Google invades Space !

Internet boss Google unveiled a new feature to its popular Google Earth application on Wednesday, allowing users to view the night sky above and zoom in on far-away constellations and planets.

The Sky application allows users to view and navigate through 100 million stars in far away galaxies, all depicted in high-resolution images.

The application labels which stars make up the constellations, shows users what they might be able to see from their own backyards with the naked eye or small telescopes and includes images from the Hubble space telescope.

It also displays the phases of the moon, the positions of the planets for now and up to two months in the future, offers virtual tours through different galaxies and details the different stages of a star's life cycle.

"Sky is a very cool new feature for anyone who has ever looked up at the sky and wanted to know more," said Sally Ride, a former astronaut. "I think this is a great tool for satisfying that curiosity."

Carol Christian of the Space Telescope Science Institute, who helped develop the application, said she hoped the new program would encourage more people to learn about space.

"Never before has a roadmap of the entire sky been made so readily available," she said.

"Anyone interested in exploring the wonders of our universe can quickly see where the stunning objects photographed by Hubble actually dwell in the heavens," she added

"Sky in Google Earth will foster and initiate new understanding of the universe by bringing it to everyone's home computer."

The interface and navigation of the new feature are similar to those on the current Google Earth function, which allows users to drag, zoom and search their way around the planet.

To access the new feature, users need to download the latest version of Earth, available on the website from Wednesday.

The application was created by Google engineers stitching together images from sources such as the Space Telescope Science Institute and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

Google launched its Earth application in 2005, allowing people to zoom in on satellite images of almost any point around the world. The program has since been downloaded more than 200 million times.

Source : The Sydney Morning Herald

Lucent technologies-Bell Labs Innovations

This is a video about Lucent technologies describing its achievements in the field of Science and technologies

New Development : Bendable Battery

It's a battery that looks like a piece of paper and can be bent or twisted, trimmed with scissors or molded into any shape needed. While the battery is only a prototype a few inches square right now, the researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute who developed it have high hopes for it in electronics and other fields that need smaller, lighter power sources."We would like to scale this up to the point where you can imagine printing batteries like a newspaper. That would be the ultimate," Robert Linhardt a professor at the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies at RPI said in a telephone interview.The development is reported in this week's online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Unlike other batteries, Linhardt explained, it is an integrated device, not a combination of pieces. The battery uses paper infused with an electrolyte and carbon nanotubes that are embedded in the paper. The carbon nanotubes form the electrodes, the paper is the separator and the electrolyte allows the current to flow.Students at the school in Troy, N.Y., were the inspiration for the work, said Linhardt, whose students were working on methods to dissolve paper and cast it into membranes for use in dialysis machines. Meanwhile, students of Pulickel Ajayan in RPI's materials science department were trying to make carbon nanotube composites using polymers. The two groups got together and realized they could use paper instead of polymers and combine the two projects.Then came Omkaram Nalamasu's students, also at RPI, who said the project—a thin sheet black on one side and white on the other—looked like an electrical device. And over about 18 months, the groups developed the projects, into a battery, a capacitor, which stores electricity and a combination of the two. Ajayan sees potential uses in combination with solar cells, perhaps layers of the paper batteries that could store the electricity generated until it is needed, he said in a telephone interview.Perhaps it could be scaled up and shaped into something like a car door, offering moving electrical storage and power when needed. That might be an expensive proposition, however, cautioned Peter Kofinas, an engineering professor at the University of Maryland."The advantage of a flexible device would be that you could roll it in a film or a sheet. However, carbon nanotubes are very expensive," said Kofinas, who was not involved in the research."So from the commercial standpoint, this would be very expensive if you want to make a large sheet out of this material," he said via e- mail. In addition, he said, "It does not look like it performs better than currently available batteries and supercapacitors in the market."Because of its flexibility, however, it does have potential, Kofinas said.The research was funded by the New York State Office of Science, Technology and Academic Research and the National Science Foundation.

Intelligence in Dust?

Scientists have discovered that inorganic material can take on the characteristics of living organisms in space, a development that could transform views of alien life.
An international panel from the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Max Planck institute in Germany and the University of Sydney found that galactic dust could form spontaneously into helixes and double helixes and that the inorganic creations had memory and the power to reproduce themselves.

