Science

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Boise Students Uplink With ISS Astronauts in Zero Robotics Program

Posted By on Tue, Aug 13, 2013 at 3:51 PM

Teachers Guy Falconer (left) and Warren Hull (right) work with Treasure Valley students in their uplink to the International Space Station
  • Skylar Barsanti
  • Teachers Guy Falconer (left) and Warren Hull (right) work with Treasure Valley students in their uplink to the International Space Station

Middle school students from across the Treasure Valley had the unique opportunity Tuesday to link up with astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

Via satellite, the astronauts demonstrated—in zero gravity—something called SPHERES. That's an acronym for synchronized position hole engage reorient experimental satellites. Meanwhile, back on earth, the students were learning how to write code for the SPHERES through a project called Zero Robotics.

“I lived on board the ISS, so knew about the SPHERES for quite a long time, and I was looking for opportunities to get involved,” said Barbra Morgan, former NASA astronaut, current Boise State professor and mentor to the student team. “This opportunity came to me when I was asked to serve as the astronaut last year for the high school program at MIT. That gave me a lot more insight to the program. When the time came to expand, they were looking for people to help pilot the middle school program. I got the call and said of course.”

Over five weeks of training, the students learned the physics and math behind the operation of the SPHERES. Once the student-written codes were complete, they were uplinked to the ISS SPHERES. In particular, the students simulated a clean-up of orbital debris.

“There’s a lot of orbital debris around our planet, and their job was to let out a little bit of high speed dust come out of their satellite and hit that debris, so it would slow down and gravity would pull it back towards Earth to burn up in the atmosphere,” said Morgan. “What’s great about the program is the SPHERES aren’t toys for kids. They’re real experimental satellites that scientists and engineers use aboard the ISS.”

The Zero Robotics program was a collaboration between Warren Hull, a video broadcasting and technology teacher from South Junior High, and Guy Falconer, technology and engineering teacher from the Sage International School.

“I got a phone call from Barbra Morgan, who was referred to me by other teachers with busy schedules, and she pitched it to me in 45 minutes and that was it,” said Hull.

Based on Hull and Falconer’s success with the program right out of the gate, Zero Robotics could see many more years in Idaho schools. The South Idaho team didn’t win the competition, but for students and teachers with no prior experience in programming, Hull and Morgan agreed that their students performed impressively. Of the almost 30 middle schools that competed this summer, only nine codes were selected for uplink to the ISS of which the South Idaho team was one.

Morgan said the program already has kids-turned-professional-programmers so excited to compete again in the coming years.

“When you take kids at a young age and give them these opportunities, they’ll have that experience for life," she said. "They may not end up becoming programmers, but they definitely have that interest, and it’s skill they can keep throughout their academic career.”

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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Perseid Meteor Shower Should Be 'Celestial Fireworks'

Posted By on Sat, Aug 10, 2013 at 10:00 AM

perseid_meteor_shower.jpg

A forecast of clear skies, particularly far away from city lights, should prove ideal conditions for viewing the August Perseid meteor shower, set to peak Sunday, Aug. 11-Tuesday Aug. 13. According to National Geographic it "promises to be the best celestial fireworks show of the year."

Perseid takes its name from its origin in the constellation Perseus, the mythological Greek hero born from a shower of heavenly gold. In the case of the Perseid meteor shower, that "heavenly gold" comes from dust grains zipping across the sky, sourcing from the Swift-Tuttle Comet, which circles the sun once every 133 years.

“Get out of the city and the lights to give yourself a chance to see them,” said Astronomy magazine's Michael Bakich. "There will be a dozen 'ooh' moments in that hour. Ones where everyone will say, 'Did you see that?'"

The best viewing, according to Bakich should come after the half-full moon sets at 1 a.m.

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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Dumb and Dumber: Study Says Western IQs Are Dropping

Posted By on Sat, May 25, 2013 at 11:00 AM

A new study reveals (if anyone actually reads it) that people really are getting dumber.

