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Sept. 02, 2011 RELEASE : 11-288 NASA Gives Public New Internet Tool To Explore The Solar System
PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA is giving the public the power to journey through the solar system using a new interactive Web-based tool.
The "Eyes on the Solar System" interface combines video game technology and NASA data to create an environment for users to ride along with agency spacecraft and explore the cosmos. Screen graphics and information such as planet locations and spacecraft maneuvers use actual space mission data.
"This is the first time the public has been able to see the entire solar system and our missions moving together in real-time," said Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division at the agency's Headquarters in Washington. "It demonstrates NASA's continued commitment to share our science with everyone."
The virtual environment uses the Unity game engine to display models of planets, moons, asteroids, comets and spacecraft as they move through our solar system. With keyboard and mouse controls, users cruise through space to explore anything that catches their interest. A free browser plug-in, available at the site, is required to run the Web application.
"You are now free to move about the solar system," said Blaine Baggett, executive manager in the Office of Communication and Education at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. "See what NASA's spacecraft see -- and where they are right now -- all without leaving your computer."
Users may experienced missions in real-time, and "Eyes on the Solar System" also allows them to travel through time. The tool is populated with NASA data dating back to 1950 and projected to 2050.
The playback rate can be sped up or slowed down. When NASA's Juno spacecraft launched on Aug. 5, 2011, users could look ahead to see the mission's five-year journey to Jupiter in a matter of seconds.
Point of view can be switched from faraway to close-up to right "on board" spacecraft. Location, motion and appearance are based on predicted and reconstructed mission data. Dozens of controls on a series of pop-up menus allow users to fully customize what they see, and video and audio tutorials explain how to use the tool's many options. Users may choose from 2-D or 3-D modes, with the latter simply requiring a pair of red-cyan glasses to see.
"By basing our visualization primarily on mission data, this tool will help both NASA and the public better understand complex space science missions," said Kevin Hussey, manager of Visualization Technology Applications and Development at JPL, whose team developed "Eyes on the Solar System."
"Eyes on the Solar System" is in beta release. It has been demonstrated at science conferences, in classrooms and at the 2011 South by Southwest Interactive Conference in Austin, Texas.
Designers are updating "Eyes on the Solar System" to include NASA science missions launching during the coming months, including GRAIL to the moon and the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover.
"Eyes on the Solar System" and an introduction video are available at:
September 5, 2011 Beijing Says Qaddafi Officials Sought Chinese Arms Supplies By MICHAEL WINES
BEIJING — China’s Foreign Ministry admitted on Monday that state-run arms companies met Libyan officials this summer to broker arms sales to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s besieged regime, apparently confirming information in Libyan government documents found by a Canadian journalist in Tripoli.
But it denied that Chinese government officials knew of the talks, and said that no arms were delivered to the Qaddafi regime, either directly or through third parties.
“Chinese companies have not signed any military or trade contracts with Libya, let alone provided military exports to Libya,” a spokeswoman, Zhang Qiyue, said at the ministry’s daily briefing. “China exercises strict management over all military exports.
“Relevant Chinese government departments with responsibilities over military exports will take this matter seriously,” she said.
Officials of Libya’s transitional government had expressed outrage over the documents, which were first reported by The Globe and Mail of Toronto. The records indicate that, during meeting in Beijing in mid-July, Chinese arms merchants sought to sell Qaddafi representatives $200 million worth of sophisticated weapons, including portable surface-to-air missiles similar to the American-made Stinger that potentially could bring down certain military aircraft.
Chinese arms brokers suggested that the weapons be delivered via South Africa or Algeria, and said that Algeria’s existing stock of Chinese arms could be immediately transferred to Libya and replenished by fresh shipments from China.
The Chinese spokeswoman, Ms. Zhang, did not say why the arms deals were not completed, but she noted that all arms sales must win government approval before the weapons are exported.
The Chinese government abstained in March from the United Nations resolution that authorized “all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians, the basis of NATO’s support for rebel forces. But China joined an earlier unanimous vote to approve United Nations resolution 1970, which banned military assistance to the Qaddafi government. China normally opposes sanctions but said at the time that civilian casualties in the Libyan conflict merited the embargo.
