Space Rains Junk on Spain

It’s raining space junk in Spain.

Rocket fuel tanks, chunks of satellites or something else entirely…In just over one week, three mysterious objects have fallen from the sky onto the country’s southeast, prompting bomb disposal agents and experts in hazmat suits to rush over as puzzled locals looked on.

First up a strange black beehive-like ball was found in Mula, a town in the region of Murcia last week.

Then at the weekend, a similar-looking, smaller object was discovered in Calasparra, just 30 kilometres (19 miles) away in the same region.

Space Rains Junk on Spain

“In the early morning of the day when the first object was found, witnesses said they saw between six and seven balls of fire falling from the sky,” Maria Jose Gomariz, spokeswoman for Calasparra town hall, said Thursday.

“Maybe there were just two balls of fire and it looked like there were more… or some may have fallen in areas where no one goes.”

The discoveries sparked a stir, prompting special agents to rush over and inspect the objects, but in both cases, police determined there was no radioactivity and no danger to human health.

The mysterious space junk was transported to the city of Cartagena where there is a national vocational training centre that specialises in chemistry.

“They could be auxiliary fuel tanks belonging to a rocket,” said a source at Murcia’s Guardia Civil, the police force that was called to the scene.

Celestial garbage
A third object was discovered on Tuesday in Elda in the neighbouring region of Valencia, where a farmer found a long, metal-like object in his field and called the police.

This time, special agents turned up but after determining the item did not present any danger, they took it to the police station in nearby Alicante.

“It looks like a piece from an aerospace vehicle, but not a commercial plane. It could be a piece of satellite or something similar,” a spokesman for Alicante police told AFP.

According to Nasa, more than 500,000 pieces of debris are currently orbiting Earth, and bits of space junk plummet to our planet every year.

“Houston, we have a problem,” quipped an editorial in Spain’s El Pais daily.

“Some measures may have been taken to tackle the problem, but we’re far from a solution,” it said.

“Not only is it expensive, but it’s also difficult to devise a garbage collection system to go sweep in space.”

Venus-Like Planet Found 39 Light Years Away

Astronomers have discovered a new Venus-like rocky exoplanet 39 light years away, which may be cool enough to potentially host an atmosphere.

If it does, it is close enough that we could study that atmosphere in detail with the Hubble Space Telescope and future observatories like the Giant Magellan Telescope, researchers said.

“Our ultimate goal is to find a twin Earth, but along the way we’ve found a twin Venus,” said astronomer David Charbonneau of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in US.

“We suspect it will have a Venus-like atmosphere too, and if it does we can’t wait to get a whiff,” said Charbonneau. “This planet is going to be a favourite target of astronomers for years to come,” said lead author Zachory Berta-Thompson of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The planet known as GJ 1132b orbits a red dwarf star only one-fifth the size of our Sun. The star is also cooler and much fainter than the Sun, emitting just 1/200th as much light.

Venus-Like Planet Found 39 Light Years Away: Study

GJ 1132b circles its star every 1.6 days at a distance of 1.4 million miles.

As a result, GJ 1132b is baked to a temperature of about 232 degrees Celsius. Such temperatures would boil off any water the planet may have once held, but still allows for the presence of an atmosphere.

It is also significantly cooler than any other exoplanet confirmed to be rocky, researchers said. GJ 1132b was discovered by the MEarth-South array, which is dedicated to the hunt for terrestrial worlds orbiting red dwarf stars.

After MEarth-South detected a transit in real time, additional observations were gathered by the array and the Magellan Clay telescope in Chile.

The team also measured the host star’s gravitational wobble using the HARPS spectrograph to determine the planet’s mass.

They found that GJ 1132b is 16 percent larger than Earth, with a diameter of about 14805 km. It has a mass 60 percent greater than Earth. The resulting density indicates that the planet has a rocky composition similar to Earth.

The planet also has an Earth-like force of gravity. A person standing on the surface of GJ 1132b would weigh only about 20 percent more than they do on Earth. Since the red dwarf star is small, the relative size of the planet to the star is larger than it would be for a Sun-like star.