Research published online in the journal Intelligence claims the IQ of people in Western nations has fallen by an average of 14.1 points over the past century. Scientists used visual response times recorded in Western studies from 1889 to 2004. The faster a person reacted to visual stimuli, researchers said, the smarter the subjects were. Researchers said they didn't compare standard IQ tests because those have changed over the years.

"Simple reaction time measures correlate substantially with measures of general intelligence and are considered elementary measures of cognition,” wrote researchers Michael A. Woodleya of Vrije Universiteit in Brussels, Jan te Nijenhuisc of the University of Amsterdam and Raegan Murphy of the University College Cork in Ireland.

The researchers wrote:

“The Victorian Era was marked by an explosion of innovation and genius, per capita rates of which appear to have declined subsequently. The presence of dysgenic fertility for IQ amongst Western nations, starting in the 19th century, suggests that these trends might be related to declining IQ. This is because high-IQ people are more productive and more creative. We tested the hypothesis that the Victorians were cleverer than modern populations, using high-quality instruments, namely measures of simple visual reaction time in a meta-analytic study.”

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Saturday, May 18, 2013

In Which Hand Do You Hold Your Cellphone?

Posted By on Sat, May 18, 2013 at 11:00 AM

A new study reveals that the hand you hold your cellphone to your ear with is determined by brain region dominance. Researchers found that left-brain thinkers use their right hand, while right-brain thinkers use their left.
The left side of the brain is said to be used for logical reasoning, whereas the right side is used more often for creativity.

The study, to be published in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, found that 95 percent of people tend to be left-brain dominant.

The idea of the study was to be able to quickly find which side of the brain has the dominant language center. Most people who hold the phone on their right side will be left-brain dominant and their speech and language center will also reside there.

"We're pretty confident in our results," said the study authors, from the Henry Ford Health System in West Bloomfield, Mich."Basically, if your speech and language centers are in the left side of the brain—which for most people they are—a cellphone conversation is going to sound better in your right ear."

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Friday, April 5, 2013

Every Breath You Take: Scientists Begin Measuring 'Breathprints'

Posted By on Fri, Apr 5, 2013 at 10:24 AM

Researchers say that physicians and caregivers should soon begin looking to a new indicator to allow for better diagnoses of illnesses: the so-called "breathprint."

Scientists said using the body's exhalation as a new form of fingerprint could help develop treatment specific to the individual and his or her body chemistry.

Swiss researchers used a technique known as mass spectrometry which separates and tracks the patterns of molecules by measuring their mass. Eleven subjects were tested and researchers found that all had unique molecular structures in their breath. And while some metabolites were similar in all the subjects, other patterns began to emerge.

For instance, some people had more acetone, while another metabolite appeared in someone who was taking epilepsy medication. Scientists said their next step is to better understand patterns in the breath to find illnesses.

The findings were published in PLoS One, the online nonprofit public library of science.

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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Scientists Find Evidence of Cosmos 'Dark Matter'

Posted By on Thu, Apr 4, 2013 at 9:47 AM

The $2 billion particle detector, or AMS, is mounted to the international space stations exterior to gather data.
  • NASA
  • The $2 billion particle detector, or AMS, is mounted to the international space station's exterior to gather data.

It could be the key to unlocking the origins of the universe. But then again it could be, well, nothing.

Scientists from the International Space Station say they may have found the first hints of dark matter, the elusive substance that neither emits nor absorbs light but holds the cosmos together. Of course, it helps if you have a $2 billion cosmic ray detector installed at the space station. The experiment is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.

At an April 3 briefing, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Samuel Ting said, "Our evidence supports the evidence of dark matter," and "I'm confident with enough time we'll solve this."

The Wall Street Journal reports that experiments identified a "new particle" that is the "building block" of dark matter. The 7.5-ton cosmic ray detector found thousands of exotic particles called positrons that scientists say are likely debris from dark matter particles.

"It took us 18 years to build this experiment," said Ting.

