, Hammond version.Performing before the Doha audience, he added, was a fantastic experience. “The people liked the story. You can gauge from the people queuing to meet the team. They are very pleased, I think,” Hammond says, pointing to spectators now taking pictures with the cast of the show.Hammond praises the QTA for providing everything from sounds, lights and technical support to the show. “We just brought the show and they supplied everything. We just came and performed.” In conclusion, Hammond says he and his team would like to return and perform on an even bigger scale if an opportunity presents itself.
Professor Stephen Hawking speaks at a media event to launch a global science initiative at The Royal Society in London, Britain. Reuters AFP/London British cosmologist Steven Hawking on Monday launched the biggest-ever search for intelligent life in the universe in a 10-year, $100-million (143-million-euro) project to scan the heavens. The Breakthrough Listen project, backed by Russian Silicon Valley entrepreneur Yuri Milner, will be the most powerful, comprehensive and intensive scientific search ever undertaken for signs of extra-terrestrial intelligent life. "In an infinite universe, there must be other occurrences of life. Somewhere in the cosmos, perhaps, intelligent life may be watching," Hawking said at the launch event at the Royal Society science academy in London. "Either way, there is no bigger question. It's time to commit to finding the answer, to search for life beyond Earth. We must know." The project will use some of the biggest telescopes on Earth, searching far deeper into the universe than before for radio spectrum and laser signals. The initiative is allied with the Breakthrough Message project, an international competition to create digital messages that represent humanity. There is no commitment to send any messages into space, and the project should spark discussion about whether humans should be sending messages at all out into the void.
ELATED: NASA and project staff react with joy as telemetry is received from the New Horizons probe at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland Tuesday. AFPBy Deborah NetburnAfter a nearly decade-long journey, the New Horizons spacecraft zoomed past Pluto early Tuesday. The dwarf planet is now the most distant object ever visited by humanity.New Horizons’ closest approach was when the spacecraft was just 7,750 miles away — close enough to take the first high-resolution images of Pluto’s mottled landscape.But NASA officials said it was likely that New Horizons arrived at its destination 72 seconds earlier than projected.That still puts New Horizons solidly in its target window. It also means the mission got about 43 miles closer to the dwarf planet than originally planned, said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern.A small batch of images is expected to be released today or tomorrow.Because of the high speeds necessary to send the craft to the Kuiper belt, it was unable to orbit or otherwise linger near Pluto or its five moons. Instead, New Horizons flew by at 30,800 mph.To maximise its scientific data collection, the spacecraft was not scheduled to communicate its status until Tuesday evening.“We lost the signal as planned at 11:17pm Eastern and there is nothing we could do but trust we had prepared it well to set off on its journey on its own,” said Alice Bowman, New Horizons’ mission operations manager.After the spacecraft went quiet, several members of the New Horizons team remained in the operations room anyway.“Even though we knew it wasn’t going to be talking to us, we wanted to be there so that we would be with it while it went through that journey,” Bowman said.The brief encounter was a product of the realities of orbital physics, which precluded any chance to slow down the spacecraft.Pluto is two-thirds the size of Earth’s moon, and its gravity is very weak — just one-fifteenth of Earth’s gravity.It’s easy to get caught in the gravitational pull of a gas giant like Jupiter, which is about 300 times the mass of Earth. If you can get a spacecraft near enough, the planet’s powerful gravity would draw it down until it could settle into a stable orbit.But with Pluto, the dynamics are different. A spacecraft could only get caught in an orbit around Pluto if it were moving slowly, at nearly the same velocity as the dwarf planet.It is possible in theory to slow the spacecraft down ahead of its rendezvous. But that would have required New Horizons to launch with almost 70,000 pounds of fuel, according to calculations by Ben Montet, an astronomy graduate student at Caltech.Considering the spacecraft weighed just over 1,000 pounds when it left Earth in 2006 that was not going to happen.And because this mission is so long, and has taken the spacecraft so deep into the solar system, mission architects felt the simplest — and most cost-effective — plan was to blow past Pluto without stopping.So, scientists had to make do with a fast flyby, carefully choreographing the observations of New Horizons’ suite