Sunday, October 12, 2008

Pictured: Our Milky Way like you've never seen it before

By Mail On Sunday Reporter

It looks like a lunar landscape but this remarkable photograph actually shows our Milky Way and the planet Jupiter in all their glory - viewed from a cave in America's Utah desert.

The spiral galaxy, which cannot be seen with the naked eye, was captured by photographer Wally Pacholka using a 35mm camera and 50mm lens on a tripod with a 30-second exposure - long enough to collect the light but not to see the stars moving.

Shot from a cave in Utah, the Milky Way - 1,000 light years in diameter - and the planet Jupiter (top left)

Pacholka, 59, an architect from Long Beach, California, relied on the light of a crescent moon to illuminate the subject and chose the area because of the near-absence of ambient light.

He said: 'I had to drive 800 miles each way five times to get the shot right. And I had to hike two miles to the cave and back again at night, getting lost each time I came out.'

His photo shows the Milky Way - estimated to be 100,000 light years in diameter and 1,000 light years deep - and Jupiter (to the top left), the biggest planet in the solar system with a diameter 11 times that of Earth's.

After Venus, Jupiter is the second-brightest planet despite being about 390million miles from Earth.

The cave, which has been carved out of the desert's red sandstone rock, lies to the south-east of Salt Lake City and is estimated to be 300million years old. The area is rich with Native American ruins.

Tribes such as the Ancestral Pueblo have lived here for thousands of years, surviving temperatures that can soar to 49C (120F).

When Pacholka took this picture, at about 9pm on August 3, the temperature had fallen to 18C (65F).

The stone circle at the mouth of the cave is believed to have been used in traditional Native American ceremonies from 900 AD.

Pacholka has been snapping American geographic landmarks against the night sky for 30 years and his works have been published by Nasa.

For more of his images go to www.

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Ten asteroid encounters that almost got us (and still could)


If your corner of the Earth were about to be hit by a relatively large asteroid - say the size of a large city - you wouldn't know it until a second before impact. At that point, you and everything around you would crinkle and vapourize, like plastic wrap in a fire.

The ultra-supersonic ball of rock and ore would do this without touching you by superheating the air in front of it as it races to its final destination.

Finally, the asteroid would slam into the Earth: If it slammed into water, watch out for tsunamis that would make the Boxing Day event of 2004 look like high tide...If it scored a direct hit on land (less likely, when you consider how much of Earth is covered by water) watch out for some of the most violent planet-wide Earth quakes our world has seen in a while, worldwide volcanic eruptions, and a cloud of ash that would block out enough sunlight to kill a staggering number of our world's plants and animals.

An asteroid makes contact with Earth

So how close have we come to death from the skies? The October 2008 encounter over Sudan with a three-metre-wide asteroid provides the best confirmation in a while that objects larger than harmless little "shooting star" particles can score a direct hit on Earth.

Click here to see a larger animation of the asteroid (faint object moving from upper-left to lower-right in animation above), courtesy Canadian astrophotographer Steve Barnes and Searchlight Observatories - Harlingten and Alain Maury.

Though this particular asteroid burned-up in the atmosphere, larger such objects could make landfall. The really scary thing is that we really have no way to detect what might be hurtling toward us right now.

Close calls

To put things into perspective, here's a select look at some large asteroids, comets, and other bodies that have come within a stone's throw of Earth - near or inside the Moon's orbit - over the last few years:

1. Asteroid: Tunguska event

Year: 1908

Proximity to Earth (number of times Earth/Moon distance): Exploded metres above ground in the Russian wilderness

In a nutshel: This asteroid or comet fragment was thought to have burned and flattened trees with a 10-15 megaton explosion just before it would have made landfall. Scientists estimate such an event happens every 300 years or so.