“As far as I know, since the adoption of United Nations Security Council resolution 1970, Chinese companies have not provided military equipment to Libya, directly or indirectly,” Ms. Zhang said on Monday.
Whether the Chinese government’s denials would satisfy the Libyan rebels was not clear. Relations between China and the new National Transitional Council already have been soured by China’s reluctance to follow the rest of the United Nations Security Council in recognizing the new government. China has said that it would fully back United Nations efforts to rebuild Libya’s war-damaged infrastructure.
Omar Hariri, who heads the transitional government’s military council, told The Globe and Mail last Friday that he was “almost certain that these guns arrived and were used against our people.” A Libyan military spokesman, Abdulrahman Busin, said on Sunday that the rebels “have hard evidence of deals going on between China and Qaddafi,” as well as deals with other governments.
But the arms-sale documents, found in a trash heap in a Tripoli neighborhood once occupied by wealthy Qaddafi supporters, indicate only that negotiations took place, and offer no hint as to their conclusion.
The Libyan documents were written on the letterhead of the Qaddafi government Supply Authority, a procurement agency. They detailed meetings in Beijing with officials from three Chinese state-run weapons companies: China North Industries Corporation, known as Norinco; China National Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation, known as CPMIEC, and China Xinxing Import and Export Corporation.
Norinco’s Web site states that the company makes “precision strike systems” and other weapons, including anti-aircraft missiles and small arms. CPMIEC, a maker of shoulder-launched anti-aircraft systems and other missiles, was sanctioned in the 1990s and early 2000s by the United States for supplying prohibited weapons technology to Pakistan and Iran. Xinxing largely makes body armor and other military gear.
A toy poodle has been credited with helping rescue a 19-year-old man from a house fire in West Jordan, Utah, police say.
West Jordan Fire Battalion Chief Reed Sharman said a passer-by saw flames inside the West Jordan home early Friday morning, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.
When firefighters arrived, a mother and two children were already out of the house, but the 19-year-old and the dog were still inside.
Sharman said the family's toy poodle, Ted, led emergency responders to the sleeping teenager.
"Two of our paramedics, Don Chase and Erik Andersen, had gone inside to search the structure, and when they opened the door, there was the dog. When they went to grab the dog, though, he ran downstairs," Sharman said. "He stopped on a landing, looked back at our guys, waited for them to catch up and then ran down to the next landing."
The dog then led the paramedics to a basement couch where the teen was asleep.
The 19-year-old was treated for minor smoke inhalation and Ted was unharmed, but "grumpy," Sharman said.
The cause of the fire was still being investigated.
First Stem Cells from Endangered Species ScienceDaily (Sep. 4, 2011)
Starting with normal skin cells, scientists from The Scripps Research Institute have produced the first stem cells from endangered species. Such cells could eventually make it possible to improve reproduction and genetic diversity for some species, possibly saving them from extinction, or to bolster the health of endangered animals in captivity.
A description of the accomplishment appeared in an advance online edition of the journal Nature Methods on September 4, 2011.
About five years ago, Oliver Ryder, PhD, the director of genetics at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, contacted Jeanne Loring, PhD, professor of developmental neurobiology at Scripps Research, to discuss the possibility of collecting stem cells from endangered species. Ryder's team had already established the Frozen Zoo, a bank of skin cells and other materials from more than 800 species and wondered if the thousands of samples they had amassed might be used as starting points.
Just as is hoped with humans, Ryder thought stem cells from endangered species might enable lifesaving medical therapies or offer the potential to preserve or expand genetic diversity by offering new reproduction possibilities.
At the time, although researchers were working with stem cells from embryos, scientists had not yet developed techniques for reliably inducing normal adult cells to become stem cells. But the technology arrived soon after, and scientists now accomplish this feat, called induced pluripotency, by inserting genes in normal cells that spark the transformation.