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Study: Spring Flowers Coming Earlier Due to Climate Change

Posted By on Thu, Jan 17, 2013 at 9:07 AM

Flowers are blooming earlier and earlier every year according to a recent study.
  • Flowers are blooming earlier and earlier every year, according to a recent study.

Climate change is shoving out spring flowers earlier than usual. A new study conducted by scientists from Boston and Harvard universities and the University of Wisconsin revealed that flowers are blooming earlier and earlier every year.

Scientists reached back to data collected from legendary naturalists Henry David Thoreau and Aldo Leopold to graph the change in flower bloom times. In particular, researchers found that some plants—such as the serviceberry and nodding trillium—are blooming up to one week earlier.

The good news is that scientists report that flowers in the wild are adapting to the changing temperatures. They couldn't say the same for humans.

The study was published online by the Public Library of Science One.

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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

NASA: More Earth-Like Planets Found in Milky Way

Posted By on Tue, Jan 8, 2013 at 9:11 AM

This artists illustration gives an impression of how common planets are around the stars in the Milky Way.
  • NASA
  • This artist's illustration gives an impression of how common planets are around the stars in the Milky Way.

NASA confirmed Monday that hundreds of Earth-like planets have been spotted trillions of miles away in the Milky Way. The planets were spotted by the Kepler Space Telescope launched by NASA in 2009, which watches about 150,000 stars.

A new analysis of the data from the telescope shows that around 17 percent of the stars in the Milky Way have planets about the same size as Earth. but the planets are too far for even satellites to spot. The Kepler Telescope instead looks at the flickering of light to determine if a planet is there in the distance—flickering might signal a planet crossing in front of it.

The data set was analyzed by researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who concluded that all sun-like stars have at least one planet orbiting them.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the astronomers found 461 new planet candidates, four of which are located in zones where liquid water might exist.

The telescope detected 2,740 possible Earth-like planets orbiting 2,036 stars.

"We found that the occurrence of small planets around large stars was underestimated," astronomer Francois Fressin of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center told the National Geographic. "Every time you look up on a starry night, [nearly] each star you're looking at has a planetary system."

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Monday, December 24, 2012

Earth-Like Planet Discovered Next to Our Solar System

Posted By on Mon, Dec 24, 2012 at 9:55 AM

planet_2.jpeg

Just what we wanted for Christmas: our long-lost twin.

An international team of scientists has discovered that an Earth-like planet has been located a scant 12 light years from us. The planet—located within what scientists call a "habitable zone"—is one of five planets near Tau Ceti, one of the closest and most Sun-like stars. Tau Ceti is visible to the naked eye in the evening sky.

"We are now glimpsing for the first time the secrets of our nearest companion stars and their previously hidden reservoirs of potentially habitable planets,” Carnegie Institution for Science's Paul Butler told Science Recorder. “This work presages the time when we will be able to directly see these planets, and search them for water, carbon dioxide, methane, and other signposts of life.”

The scientists said the mystery planet has a mass around five times that of Earth.

The international team of astronomers announced their findings after combining more than 6,000 observations from three different telescopes, according to Science Recorder.

Their work is published by Astronomy & Astrophysics.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Study: IQ is a 'Myth'

Posted By on Wed, Dec 19, 2012 at 3:16 PM

brain.jpeg

Researchers at the University of Western Ontario say intelligence is way more than a number and declare the concept of IQ "a myth." Scientists instead believe that three factors — reasoning, short-term memory and verbal ability — combine to form human intelligence. The researchers said no singular component, or IQ, explains everything.

“When we looked at the data, the bottom line is the whole concept of IQ — or of you having a higher IQ than me — is a myth,” Dr. Adrian Owen, the study’s senior investigator, told the Toronto Star. “There is no such thing as a single measure of IQ or a measure of general intelligence.”

The research was published today in the journal Neuron.

For the study, scientists asked 100,000 participants from around the world to complete 12 cognitive tests. Scanning their brains at the same time, researchers said they showed that differences in cognitive ability are related to distinct brain circuits.

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