A similar rethinking of prospective alien life is being undertaken by the National Research Council, an advisory body to the US government. It says Nasa should start a search for what it describes as “weird life” - organisms that lack DNA or other molecules found in life on Earth.
The new research, to be published this week in the New Journal of Physics, found nonorganic dust, when held in the form of plasma in zero gravity, formed the helical structures found in DNA. The particles are held together by electromagnetic forces that the scientists say could contain a code comparable to the genetic information held in organic matter. It appeared that this code could be transferred to the next generation.
Professor Greg Morfill, of the Max Planck institute of extra-terrestrial physics, said: “Going by our current narrow definitions of what life is, it qualifies.
“The question now is to see if it can evolve to become intelligent. It’s a little bit like science fiction at the moment. The potential level of complexity we are looking at is of an amoeba or a plant.
“I do not believe that the systems we are talking about are life as we know it. We need to define the criteria for what we think of as life much more clearly.”
It may be that science is starting to study territory already explored by science fiction. The television series The X-Files, for example, has featured life in the form of a silicon-based parasitic spore.
The Max Planck experiments were conducted in zero gravity conditions in Germany and on the International Space Station 200 miles above earth.
The findings have provoked speculation that the helix could be a common structure that underpins all life, organic and nonorganic.

Source : TimesOnline

Low Credit for Kenyan Scientist

A Kenyan scientist claimed he was the discoverer of two fossils raising key questions on human evolution and said locals rarely received the credit they deserve for their finds.

Fredrick Manthi Kyalo displayed his discovery, the well-preserved 1.55 million-year-old top of a skull from a Homo erectus, during a press conference at the National Museum of Kenya in Nairobi.

"I found this particular specimen the day of my birthday," on August 5 2000, he told reporters.

The discovery revealed by the journal Nature yesterday challenges some widely accepted evolutionary theories by suggesting that Homo habilis and Homo erectus coexisted rather than coming one after the other.

"What I want to say is that for a long time, this has been the case (...) that Kenyans are given very low credit. We are here to begin to change that," said Manthi Kyalo.

"This is a row that we are beginning," he added.

The Nature journal said the fossils were discovered by Fred Spoor of University College London and his colleagues.

The discovery in Kenya’s Lake Turkana region was also widely credited to Meave and Louise Leakey, two white Kenyan anthropologists of British origin who headed the paleontological research project.

Manthi Kyalo, who also displayed the other half of the discovery, a 1.44 million-year-old upper jawbone from a Homo habilis much younger than most fossils of this species, cried foul.

"Yes, I’ve been given a low credit for that," he said. "We are here to make the Kenyans aware" that one of them "has found this very important fossil."

The find was described as very significant by the Nature magazine.

"They (the fossils) show that two ancestral human species seem to have lived cheek-by-jowl in the same area, much as gorillas and chimpanzees do today," it said.

Other scientists have contested Nature’s interpretation of the discovery.

Source : Sunday Times

Dynamic Brain Network

A German-led study measuring the human brain's electrical currents has confirmed the theory the mind requires the cooperation of several brain areas.

Human knowledge is definitely not stored in one single brain area, said study leader Thomas Gruber of the University of Leipzig. Access to knowledge results from the cooperation of several brain areas that jointly build a dynamic brain network.

He said the study confirmed recognition of familiar and unfamiliar objects activates a set of distributed brain areas, and -- for the first time -- it measured how brain areas communicate with each other by directed information transfer.

The study showed cooperating brain areas are not just connected, but each area can be engaged either in receiving or sending signals or both.

Until now this has been difficult to investigate, but our analysis suggests that most areas are involved in both during access to object-related knowledge, said first author Gernot Supp of the Max-Planck Institute of Human Cognitive and Brain Science.

Source : Imedi News

Chinese Mahjong Game Epilepsy

A study by doctors in Hong Kong has concluded that epilepsy can be induced by the Chinese tile game of mahjong.

The findings, published in the Hong Kong Medical Journal, were based on 23 cases of people who had suffered mahjong-induced seizures.

The report's four authors, from Hong Kong's Queen Mary Hospital, said the best prevention - and cure - was to avoid playing mahjong.

The study led the doctors to define mahjong epilepsy as a unique syndrome.

Epileptic seizures can be provoked by a wide variety of triggers, but one cause increasingly evident to researchers is the playing - or even watching - of mahjong.