of instruments to collect as much information as possible in a short amount of time.The budget for the mission was a relatively low $700 million. It is managed by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland, which designed, built and operates the spacecraft.At the time of the launch, Pluto was still considered a full planet. It was demoted a few months later in 2006 because the International Astronomical Union said it was not hefty enough to prevent similar-sized objects from forming in its section of the solar system.As New Horizons has gotten closer to Pluto, its instruments already have revealed new facets of the dwarf planet.Over the weekend, scientists discovered that it is a bit bigger than they expected. Previous estimates had put it somewhere between 715 and 746 miles, but new information suggests Pluto’s radius is about 736 miles across, putting it solidly at the upper end of the estimate.The measurement suggests that Pluto’s interior is less dense with more ice and less rock than was previously thought, said Stern.At a news conference he noted that it appears there is snow on Pluto.But the New Horizons team is not saying what the new data might mean until they’ve been able to study it.“Especially when we are exploring brand-new planets, science on the fly usually turns out to be wrong,” Stern said.Pluto’s icy polar cap appears to be made of methane ice and nitrogen ice, and images collected by the spacecraft show strange dark poles on Pluto’s Texas-sized moon, Charon — something that has never been seen before in the solar system.“The system is enchanting in its strangeness and alien beauty, showing us complex and nuanced surfaces that are beyond our wildest dreams of science,” Stern said.There is, however, a slight risk of calamity.Computer models suggest there is a 1-in-10,000 chance that a rogue piece of space dust, perhaps from a recent impact on one of Pluto’s satellites, could damage the spacecraft or its instruments.Although the odds are low, mission scientists can’t rule it out. “You always take on a risk when you are flying into the unknown,” Stern said.By the time this appears in fine print, the spacecraft will have broken from its scientific observations to send word across 3.5 billion miles of space that it had sailed through the Pluto system unscathed.That message, moving at the speed of light, will have taken 4.5 hours to get to scientists on Earth. During its brief window of intense scientific data collection, New Horizons’ seven instruments are scheduled to gather information that will be studied for years to come, including measurements that will reveal the height of Pluto’s mountains, the depths of its valleys and the temperature of its surface.In the hours after its closest approach, the spacecraft will turn around and point its large antennae toward Earth to receive a radio signal sent by NASA’s Deep Space Network through Pluto’s atmosphere. This will help scientists determine what it is made of, and whether it shares an atmosphere with Charon.Cathy Olkin, deputy project scientist for the mission, said it would take nearly 16 months to get all the data from New Horizons back to Earth.There are plans to get more mileage out of the trip as well, including a visit to another object in the Kuiper belt sometime in the future.Decisions about extending missions aren’t made until the primary mission is complete, but in the fall of 2014, scientists identified three additional bodies that would be worth a visit.These icy worlds are significantly smaller than Pluto. Scientists believe they are frozen relics from the dawn of the solar system, and could teach us more about our origins and the diversity of objects in this little-known region.Each one is about a billion miles from Pluto, and it would take until 2019 to get there. —Los Angeles Times/TNSLowly Pluto has a lot to bark aboutLook closely. There’s little Pluto, ready for its close-up.The orphan of the solar system — unceremoniously booted in 2006 from the roster of planets for being a mere dwarf planet — is now the centre of astronomical attention. NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew tantalisingly close to Pluto Tuesday. The voluminous data and the photos New Horizons will send back — with their potential for unprecedented detail and clarity — have scientists salivating.Every aspect of this mission is awe-inspiring. New Horizons, the fastest spacecraft ever launched, is the size of a grand piano. In 9 1/2 years it has travelled 3 billion miles, so far that its signals take 4 1/2 hours to reach flight controllers at Johns Hopkins University. And, the spacecraft is still intact. So far. Pluto’s moons and the space dust that orbits Pluto pose dangers.This is a feel-good moment for an industry that has seen the failure of three International Space Station cargo ships — two American, one Russian — in the past 10 months. The most recent was the explosion in June of an unmanned SpaceX rocket carrying supplies.But it’s bittersweet too. The Pluto flyby is the final stop in NASA’s mission to