2. Asteroid: 1937 UB

Year: 1937

Proximity to Earth (number of times Earth/Moon distance): Twice the distance from the Earth to the Moon

In a nutshel: Long before this asteroid could have been detected in time - at the time - it passed razor-close to Earth - it's diameter? 1.2 km - more than enough to cause plenty of worldwide damage

3. Asteroid: 4581 Asclepius (1989 FC)

Year: 1989

Proximity to Earth (number of times Earth/Moon distance): 700,000 km (About twice the distance from the Earth to the Moon)

In a nutshel: Most frighteningly, this 1 km-wide asteroid passed precisely where the Earth had been only six hours before.

4. Asteroid: 2002 MN

Year: 2002

Proximity to Earth (number of times Earth/Moon distance): 0.3 (120,000 km)

In a nutshel: This passed inside the Moon's orbit, missing Earth by a wide margin within the orbit. That's good news, as the 80-metre-wide asteroid would have caused damage over 2,000 square kilometres if it actually made contact with Earth.

5. Asteroid: 2002 FH

Year: 2004

Proximity to Earth (number of times Earth/Moon distance): 0.1 (42,000 km)

In a nutshel: LINEAR, the asteroid tracking robot telescope showed this 30 metre object would pass within the ream of some earth-orbiting satellites - the closest pass ever predicted up to this point.

6. Asteroid: 2004 FU162

Year: 2004

Proximity to Earth (number of times Earth/Moon distance): 0.02 (6,400 km)

In a nutshel: This was the closest recent pass to almost hit Earth - this object was detected mere hours before it hit Earth, though it was only 10 metres in diameter

7. Asteroid: 2008 TC3

Year: 2008

Proximity to Earth (number of times Earth/Moon distance): Bullseye - made contact with atmosphere

In a nutshel: Vapourized in teh atmosphre over Sudan, but showed a direct hit is possibe

8. Asteroid: 1999 AQ10

Year: 2009

Proximity to Earth (number of times Earth/Moon distance): 4.4

In a nutshel: In mere months, another asteroid, this one 100-times the diameter of October's news-maker, will cruise by us only 4 times farther than the Moon's orbit

9. Asteroid: 2002 NT7

Year: 2019

Proximity to Earth (number of times Earth/Moon distance): 4.4

In a nutshel: Largely considered the most threatening object yet to come near Earth, this two-kilometre rock has a fraction-of-a-per-cent chance of striking the Earth. If it did so, space scientists warn, it could wipe out an entire continent.

10. Asteroid: 1950 DA

Year: 2880

Proximity to Earth (number of times Earth/Moon distance): 1-in-300 chance of direct hit

In a nutshel: This 1.4 km-wide object has a 50% greater chance of hitting Earth than all the other known "Moon-grazers" combined. In Just over 800 years, there's a 0.3% chance this object will strike Earth directly, creating species-ending, worldwide destruction.

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Super Cells to Power Cyborgs

Cyborgs are moving out of science-fiction and into the real world. With an increasing number of first world citizens suddenly turning up missing limbs, due to some mysterious and definitely non-oil-related reason, and advances in man-machine interface technology it's time to think about how we're going to power artificial additions to the body. The average human doesn't react well to an electrical outlet, and most of the chemicals you find inside batteries aren't ones you'd want to find inside yourself.

Researchers at Yale University have come up with blueprints for a bio-battery, organic cells which can work together to produce an electrical voltage. These cells are optimised versions of electric eel electrocytes, the results of millions of years of evolution plus a few more of scientists going "We can do better than that!" The upgraded electro-cells will produce 30% higher voltages than the original organics, and 30% more efficiently.

The improvements were made possible by mathematically modeling the ion pumps and channels which set up the voltages in the natural cells. With the mechanisms freed from the gooey bits of the actual cell, the model could be varied to find the most efficient values, which were then mapped back into a design for cells which will do a much better job.

Or at least they will if we can build them. There's a long way between the drawing board and the cyber-implant in the world of biotechnology, at least for those of us outside of Marvel, and several "How do we actually build this?" questions have to be answered. The key will be the connection of the electro-cells to the ATP reserves in the body, allowing you to convert calories into charge to run your Apple iMplant audio player.