This Chinese tile game, played by four people round a table, can involve gambling and quickly becomes compulsive.

Demanding

The game, which is intensely social and sometimes played in crowded mahjong parlours, involves the rapid movement of tiles in marathon sessions.

The doctors conclude that the syndrome affects far more men than women; that their average age is 54; and that it can hit sufferers anywhere between one to 11 hours into a mahjong game.

They say the attacks were not just caused by sleep deprivation or gambling stress.

Mahjong is cognitively demanding, drawing on memory, fast calculations, concentration, reasoning and sequencing.

The distinctive design of mahjong tiles, and the sound of the tiles crashing onto the table, may contribute to the syndrome.

The propensity of Chinese people to play mahjong also deserves further study, the doctors say.

What is certain though, is that the only sure way to avoid mahjong epilepsy, is to avoid mahjong, which for many people is easier said than done.

Source : BBC News, Hong Kong

IBM may build world's fastest computer

The National Science Foundation is planning to award IBM a contract to build the world's fastest supercomputer at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, according to documents that were accidentally placed on a federal government website for a short time last week.

The decision to build the machine, which will cost $200 million to build and may cost more than $400 million during its five-year lifetime, is already proving to be controversial.

The award has been eagerly pursued by a number of supercomputer centers and state governments. Word of the decision to award the contract to IBM to build a production version of a computer that is now intended for the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has created concern among some computer scientists involved in designing and building high-performance computers.

The new computer is to be the first capable of one thousand trillion mathematical operations a second, a computing benchmark known as a petaflop. Placing it in Illinois, however, has led to expressions of concern in California and Pennsylvania, where computing labs bid on the contract.

The machine will become a magnet for the world's most advanced scientific research projects. Unlike many academic research supercomputers in the United States that serve a large community of users, the supercomputer will concentrate on a handful of Grand Challenge science projects, like simulating the impact of global warming.

Several government supercomputing scientists said they were concerned the decision might raise questions about impartiality and political influence. "The process needs to be above all suspicion," said Horst D. Simon, of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif. "It's in the interest of the national community that there is not even a cloud of suspicion, and there already is one."

For most of the last two decades, the fastest computers have been at either the national laboratories at Los Alamos, N.M., or Livermore, Calif.

Source : Boston Globe

Scale drawing of the relative sizes of planets and moons in the solar system

Computer models may never be able to predict climate accurately

Climate models may never produce predictions that agree with one another, even with dramatic improvements in their ability to imitate the physics and chemistry of the atmosphere and oceans. That's the conclusion of a report by James McWilliams, an applied mathematician and earth scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles. The mathematics of complex models guarantees that they will differ from one another, he argues. Therefore, says McWilliams, climate modelers need to change their approach to making predictions.

All climate models predict that the Earth will continue to warm, but when pressed to provide more detailed information, they rarely agree. The best predictions vary by 10 to 20 percent or more. For some phenomena, the variations are even more dramatic. For instance, climate models disagree on whether dry spells will, on average, lengthen or shorten.

A more basic test of models' reliability than their agreement with one another is their ability to reproduce past climate patterns. They're not fully able to do this either. They can reproduce some climate trends fairly closely, but each model has its own inaccuracies. For instance, one model might reproduce temperature very well but do a poor job of reproducing precipitation patterns.

Although climate models have improved enormously in recent years and have grown more sophisticated, discrepancies among their predictions remain as wide as ever. Some of those differences reflect disagreement among researchers over the science that goes into the model, but even models that purport to depict climate in essentially the same way do not generate precisely the same outcomes from some given starting point. "This is to be understood as an inherent limitation of models of this class on a question of this type, rather than a measure of the immaturity or inaccuracy of the models," McWilliams says.

f8703_1176.jpg

Climateprediction.net is a research project that uses volunteers' idle computing resources to run more than 170,000 different versions of a climate model. Studying the results of the variations will help researchers understand the discrepancies among different climate models.

The issue is similar to the famous "butterfly effect," but at a different level. In 1972, the mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz commented that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil could set off a tornado in Texas. The image encapsulates the notion that in chaotic systems like the weather, tiny differences in initial conditions can lead to dramatically different outcomes.