This, combined with the star’s close distance, makes it easier to detect and study any planetary atmosphere, should one exist, researchers said.

Astronomers Measure ‘Heartbeats’ of Distant Stars

Offering a new way of determining a galaxy’s age, astronomers have detected thousands of stellar “pulses” – regular up and down changes in brightness – in a distant galaxy.

The team studied the elliptical galaxy M87, located 53 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Virgo.

“We tend to think of galaxies as steady beacons in the sky, but they are actually ‘shimmering’ due to all the giant, pulsating stars in them,” said one of the researchers Pieter van Dokkum, professor and chair of the astronomy department at Yale University in New Haven, US.

Near the end of their lifetime stars begin to pulsate, increasing and decreasing their brightness by a large amount every few hundred days. In our own Milky Way galaxy, many stars are known to be in this stage of life.

Astronomers Measure 'Heartbeats' of Distant Stars

It is the first time scientists have measured the effect that pulsating, older red stars have on the light of their surrounding galaxy. In distant galaxies the light of each pulsating star is mixed in with the light of many more stars that are not varying in brightness.

The team focused on the galaxy M87 and examined a unique series of images taken with the Hubble Space Telescope over the course of three months in 2006.

Analysis of the Hubble data showed that the average pixel varies on a timescale of approximately 270 days.

The regular up and down changes in brightness are reminiscent of a heartbeat, the study said.

“It is as if we are taking the pulse of the galaxy,” lead researcher Charlie Conroy, assistant professor at Harvard University pointed out.

Their discovery offers a new way of measuring the age of a galaxy, because the strength and speed of a galaxy’s heartbeat varies depending on its age.

The team found that M87 is about 10 billion years old, a number that agrees with previous estimates using different techniques.

The discovery of stellar heartbeats should not be specific to M87 and every galaxy in the universe likely shows similar distinctive patterns, the researchers said.

The findings appeared in the journal Nature.

New Tracker to Monitor Health of Guide Dogs

Researchers have developed a device that allows people who are blind to monitor their guide dogs in order to keep tabs on the health and well being of their canine companions.

“Dogs primarily communicate through their movements and posture, which makes it difficult or impossible for people who are blind to fully understand their dogs’ needs on a moment-to-moment basis,” said study co-author David Roberts, assistant professor of computer science at North Carolina State University in the US.

“This challenge is particularly pronounced in guide dogs, who are bred and trained to be outwardly calm and avoid drawing attention to themselves in public,” Roberts noted.

New Tracker to Monitor Health of Guide Dogs

To address this need, the researchers have developed a suite of technologies that monitor a dog’s breathing and heart rate and share the information with the dog’s handler.

The researchers developed a specialised handle that attaches to a guide dog’s harness. The handle is equipped with two vibrating motors.

One motor is embedded in the handle by the handler’s thumb, and vibrates – or beats – in time with the dog’s heart rate. When the dog’s heart rate increases, so does the rate at which the motor beats.

The second motor is embedded in the handle near the handler’s little finger, and vibrates in sync with the dog’s breathing. The vibration increases and decreases in intensity, to simulate the dog breathing in and out.

“We wanted to use electronic signals that intuitively make sense for the dog handlers,” Roberts said.

The prototype handle has been tested using simulated heart rate and respiratory data, and was found to be effective at accurately conveying information to users.

The study was presented at the Second International Congress on Animal Computer Interaction in Johor in Malaysia.

Smart Glasses to Help Treat ‘Lazy Eye’ in Children

New programmable electronic glasses can help improve vision in children just as well as the more traditional treatment using eye patches, according to results from the first US trial of the device.

This “digital patch” is the first new effective treatment for lazy eye in half a century, researchers from the Glick Eye Institute at Indiana University said.

Lazy eye, also called amblyopia, remains the most common cause of visual impairment in children. Amblyopia is poor vision in an eye that did not develop normally during early childhood.