While Loring's team met with Ryder in early 2008, they realized that these newly emerging techniques might be applied to endangered species. Postdoctoral fellow Inbar Friedrich Ben-Nun, PhD, set out to systematically explore the possibilities.
Ryder suggested two species for initial work. The first was a highly endangered primate called a drill that he chose because of its close genetic connection to humans, and because in captivity the animals often suffer from diabetes, which researchers are working to treat in humans using stem cell-based therapies.
The northern white rhinoceros was the second candidate. Ryder chose this animal because it is genetically far removed from primates, and because it is one of the most endangered species on the planet. There are only seven animals still in existence, two of which reside at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
Initially members of the team thought they would have to isolate and use genes from animals closely related to the endangered species to successfully induce pluripotency. But that line of experimentation didn't work. Instead, to their surprise, after a year of trial and error, the researchers found that the same genes that induce pluripotency in humans also worked for the drill and the rhino. "It has been just amazing," said Ryder of the Scripps Research team's successes.
The process is inefficient, meaning only a few stem cells are produced at a time, but that's enough. "There are only two animals in it," said Ben-Nun, "but we have the start of a new zoo, the stem cell zoo."
Stem Cells to the Rescue
The scientists view their success as a first step toward greater advancements. Besides the possibility of using stem cells as the basis for diabetes or other treatments, there is great potential for new reproductive technologies as the stem cell research field advances. "The most important thing is to provide these stem cells as a resource for other people taking some of the next steps," said Loring.
One of the greatest concerns with small populations such as the northern white rhinos is that even if they did reproduce, which hasn't happened in many years, their genetic diversity is inevitably and dangerously low, and such inbreeding leads to unhealthy animals.
But researchers are moving toward inducing stem cells to differentiate into sperm or egg cells. With that accomplished, one possibility is that scientists could take skin cells in the Frozen Zoo from long dead animals, induce pluripotency, trigger differentiation into sperm cells, and then combine these with a living animal's eggs through in vitro fertilization. Otherwise-lost genetic diversity would then be reintroduced into the population, making it healthier, larger, and more robust.
Or, both eggs and sperm might be produced from the stem cells, with the resulting embryos implanted in live animals, a process that current research suggests could be much more reliable than existing cloning techniques.
Scientists are already exploring the possibility of producing sperm and eggs from stem cells as a potential solution to human infertility issues. Loring hopes that some of these groups might consider initial technique development using endangered species stem cells. "I think that work would be a lot easier ethically with endangered species than with humans," she said, "so I suspect some people working in this area would love to have our cells for experiments."
The Real Solution
"The best way to manage extinctions is to preserve species and their habitats," said Ryder, "but that's not working all the time." The rhinos are a perfect example, he said, because there are so few. "Stem cell technology provides some level of hope that they won't have to become extinct even though they've been completely eliminated from their habitats. I think that if humankind wants to save this species, we're going to have to develop new methodologies."
And even when there are reasonable wild populations of a species, they face a range of threats, including loss of habitat and poaching.
Moving forward, Loring said the group is hoping to continue producing stem cells from other species to expand their fledgling stem cell "zoo." For now, they're working to secure funding for what amounts to an unconventional line of research. "It's in between fields," said Loring. "It's not classical conservation and it's not ordinary biological research."
This research was supported by the Esther O'Keefe Foundation, the Millipore Foundation, and the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
A Whole New Light On Graphene Metamaterials: Tunable Graphene Device Is First Tool in a Kit for Putting Terahertz Light to Work
(Sep. 5, 2011) — Long-wavelength terahertz light is invisible -- it's at the farthest end of the far infrared -- but it's useful for everything from detecting explosives at the airport to designing drugs to diagnosing skin cancer. Now, for the first time, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California at Berkeley have demonstrated a microscale device made of graphene -- the remarkable form of carbon that's only one atom thick -- whose strong response to light at terahertz frequencies can be tuned with exquisite precision.
"The heart of our device is an array made of graphene ribbons only millionths of a meter wide," says Feng Wang of Berkeley Lab's Materials Sciences Division, who is also an assistant professor of physics at UC Berkeley, and who led the research team. "By varying the width of the ribbons and the concentration of charge carriers in them, we can control the collective oscillations of electrons in the microribbons."