explore every planet in our solar system (Pluto wasn’t downgraded until seven months after New Horizons launched). The New Horizons team hopes to push out to even farther reaches of the solar system after Pluto, but no grand new expeditions are on the horizon. The phase of exploration embodied by Mariner, Viking and Voyager is coming to a close. The future hinges on a debate involving budgets, risks, priorities, and the roles to be played by public and private enterprise.As much as we still don’t know about space, we can say this with certainty: Amazing discoveries have been made. The boundaries of our knowledge have been extended. Imaginations have been unleashed.So let’s celebrate New Horizons and the people behind it and what we will learn from this remarkable achievement. And let’s salute Pluto, the celestial dog finally getting its day. —Newsday/TNS
NASA Principal Investigator for New Horizons mission Alan Stern (L) and Co-Investigator Will Grundy (R) hold up an enlarged, out-dated U.S. postage stamp with the "NOT YET" crossed out, during the celebration of the spacecraft New Horizons flyby of Pluto, at NASA's Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. Reuters/Laurel, Maryland.A US spacecraft sailed past the tiny planet Pluto in the distant reaches of the solar system on Tuesday, capping a journey of 3 billion miles (4.88 billion km) that began nine and a half years ago. NASA's New Horizons spacecraft passed by the ice-and-rock planetoid and its entourage of five moons at 7:49 a.m. EDT (1149 GMT). The event culminated an initiative to survey the solar system that the space agency embarked upon more than 50 years ago. "Pluto just had its first visitor," President Obama posted on Twitter. "Thanks NASA. It's a great day for discovery and American leadership." About 13 hours after its closest approach to Pluto, the last major unexplored body in the solar system, New Horizons phoned home, signaling that it had survived its 31,000 miles per hour(49,000 km per hour) blitz through the Pluto system. Managers had estimated there was a 1-in-10,000 chance a debris strike could destroy New Horizons as it soared just 7,750 miles (12,472 km) - about the distance from New York to Mumbai - from Pluto. But right on time, New Horizons made radio contact with flight controllers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab outside Baltimore, sparking a wave of shouts and applause from an overflow crowd gathered to watch the drama unfold. With 99 percent of the data gathered during the encounter still on the spaceship, New Horizons' survival was critical to the mission. "This is a tremendous moment in human history," said John Grunsfeld, NASA's associate administrator for science. New Horizons spent more than eight hours after its closest approach looking back at Pluto for a series of experiments to study the planet's atmosphere and photograph its night-side using light reflected off its primary moon Charon. Sending back its first post-flyby signal took another four-and-a-half hours, the time it takes radio signals, traveling at light speed, to travel the 3 billion miles (4.88 billion km) back to Earth. Already, the trickle of images and measurements relayed from New Horizons before Tuesday's pass by Pluto has changed scientists' understanding of this diminutive world, which is smaller than Earth's moon. Once considered an icy, dead world, the planetoid has yielded signs of geological activity, with evidence of past and possibly present-day tectonics, or movements of its crust. "This is clearly a world where both geology and atmosphere climatology play a role," said Alan Stern, New Horizons lead scientist, with the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. He noted that it appears that nitrogen and methane snow fall on Pluto. Pluto circles the sun every 248 years in a highly tilted orbit that creates radical changes from season to season. Pluto travels closer to the sun than the orbit of Neptune before it cycles back into the solar system's deep freeze more than 40 times farther away than Earth. Scientists have many questions about Pluto, which was still considered the solar system's ninth planet when New Horizons was launched in 2006. Pluto was reclassified as a "dwarf planet" after the discovery of other Pluto-like spheres orbiting in the Kuiper Belt, the region beyond the eighth planet, Neptune. The objects are believed to be remnants from the formation of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago. "Now the solar system will be further opened up to us, revealing the secrets of distant Pluto," British cosmologist Stephen Hawking said in a message broadcast on NASA TV. "We explore because we are human and we want to know. I hope that Pluto will help us on that journey," Hawking said. It will take about 16 months for New Horizons to transmit back all the thousands of images and measurements taken during its pass by Pluto. By then, the spacecraft will have traveled even deeper into the Kuiper Belt, heading for a possible follow-on mission to one of Pluto's cousins.