That phenomenon is well-known in weather forecasting, and it explains why even the best weather forecasts are useless after a week or two. But in forecasting climate, the butterfly effect plays a smaller role, because over the course of a year or a decade, the unpredictable outcomes tend to balance out one another.

McWilliams argues, however, that climate models are subject to a similar chaotic effect on a different level. Slight variations in the way that physical effects are approximated and calculated, rather than variations in the initial conditions, can lead to very different future scenarios. This phenomenon is called "structural instability." If climate models are indeed inherently structurally unstable, then two very precise simulations of the physical processes of the atmosphere and the oceans will nearly always generate predictions that differ substantially. In that case, it's unlikely that climate prediction models will come to agree with one another over time.

McWilliams cannot prove that climate models are structurally unstable, but he argues in the May 22 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that the evidence points in that direction. "Even though we don't have a set of all possible reasonable models that we or our children might make," McWilliams says, "we can begin to see that that set will not converge to an exact answer, and the climate forecasts are not likely to come to significantly greater mutual agreement as we go forward into an era of climate change."

Even so, climate models produce critically valuable information. Models have brought about major improvements in scientists' understanding of the dynamics of climate. Furthermore, McWilliams says that discrepancies among models do not undermine the most crucial conclusion of climate modeling—the notion that increased levels of greenhouse gases emitted by people are causing the Earth to warm and will continue to do so. He notes that every credible climate model ever made has pointed to that same conclusion. "All sorts of smart climate scientists have tried to produce a model that doesn't show future warming," he says, "and no one has been able to in a credible way."

McWilliams argues, however, that climate modelers need to change their approach to generating quantitative predictions. "The practical implication is that people shouldn't expect or aspire to model perfection," he says. Instead, modelers should explore the range of possible behaviors that climate models can have by systematically varying the way the models are built to see the full range of predictions they might make.

In this vision, researchers would not simply generate a single number to predict, say, the average global temperature that would result from a doubling of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. Rather, an ensemble of thousands of models would produce the probabilities for a wide range of possible temperatures.

Some researchers have already begun acting on this vision. A group at the University of Oxford in England runs a project called Climateprediction.net which uses the computing power of volunteers around the world to run about 150,000 variations on a climate model that the researchers have developed. Their first round of results showed that climate models can predict a much broader range of possible future warming than models have previously shown. Under some plausible versions of the Oxford group's model, global temperature could rise by as much as 11°C if carbon dioxide levels were to double. That's far greater than the 2°C to 5°C rise predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Such an extreme outcome is quite unlikely, however.

Nevertheless, McWilliams' argument is controversial in the modeling community. Reto Knutti, a climate modeler at the University of Bern in Switzerland, says that he expects models to produce increasingly similar answers over time. He argues that scientists have developed new models in the last five to ten years that are not as sophisticated as some older models that have been developed over decades, which makes the spread seem wider than it might otherwise.

But McWilliams says the modeling community needs to grapple with this issue now to make sure that models are capable of providing answers to the kinds of questions being asked of them. He compares his argument with Kurt Gödel's proof that some mathematical statements are neither provably true nor provably false. Gödel's theorem, says McWilliams, "is understood as a strong cautionary result about making sure that you're asking the right questions before you exhaust yourself trying to answer them."

Source : Science News Online

Genetic Experiment : Scientists create 12-headed jellyfish

Jellyfish with up to a dozen heads have been created in the laboratory by carefully monkeying with a few genes.

The genetic experiments could shed light on how natural colonies of other multi-headed organisms first originated, including some that build coral reefs.

Researchers targeted so-called Cnox genes, which help control how the bodies of jellyfish are laid out as their embryos develop. These genes are closely related to Hox genes, which play a similar role in humans.

How they did it
They experimented on the European hydromedusa (Eleutheria dichotoma), collected from the south of France. (In Greek mythology, the Hydra was a monster with innumerable heads, while Medusa had writhing snakes for hair.)

The researchers designed RNA molecules that specifically only "silenced" Cnox genes in these saltwater critters. Normally, the saltiness of these animals would prevent the molecules from entering their cells, but the scientists diluted seawater with freshwater enough "where the jellyfish still survived and the RNA got in," said evolutionary biologist and invertebrate zoologist Bernd Schierwater at the Hanover University of Veterinary Medicine in Germany.