The wavelength of terahertz radiation is measured in hundreds of micrometers (millionths of a meter), yet the width of the graphene ribbons in the experimental device is only one to four micrometers each. The team reports their research in Nature Nanotechnology, available in advanced online publication.
How to push the plasmons
In two-dimensional graphene, electrons have a tiny rest mass and respond quickly to electric fields. A plasmon describes the collective oscillation of many electrons, and its frequency depends on how rapidly waves in this electron sea slosh back and forth between the edges of a graphene microribbon. When light of the same frequency is applied, the result is "resonant excitation," a marked increase in the strength of the oscillation -- and simultaneous strong absorption of the light at that frequency. Since the frequency of the oscillations is determined by the width of the ribbons, varying their width can tune the system to absorb different frequencies of light.
The strength of the light-plasmon coupling can also be affected by the concentration of charge carriers -- electrons and their positively charged counterparts, holes. One remarkable characteristic of graphene is that the concentration of its charge carriers can easily be increased or decreased simply by applying a strong electric field -- so-called electrostatic doping.
A final method of controlling plasmon strength and terahertz absorption depends on polarization. Light shining in the same direction as the graphene ribbons shows no variations in absorption according to frequency. But light at right angles to the ribbons -- the same orientation as the oscillating electron sea -- yields sharp absorption peaks. What's more, light absorption in conventional 2D semiconductor systems, such as quantum wells, can only be measured at temperatures near absolute zero. The Berkeley team measured prominent absorption peaks at room temperature.
"Terahertz radiation covers a spectral range that's difficult to work with, because until now there have been no tools," says Wang. "Now we have the beginnings of a toolset for working in this range, potentially leading to a variety of graphene-based terahertz metamaterials."
The Berkeley experimental setup is only a precursor of devices to come, which will be able to control the polarization and modify the intensity of terahertz light and enable other optical and electronic components, in applications from medical imaging to astronomy -- all in two dimensions.
Villagers Pull One-Ton Crocodile Out of Creek in Philippines Published September 05, 2011 Associated Press
Mayor Cox Elorde of Bunawan township, Agusan del Sur Province, pretends to measure a huge crocodile which was captured by residents and crocodile farm staff along a creek in Bunawan.
Sept. 4, 2011: MANILA, Philippines -- Villagers and veteran hunters have captured a one-ton saltwater crocodile which they plan to make the star of a planned ecotourism park in a southern Philippine town, an official said Monday.
Mayor Edwin Cox Elorde said dozens of villagers and experts ensnared the 21-foot male crocodile along a creek in Bunawan township in Agusan del Sur province after a three-week hunt. It could be one of the largest crocodiles to be captured alive in recent years, he said, quoting local crocodile experts.
Elorde said the crocodile killed a water buffalo in an attack witnessed by villagers last month and was also suspected of having attacked a fisherman who went missing in July.
He said he sought the help of experts at a crocodile farm in western Palawan province.
"We were nervous but it's our duty to deal with a threat to the villagers," Elorde told The Associated Press by telephone. "When I finally stood before it, I couldn't believe my eyes."
After initial sightings at a creek, the hunters set four traps, which the crocodile destroyed. They then used sturdier traps using steel cables, one of which finally caught the enormous reptile late Saturday, he said. About 100 people had to pull the crocodile, which weighs about 2,370 pounds, from the creek to a clearing where a crane lifted it into a truck, he said.
The crocodile was placed in a fenced cage in an area where the town plans to build an ecotourism park for species found in a vast marshland in Agusan, an impoverished region about 515 miles (830 kilometers) southeast of Manila, Elorde said.
"It will be the biggest star of the park," Elorde said, adding that villagers were happy that they would be able to turn the dangerous crocodile "from a threat into an asset."
Despite the catch, villagers remain wary because several crocodiles still roam the outskirts of the farming town of about 37,000 people. They have been told to avoid venturing into marshy areas alone at night, Elorde said.