Spotted in the southern hemisphere of Mars, the plumes (at right in yellow circle, augmented views at left) arose over ten hours and lasted more than a week. The plumes extend far higher than anything previously observed on the red planet. Illustration courtesy: National Geographic AFP Amateur astronomers have spotted two strange, cloud-like plumes high over Mars, deepening the mystery of what constitutes the Red Planet's atmosphere, a study said Monday. The phenomenon was observed on March 12, 2012 over the "terminator", the boundary between day and night on Mars. One of the plumes developed in around 10 hours and lasted for about 11 days, shifting shape from "double blob protrusions" to pillars which merged into a "finger", the study authors wrote. A second was spotted nearby on April 6, 2012, and lasted about 10 days. Their trails were vast, extending between 500 and 1,000 kilometres (300 to 600 miles) in north-to-south and east-to-west directions. The "clouds" -- if that is indeed what they were -- were seen at high altitude, at about 200-250 kilometres, roughly above Terra Cimmeria, which is part of Mars' rugged southern highlands, according to the paper. Mars is being scrutinised for signs of water and volcanic activity, both of which could theoretically nurture some form of life. Clouds of dust or ice crystals have been spotted occasionally over Mars in the past. But they have never been as extensive as the latest two, and they always formed at an altitude below 100 kilometres. The plumes could be made of particles of water or carbon dioxide, said the paper published in the journal Nature Geoscience by a team led by Agustin Sanchez-Lavega of the University of the Basque Country in Bilbao, Spain. Alternatively, it could be an aurora, similar to the shimmering light show that develops in Earth's atmosphere when solar particles collide with Earth's magnetic field. Past surveillance by scientific orbiters have suggested Terra Cimmeria to have a "strip" with a strong but localised magnetic field. If correct, the Martian "aurora" would be a remarkable 1,000 times brighter than its terrestrial equivalent. But "both explanations defy our current understanding of Mars' upper atmosphere," the scientists admit.
AFP/Paris Some people may retain awareness after they have technically died, according to an unusual study published on Wednesday into hospital patients who went into deep cardiac arrest. Fifteen hospitals in Britain, Austria and the United States pooled information about more than 2,000 cardiac arrest patients. The research, published in the European journal Resuscitation, sought to assess "near-death experiences" and other phenomena recounted by people hauled back from clinical death -- when heart and brain activity have stopped. Of the 2,060 patients, 330 were resuscitated, of whom 101 completed in-depth, two-stage interviews afterwards. Thirty-nine percent described a perception of awareness before their heart was restarted but did not have a explicit recall of events. "This suggests that more people may have mental activity initially but then lose their memories after recovery, either due to the effects of brain injury or sedative drugs on memory recall," said Sam Parnia, who led the study at Britain's University of Southampton. Forty-six percent said they had feelings of fear, violence or persecution, deja-vu, or images of relatives, animals and plants. Only nine percent reported the better-known near-death experience, such as the sensation of detachment from the body. Two percent said they could explicitly recall "seeing" and "hearing" events while they were technically dead. In one such case, the patient was able to recall two beeps from a machine that made a noise at three-minute intervals, enabling the researchers to time how long the experience lasted. "This is significant, since it has often been assumed that experiences in relation to death are likely hallucinations or illusions, occurring either before the heart stops or after the heart has been successfully restarted, but not an experience corresponding with 'real' events when the heart isn't beating," said Parnia, now at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. "In this case, consciousness and awareness appeared to occur during a three-minute period when there was no heartbeat. "This is paradoxical, since the brain typically ceases functioning within 20-30 seconds of the heart stopping and doesn't resume again until the heart has been restarted. Furthermore, the detailed recollections of visual awareness in this case were consistent with verified events." Parnia said more work was needed to see whether awareness persisted into clinical death.