Smart Glasses to Help Treat 'Lazy Eye' in Children

This can occur when one eye is much more nearsighted than the other, or when one eye wanders or strays inward. The child needs to receive treatment by the age of 8 or so while their eyes and brain are still developing, or he or she could become blind in the weaker eye.

A recent study found that 1 in 4 kids feel anxiety before using eye drops. Nearly 15 percent refuse to take eye drops at all. Both drops and eye patches work based on the occlusion method.

This blocks vision in the eye with the best sight, forcing the brain to rely on the so-called lazy eye. During the process, vision improves though many children will still need glasses to correct their eyesight.

In comparison, the electronic glasses used in the study combine vision correction and occlusion. The lenses can be filled to a child’s vision prescription.

Because the lenses are liquid crystal display (LCD), they can also be programmed to turn opaque, occluding vision in the left or right eye for different time intervals, acting like a digital patch that flickers on and off.

Researchers recently tested the effectiveness of occlusion glasses compared to patching in a randomised clinical study.

They recruited 33 subjects with lazy eye between age 3 and 8 who wore spectacles to correct their vision. One group wore an adhesive patch for two hours daily.

The other wore Amblyz occlusion glasses for 4 hours daily. In the study, the lens over the eye with better vision switched from clear to opaque every 30 seconds.

After three months, both groups of children showed the same amount of improvement in the lazy eye, gaining two lines on a reading chart.

“When you talk to adults who underwent childhood treatment for amblyopia, they will tell you that wearing a patch was the worst thing ever,” said Daniel Neely, a paediatric ophthalmology professor at Indiana University who led the study.

“With these electronic occlusion glasses, the child learns that the lens will be clear again in just a few seconds so they may be more cooperative with the treatment. For parents who have struggled with drops and patching, this could be a great alternative,” said Neely.

ISS Astronaut Scott Kelly Tweets Images of South India

US astronaut Scott Kelly has tweeted a stunning picture of South India at night from space.

Kelly, who is the longest resident on the International Space Station (ISS), on November 15 uploaded a picture of South India at night on micro-blogging site Twitter, The TeCake news website reported.

Kelly has also posted a series of pictures including images of Indian cities, the Ganges and stunning night time picture of India-Pakistan border captured, the report said.

ISS Astronaut Scott Kelly Tweets Images of South India

The panoramic image was captured from the south-west direction and India’s southern coast is in the east direction in the image.

In the picture, the faded yellow colour is spread all over the image while the bright yellow spots denote cities.

The image has been retweeted 3,943 times while favourited by 7,225 people.

“Day 233. Once upon a #star over Southern India. #GoodNight from @space_station! #YearInSpace,” Kelly tweeted.

Kelly is longest living astronaut on the ISS and he would have spent 415 days in space by November 17.

On October 16, Kelly completed 383 days in space breaking the record of US astronaut Mike Fincke who had spent 382 cumulative days in space.

US Startup Challenges Japan to Giant Robot Battle

They’ve been popularized in movies, television and video games, but giant fighting robots still haven’t left the realm of science fiction. That will soon change.

Megabots Inc., an Oakland, California-based startup, has built a 15-foot mechanical gladiator called the Mark II and challenged a Japanese firm to an international battle for robot supremacy.

Tokyo-based Suidobashi Heavy Industries, maker of the 13-foot Kuratas, accepted the challenge, setting the stage for the first giant robot battle of its kind next year. The exact date and location are yet to be determined.

US Startup Challenges Japan to Giant Robot Battle

Win or lose, it’s all part of Megabots’ plan by to make gladiator-style robot combat into big-time entertainment – a mix between Ultimate Fighting Championship and Formula One auto racing – while developing new industrial technologies and inspiring a new generation of engineers.

The Megabots founders envision a sports league where teams from around the world build huge humanoid robots that throw each other down in stadiums filled with screaming fans.

“Everyone wins as long as there is robot carnage,” said Megabots co-founder Matt Oehrlein, an electrical engineer. “People want to see these things fight. They want to see them punch each other, they want to see them ripped apart and they want to be entertained.”