By inhibiting one Cnox gene called Cnox-3, two heads often formed, where both were completely functional — regarding food intake, for instance. By deactivating another, Cnox-2, more than two heads usually sprouted — "up to a dozen," Schierwater told LiveScience.

He and colleague Wolfgang Jakob, also at Hanover, detailed their findings in the Aug. 1 issue of the online journal PLoS ONE.

Twelve heads better than one?

Animals with many heads are rare in nature, suggesting that two or more heads usually aren't better than one — having more than one head results in costs with no immediate matching benefits.

However, Schierwater noted that corals, which are animals, often form colonies by adding heads to a common stalk, each of which connect to a common gut, just as with the modified jellyfish that the researchers created.

Jellyfish are related to the creatures that build coral reefs — they are both carnivores belonging to a group called cnidarians, which means "stinging nettles," because of their stingers. Schierwater conjectured the solitary ancestors of corals and other colonial organisms might have adapted genes related to multiple heads long ago "in such a way that animal colonies were able to emerge."

Indeed, these findings suggest the suppression of just a few genes could have led to incredible diversity in body plans "from the very beginning," Schierwater said, shedding light on "the evolution and development of animal life in general."

Source : MSNBC

The Phoenix Mars Lander : Dig for water and life !

NASA on Saturday is to launch space probe Phoenix on a nine-month journey to mars' arctic region, where it will dig through ice for clues to past or present microbial life on the red planet.

The Phoenix Mars Lander is scheduled for blastoff from Cape Canaveral, Florida on august 4, with a first attempt at 5:36 am (1506 IST), and a second attempt, should it be needed, at 6:02 am (1532 IST).

It was originally scheduled to launch tomorrow, but postponed 24 hours after adverse weather on Tuesday prevented fueling of the two-stage delta ii rocket that will propel phoenix into space.

The space probe's full launch window for its 680 MN KMS, USD 420 mn mission to mars extends until august 24.

If all goes according to schedule the phoenix should land on mars in late may 2008.

NASA hopes to land the probe on flat ground with few or no rocks at Martian latitude equivalent to northern Alaska on earth.

At that site the Phoenix is likely to face temperatures that range from minus 73 degrees celsius (minus 99 degrees fahrenheit) to minus 33 degree celsius (minus 91 f).

Once it lands safely on the Martian surface, the probe will deploy a set of research tools never before used on the planet.

The solar-powered craft is equipped with a 2.35 metre robotic arm that will enter vertically into the soil, aiming to strike the icy crust that is believed to lie within a few inches of the surface.

Source : ZeeNews

2007 EURYI winners announced

The 25 recipients of the fourth and final year of the European Young Investigator Awards (EURYI) have been announced. These young scientists will each be offered up to €1.25 million over the next five years to start their own research teams in Europe.

Established in 2003, the awards aim to attract outstanding young researchers from around the world to Europe, as well as to retain and draw back Europe's best brains. The over-arching goal is to help these budding scientists launch world-leading careers.

Talent is in abundance among this year's winners, whose average age is 33.1, making them the youngest in the EURYI's history. With fellowships, professor assistantships, and a stack of published papers to their names, these researchers will now start putting together their teams to pursue scientific excellence in a wide range of fields.

Topics to be investigated include therapeutic strategies for cognitive diseases; a string field theory to understand the quantum birth of the universe; and the evolution of financial markets in pre-industrial Europe. Some of the more unusual topics are disease gene-mapping in dogs and manipulating anti-matter.

'It has been amazing to witness how the EURYI scheme has evolved and become a force to be reckoned with in recognising young researchers' works,' said Dr John Marks, Chief Executive of the European Science Foundation. He pointed out that awards granted were comparable in scale to the Nobel Prize awards. Dr Marks also said he was proud to see that the number of female winners had increased, from five in 2006 to six this year.

The 2007 winners will pick up their awards at a ceremony in Helsinki, Finland, on 27 September. Although these will be the last EURYI awards to be organised jointly by the ESF and the European Heads of Research Councils (EuroHORCs), Dr Marks is confident that the scheme will live on in a different form: 'The future for this type of award will now be determined by the European Commission's ERC (European Research Council) Starting Investigator Research Grant scheme. One thing that is certain is that the concept of EURYI has made a huge impact both scientifically and for the European Research Area.'

For more information, please visit:
http://www.esf.org/

 
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