AFP Stargazers in the Americas and Asia were treated to a lunar eclipse Wednesday, a celestial show that bathed the moon in a reddish tint to create a "blood moon." During the total lunar eclipse, light beams into Earth's shadow, filling it with a coppery glow that gives it a red hue. The early phase of the eclipse began at 0800 GMT, or 4:00 am, on the east coast of the United States. NASA provided live footage via telescope of the eclipse, showing a black shadow creeping across the moon in a crawl that took about an hour. Only when the moon was totally eclipsed did the redness appear. The total eclipse was also to last about an hour, and ditto for the return to its normal colour. The total eclipse happened at 6:25 am on the US east coast (1025 GMT). The NASA web site was peppered with Tweets bubbling with questions and comments on the heavenly phenomenon. "This is amazing. Thank you for this opportunity," read a Tweet from the handle @The Gravity Dive. "Is there any crime increase during this process? Any psychological problems?" wrote a person who identified herself as Alisa Young. Just before the climax, Kathi Hennesey in California wrote, "Watching from San Francisco Bay Area. Just a sliver now." Ring of fire A NASA commentator explained that during the total eclipse, if you were standing on the moon and looking at the earth, you would see it all black, with ring of fire around it. In Hong Kong, free viewing locations were set up on a harborside promenade by the Hong Kong Space Museum for the public to observe the various phases on telescopes. In Tokyo's Roppongi fashion and entertainment district, enthusiasts performed yoga exercises under the blood moon. Many others had climbed atop the city's skyscrapers to view the sky. On Australia's east coast, a live video feed set up by the Sydney Observatory was hit by cloud cover, thwarting some viewers. In New Zealand, the moon will be close to its highest point in the sky, according to Auckland's Stardome Observatory & Planetarium, making for a view of the spectacle unobstructed by buildings. In Hong Kong, hundreds of patient onlookers of all ages lined the harborfront promenade late Wednesday hoping for a glimpse of the eclipse. Many came armed with cameras and telescopes but on a cloudy evening in a city whose sky is rarely clear of pollution haze, it was visible only intermittently. With tweets from across the viewing countries in Asia, one in New Zealand described the eclipse as "omg the sky is red right now... at 12:26 am in Auckland" with the hashtag "#sofreakingcoool ." After clouds on Australia's east coast, the Sydney Observatory welcomed a sighting with "We saw the blood Moon finally!". "Sydney skygazers didn't completely miss out tonight, though the cloud did dampen everyone's spirits early on," said the The Sydney Morning in a live report on the eclipse. The event was not visible in Africa or Europe, NASA said. The eclipse is the second of four total lunar eclipses, which started with a first "blood moon" on April 15, in a series astronomers call a tetrad. The next two total lunar eclipses will be on April 4 and September 28 of next year. The last time a tetrad took place was in 2003-2004, with the next predicted for 2032-2033. In total, the 21st century will see eight tetrads.
Reuters/Stockholm/LondonA German and two American scientists won the 2014 Nobel Prize for Chemistry on Wednesday for smashing the size barrier in optical microscopes, allowing researchers to see individual molecules inside living cells. U.S. citizens Eric Betzig and William Moerner and Germany's Stefan Hell won the prize for using fluorescence to take microscopes to a new level, making it possible to study things like the creation of synapses between brain cells in real time. "Due to their achievements the optical microscope can now peer into the nanoworld," the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said as it awarded the 8 million crown ($1.1 million) prize. Scientists, who have been looking down microscopes since the 17th century, had long thought there was a limit to what could be seen. In 1873, Ernst Abbe stipulated that resolution could never be better than 0.2 micrometres, or around 500 times smaller than the width of a human hair. But the three Nobel winners bypassed this limit by tagging objects with fluorescent markers and scanning them to build up a far more detailed images. Today, such "nanoscopy" is used widely to visualise the internal molecular machinery of cells. "This is very, very important to understanding how the cell works and understanding what goes wrong if the cell is diseased," Hell told a news conference by telephone after learning of the award. Modern nanoscale microscopes can follow protein interactions involved in diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and cancer, or watch the transcription and translation of DNA to make proteins, or track the development of fertilised eggs as they divide and become embryos. The previous limit meant optical microscopes could see objects about the size of the smallest bacteria, but not the detailed workings of individual components inside cells. Light is a common theme of both this award and the Nobel Prize for Physics, which was given on Tuesday for advances in low-energy light-emitting diodes. Revolutionised imaging "It's no exaggeration to say that super-resolution fluorescence microscopy has revolutionised imaging, so this year's Nobel Prize for Chemistry is very well deserved," said Stefanie Reichelt, head of light microscopy at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, University of Cambridge. Other techniques, such as electron microscopes, can provide greater resolution but require preparatory measures that kill cells, making them of no use for observing living processes. "If you want to see living things, you must use something which does not destroy the sample, by using normal light," Anders Hagfeldt, a member of the Swedish academy and professor of physical chemistry at Uppsala University told Reuters. "It was said it could not be done, basically. Now, with these three laureates here, it is possible." Hell, who is director of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Germany, said he was "totally surprised" by the prize, while Betzig said he was stunned. "I have been walking around a daze for the last hour, on a nice day in Munich, fearful that my life has changed," he told Reuters by phone from the southern German city, where he was scheduled to give a lecture on Wednesday. Moerner, who is attending a conference in Recife, Brazil, told Reuters TV: "I knew there was a chance but really had no idea...it's something that makes your heart race." Betzig works at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Ashburn, United States, while Moerner is professor at Stanford University.