Megabots was launched in 2014 by Oehrlein, Gui Cavalcanti and Brinkley Warren, who grew up playing video games like “MechWarrior” and “BattleTech,” and wanted to fulfill their dreams of watching massive machines fight.

“We want to bring the giant robots from science fiction and movies and video games to life because now we have the technology,” said Cavalcanti, a robotics engineer. “It’s really about: How do we put on the best show? How do we make the coolest fight?”

Inside a cavernous Oakland workshop, the Megabots founders built the Mark II – a 12,000-pound behemoth with tank treads, two-pilot cockpit and missile launcher that fires canon ball-sized paintballs.

Then Oehrlein called out Suidobashi in a YouTube video: “We have a giant robot. You have a giant robot. You know what needs to happen. We challenge you to a duel.”

Suidobashi’s founder Kogoro Kurata accepted in his own video: “We can’t let another country win this. Giant robots are Japanese culture. Yeah, I’ll fight. Absolutely.”

Kurata also taunted the Megabots team: “Come on guys, make it cooler. Just building something huge and sticking guns on it, it’s super American.”

The Megabots robot isn’t quite ready to take on Kuratas, a more polished fighting machine with a big, agile hand that mimics the movements of the pilot’s hand.

“Our current robot, the Mark II, looks pretty intimidating,” Oehrlein said. “The truth is, it’s pretty slow. It’s top-heavy. It’s rusty, and it needs a set of armor upgrades to be able to compete in hand-to-hand combat,”

That’s why Megabots launched an online Kickstarter campaign and raised more than $550,000 (roughly Rs. 3.6 crores) from robot fans to turn the Mark II into a real fighting machine – faster, tougher, more balanced and equipped with detachable weapons such as a giant chain saw or punching fist.

The startup has enlisted the help of engineers from Nasa, software maker Autodesk, the TV shows “Mythbusters” and “BattleBots.”

“We’re absolutely confident that Team USA can beat Japan. We’ve assembled the best of the best of this country. We’re not going to let our country down,” Calvalcanti said.

Robot enthusiasts like Gordon Kirkwood are eagerly anticipating the fight.

“I think it’s going to be a smash hit,” said Kirkwood, a robotics engineer in San Francisco. “This has the potential to be a fantastic spectator sport that people would really pay good money to see.”

Astronomers Measure Wind Speeds of 8,690Kmph on Exoplanet

An exoplanet located about 63 light-years away has winds reaching a staggering 8,690kmph, around 20 times faster than ever recorded on Earth, according to the first ever weather map of a planet outside our solar system.

The finding by researchers at University of Warwick in the UK is the first time that a weather system on a planet outside of Earth’s solar system has been directly measured and mapped.

The wind speed recorded is 20 times greater than the fastest ever known on Earth, where it would be seven times the speed of sound, researchers said.

Astronomers Measure Wind Speeds of 8,690Kmph on Exoplanet

“This is the first ever weather map from outside of our solar system. Whilst we have previously known of wind on exoplanets, we have never before been able to directly measure and map a weather system,” said lead researcher Tom Louden, of the University of Warwick’s Astrophysics group.

Discovered on the exoplanet HD 189733b, researchers measured the velocities on the two sides of HD 189733b and found a strong wind moving at over 8,690kmph blowing from its day-side to its night side.

“HD 189733b’s velocity was measured using high resolution spectroscopy of the Sodium absorption featured in its atmosphere,” said Louden.

Researchers said the techniques used could help the study of Earth-like planets.

“We are tremendously excited to have found a way to map weather systems on distant planets,” said co-researcher, Dr. Peter Wheatley of the University of Warwick’s Astrophysics Group.

“As we develop the technique further we will be able to study wind flows in increasing detail and make weather maps of smaller planets. Ultimately this technique will allow us to image the weather systems on Earth-like planets,” said Wheatley.