Posted by Luke McKinney

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Planet's loneliest bug revealed

A micrograph of Desulforudis audaxviator, reproduced with permission of Greg Wanger, J Craig Venter Institute, and Gordon Southam, University of Western Ontario
This micrograph shows the bacteria (image by permission of scientists)

A bug which lives entirely on its own and survives without oxygen in complete darkness underground has been discovered in South Africa.

Desulforudis audaxviator, or bold traveller as it is known in English, relies on water, hydrogen and sulphate for its energy.

Because it gets by without oxygen, it could offer clues as to whether life exists on other planets.

The loneliest living species known to science was found inside a gold mine.

The rod-shaped bacterium was found 2.8km (1.74 miles) beneath the surface of the Earth in the Mponeng mine near Johannesburg, living in complete isolation, total darkness and 60C (140F) heat.

The find represents the first known ecosystem with a single biological species, scientists say.

It was identified in DNA extracted from water-filled cracks in the mine.

Dr Dylan Chivian of California's Berkley National Laboratory, who is part of the team that made the discovery, explained its significance.

"Early Earth and other planets didn't have a lot of oxygen on them, so life has evolved to use oxygen in order to get its energy," he told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"You know, if we ever discover life on other planets, it may very well be that they live without oxygen and instead potentially use chemicals like sulphate to get their energy."

The bug's name is partially based on a sentence in Latin from Jules Verne's novel Journey to the Centre of the Earth: "Descende, Audax viator, et terrestre centrum attinges", which translates as "Descend, Bold Traveller, and attain the centre of the Earth".

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Gecko-like glue is said to be stickiest yet

1 of 1Full Size

By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A new type of dry glue designed to mimic gecko feet is 10 times stickier than the gravity-defying lizards, and three times stickier than other gecko-inspired glues, U.S. researchers said on Thursday.

"It's the stickiest dry glue yet," said Liming Dai of the University of Dayton, who reported on the glue in the journal Science.

A 1-inch (2.5-cm) square of the adhesive can support the weight of a 220-pound (100-kg) man climbing up a vertical surface, but it can be easily lifted and reapplied, an ideal material for, say, a Spider-Man suit.

"That is not real. What we do is real," said Zhong Lin Wang of Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, referring to the comic book superhero's wall-climbing prowess.

Aside from helping people walk up walls, the glue could be used in electrical components without the need for soldering, Wang and Dai said in a telephone interview.

And because it is dry, it could be used at very low temperatures as in space, where more conventional glues lose their grip.

Like other gecko-inspired glues, the new glue uses a carpet of carbon nanotubes, thin filaments of carbon molecules. But attached to the ends of these filaments are curly strands of carbon that expand the surface area of the glue's gripping action.

This design matches the structure of real gecko feet, which have microscopic hairs that branch off in different directions.

"Our sticky glue has a force 10 times that of gecko feet and three times more than previous sticky glues trying to mimic the gecko feet," said Dai, who also worked with teams from the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory near Dayton and the University of Akron to develop the glue.

Dai said the design is meant to maximize the effect of atomic-scale attractive forces known as van der Waals forces. When the curly part of the tubes are pressed onto a surface, the tubes become aligned with the surface, forming a strong bond. But, when lifted at an angle, this bond is broken.

Wang uses the analogy of having a foot stuck in mud. If you pull straight up, the foot stays stuck, but if you slowly peel the foot away, the bond is broken.

(Editing by Maggie Fox and Xavier Briand)

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GE builds an OLED printer, hopes to challenge light bulbs in 2010

by Samuel Axon

Maybe the incandescent light bulb has been sitting in its socket-shaped throne for too many years -- GE thinks so, anyway. GE R&D guys have produced a machine that prints OLED materials newspaper-style onto 8-inch sheets of metal foil in hopes that the sheets -- which can be pinned to just about any surface -- will start the process of home lighting biz regime change in 2010. Picture, if you will, wallpaper or window blinds that provide soft, diffused lighting for the living room after dark -- no need for special fixtures, just a wall plug. OLED lighting isn't yet cost-efficient for the average consumer, but GE hopes that will change soon. In the meantime, expect to see these sheets in a trip-out Flaming Lips concert in the somewhat-near future.

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