Professor Shuji Nakamura (pictured) is one of three scientists to win the Nobel Physics Prize. Reuters/Stockholm Japanese scientists Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano and American Shuji Nakamura won the 2014 Nobel Prize for Physics for inventing a new energy efficient and environmentally friendly light source, the LED, the award-giving body said on Tuesday. "With the advent of LED lamps we now have more long lasting and more efficient alternatives to older light sources," the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement awarding the 8mn Swedish crown ($1.1mn) prize. "As about one fourth of world electricity consumption is used for lighting purposes, the LEDs contribute to saving the Earth's resources," it said. Akasaki works at the Meijo University in Japan and Amano is professor at the Nagoya University. Nakamura, who was born in Japan but is an American citizen, works at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Physics was the second of this year's crop of Nobels. The prizes were first awarded in 1901 to honour achievements in science, literature and peace in accordance with the will of dynamite inventor and business tycoon Alfred Nobel. As winners of the physics award, the first field to be mentioned in Nobel's will, the laureates join ranks with some of the biggest names in science such as Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr and the husband and wife team of Pierre and Marie Curie. While the increasingly complex science celebrated by the Nobels has often been far from dinner table conversation, it has also highlighted more widely known achievements, such as last year's award for the prediction of the Higgs boson particle.
By Andrej Sokolow Things could get crowded in the sky. Internet companies Google and Amazon are developing robotic drones to deliver parcels. The aim is to be able to deliver virtually anything by air within one or two minutes, says Google X director Astro Teller. The drive to build a delivery drone that does its job reliably and without harm has to be taken seriously, given that heavyweight companies like these are putting serious effort into them. Company co-founder Sergey Brin has been a driving force behind Google’s drone project, called Project Wing. Nevertheless there are many open questions. Would individual deliveries from the air really be economically viable? How should new rules on regulating automated traffic in the skies be formulated? How do you deal with the risk of drones crashing into each other, into other aircraft or objects on the ground? Would communication with the drones cause electromagnetic interference? How can they be made proof against theft, sabotage or use for purposes of terrorism? The companies acknowledge that it will take years to solve the technical and legal problems, but both Google and Amazon have the political clout to insist that regulators don’t just ban the plan outright. “We believe that speed is key to changing people’s consumption patterns fundamentally,” Teller, who runs the secretive Google-X laboratory, recently told the German daily Berliner Zeitung. His laboratory produced projects like Project Glass, which provides data to the wearer via a tiny display in a pair of spectacles, and Project Loon, which is intended to take the internet to remote regions using balloons. When Amazon first presented its drone project in December, there was widespread scepticism, but also keen interest from some quarters. Deutsche Post, now the world’s largest logistical company, responded by testing deliveries of medications by drone from a pharmacy to its headquarters on the other side of the Rhine river in Bonn, Germany. US pizza chain Domino’s has shown that pizzas can be delivered per “DomiCopter,” and a New Yorker has filmed a drone taking his dog for a walk. In current tests in the wide open spaces of Australia, Google’s Project Wing is testing an 8.5-kilogram aircraft that rests on the ground with its propellers pointed straight up, but then switches into a horizontal position when flying. Google X and its current trials clearly do not mimic the difficulties involved in operating over densely populated cities. But those involved are convinced that the obstacles can be overcome. The system should be trialled initially in a small town to demonstrate functionality and safety, Teller told the Berliner Zeitung. The range of goods on offer would then gradually be expanded. Internet investor Marc Andreessen has suggested setting up a “Drone Valley” in the United States where regulations governing drone flights could be eased to facilitate intensive testing. Enthusiasm for drones comes at a time of great change in established logistics caused by the internet companies. Investors in Uber have placed the value of 17 billion dollars on the ride-share company, not so much because it will shake up the taxi industry, but also because it is predicted to expand its services into logistics. “Once you’re sending around cars in five minutes, there are a lot of other things you can deliver in five minutes,” Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick says. His company is now testing UberFresh in California, which delivers fresh food within 10 minutes. And in San Francisco the Postmates startup is offering low-cost courier services to everyone through its online platform. “The logistics sector needs to take very seriously the Google and Amazon programmes for delivering parcels by drone,” Peter Russo, a professor at the European Business School told the Berliner Zeitung. “The established companies in the sector are too fixated on improving their current business models, instead of thinking about how the sector can be fundamentally organized in a more efficient way through new technologies,” Russo said. -DPA