HD 189733b is one of the most studied of a class of planets known as ‘Hot Jupiters’.

At over 10 percent larger than Jupiter, but 180 times closer to its star, HD 189733b has a temperature of 1,200-degrees Celsius.

Its size and relatively closeness to our solar system make it a popular target for astronomers. Past research has shown that the day side of the planet would appear a bright shade of blue to the human eye, probably due to clouds of silicate particles high in its atmosphere.

The data was collected by HARPS, the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher, in La Silla, Chile.

World’s First ‘Porous’ Liquid Can Filter Carbon Emissions

In a breakthrough, scientists have developed the world’s first ‘porous’ liquid that can potentially be used to capture harmful carbon emissions to prevent them from entering the Earth’s atmosphere.

Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast in UK, along with colleagues at the University of Liverpool and other, international partners, invented the new liquid and found that it can dissolve unusually large amount of gas, which are absorbed into the ‘holes’ in the liquid.

The research could pave the way for many more efficient and greener chemical processes, including the procedure known as carbon capture – trapping carbon dioxide from major sources, for example a fossil-fuel power plant, and storing it to prevent its entry into the atmosphere.

World's First 'Porous' Liquid Can Filter Carbon Emissions

“Materials which contain permanent holes, or pores, are technologically important. They are used for manufacturing a range of products from plastic bottles to petrol,” said Stuart James of Queen’s School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering.

“However, until recently, these porous materials have been solids. What we have done is to design a special liquid from the ‘bottom-up’ – we designed the shapes of the molecules which make up the liquid so that the liquid could not fill up all the space,” James said.

“Because of the empty holes we then had in the liquid, we found that it was able to dissolve unusually large amounts of gas,” he said.

“These first experiments are what is needed to understand this new type of material, and the results point to interesting long-term applications which rely on dissolution of gases,” he said.

“A few more years’ research will be needed, but if we can find applications for these porous liquids they could result in new or improved chemical processes,” James said.

“At the very least, we have managed to demonstrate a very new principle – that by creating holes in liquids we can dramatically increase the amount of gas they can dissolve,” James said.

Drug That Could Limit Spread of Deadly Brain Tumours

Researchers have identified a drug that works to limit the spread of glioblastoma — the most common primary tumour of the brain and central nervous system which is also regarded as one of the most aggressive of all cancers.

The drug propentofylline or PPF, targets a protein called TROY. It also increases the effectiveness of a standard-of-care chemotherapy drug called temozolomide (TMZ), and radiation, to treat glioblastoma.

“We showed that PPF decreased glioblastoma cell expression of TROY, inhibited glioma cell invasion, and made brain cancer cells more vulnerable to TMZ and radiation,” said the study’s senior author Nhan Tran from Translational Genomics Research Institute (Tgen) in Phoenix, US.

Drug That Could Limit Spread of Deadly Brain Tumours

“Our data suggests that PPF, working in combination with TMZ and radiation, could limit glioblastoma invasion and improve the clinical outcome for brain tumor patients,” Tran noted.

One of the primary treatments for glioblastoma is surgical removal of the tumour. However, because of the aggressive way glioblastomas invade surrounding brain tissue, it is impossible to remove all parts of the tumours, and the cancer eventually returns and spreads.

This insidious cancer invasion also limits the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs and radiation therapy.

The new study found that PPF works to limit the spread of glioblastomas by targeting and knocking down the expression of the TROY protein that enables glioblastomas to invade normal brain cells, and resist anti-cancer drugs.

One of the fundamental challenges in treating brain cancer with drugs is what is known as the blood-brain barrier that separates circulating blood from the brain extracellular fluid in the central nervous system.

This barrier works to protect the brain from toxins. However, this security system is so effective at protecting the brain that it prevents many life-saving drugs — all but some small molecules — from being able to treat cancer and other diseases of the brain.

“Clinical trials revealed that PPF can cross the blood-brain barrier, and has minimal side effects,” Tran said.

The findings appeared in the Journal of Neuro-Oncology.