Space:

Brown Dwarf Found Orbiting Young Sun-like Star

A new discovery sheds light on the early stages of solar system formation as astronomers image a young brown dwarf in a close orbit with a nearby sun-like star. A team of astronomers and graduate students made the rare discovery using the NICI (Near-Infrared Coronagraphic Imager) and the 8-meter Gemini-South Telescope in Chile.

The distance between the sun-like star and its brown dwarf companion is what makes this discovery exciting. The 36 Jupiter-mass brown dwarf (PZ Tel B) and the sun-like star (PZ Tel A) are only 18 AUs (Astronomical Units) apart, similar to the distance between our sun and the planet Uranus.

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Researchers Have Created Room-Temperature Ice

Earth’s climate is strongly influenced by the presence of particles of different shapes and origins — in the form of dust, ice and pollutants — that find their way into the lowest portion of the atmosphere, the troposphere. There, water adsorbed on the surface of these particles can freeze at higher temperatures than pure water droplets, triggering rain and snow.

Researchers at Spain’s Centre d’Investigació en Nanociència i Nanotecnologia (CIN2) have studied the underlying mechanisms of water condensation in the troposphere and found a way to make artificial materials to control water condensation and trigger ice formation at room temperature. Described in the Journal of Chemical Physics, which is published by the American Institute of Physics, their work may lead to new additives for snowmaking, improved freezer systems, or new coatings that help grow ice for skating rinks.

“Several decades ago, scientists predicted that materials with crystal faces exhibiting a structure similar to that of hexagonal ice, the form of all natural snow and ice on Earth, would be an ideal agent to induce freezing and trigger rain,” explains Dr. Albert Verdaguer. “This explanation has since proven to be insufficient.”

The research team chose to study barium fluoride (BaF2), a naturally occurring mineral, also known as “Frankdicksonite,” as an option. They examined water adsorption on BaF2 (111) surfaces under ambient conditions using different scanning force microscopy modes and optical microscopy to zoom in on the role atomic steps play in the structure of water films, which can affect the stabilization of water bilayers and, ultimately, condensation.

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last update: October 21, 2014

Space:

Potentially Hazardous Asteroid to Collide With Earth in 2182

Scientists have been monitoring and calculating the likelihood of a potentially disastrous asteroid collision with the Earth in the year 2182. The asteroid, (101955) 1999 RQ36, is only estimated to be a one-in-a-thousand chance that it will collide with the Earth, but as scientists have calculated the potential impacts through the year 2200, over half of the calculations point to the year 2182 for a collision.

The mathematics behind the calculations come by using two different models, the Monte Carlo Method and line of variations sampling. Using these models, VIs (Virtual Impactors) have been searched. VIs are sets of uncertainties that would lead to collisions with the Earth, two of which appear in 2182 with over half the chance of an impact.

The asteroid is part of a group of Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHA), which all have the possibility of colliding with the Earth and causing damage because of the proximity of their orbits. The asteroid in question was discovered in 1999 and has roughly 560 meters in diameter.

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General:

Toxic Trio Identified as the Basis of Celiac Disease

Walter and Eliza Hall Institute scientists have identified the three protein fragments that make gluten – the main protein in wheat, rye and barley – toxic to people with coeliac (spelled Celiac in North America) disease.

Their discovery opens the way for a new generation of diagnostics, treatments, prevention strategies and food tests for the millions of people worldwide with coeliac disease.

When people with coeliac disease eat products containing gluten their body’s immune response is switched on and the lining of the small intestine is damaged, hampering their ability to absorb nutrients. The disease is currently treated by permanently removing gluten from the patient’s diet.

Dr Bob Anderson, head of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute’s coeliac disease research laboratory, said it had been 60 years since gluten was discovered to be the environmental cause of coeliac disease.

“In the years since, the holy grail in coeliac disease research has been to identify the toxic peptide components of gluten; and that’s what we’ve done,” Dr Anderson said.

The research, done in collaboration with Dr Jason Tye-Din, Dr James Dromey, Dr Stuart Mannering, Dr Jessica Stewart and Dr Tim Beissbarth from the institute as well as Professor Jamie Rossjohn at Monash University and Professor Jim McCluskey at the University of Melbourne, is published in today’s issue of the international journal Science Translational Medicine.

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General:

Pitt Team Designs Artificial Cells that Communicate Like Biological Cells

Inspired by the social interactions of ants and slime molds, University of Pittsburgh engineers have designed artificial cells capable of self-organizing into independent groups that can communicate and cooperate. Recently reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the research is a significant step toward producing synthetic cells that behave like natural organisms and could perform important, microscale functions in fields ranging from the chemical industry to medicine.

The team presents in the PNAS paper computational models that provide a blueprint for developing artificial cells—or microcapsules—that can communicate, move independently, and transport “cargo” such as chemicals needed for reactions. Most importantly, the “biologically inspired” devices function entirely through simple physical and chemical processes, behaving like complex natural organisms but without the complicated internal biochemistry, said corresponding author Anna Balazs, Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering.

The Pitt group’s microcapsules interact by secreting nanoparticles in a way similar to that used by biological cells signal to communicate and assemble into groups. And with a nod to ants, the cells leave chemical trails as they travel, prompting fellow microcapsules to follow. Balazs worked with lead author German Kolmakov and Victor Yashin, both postdoctoral researchers in Pitt’s Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, who produced the cell models; and with Pitt professor of electrical and computer engineering Steven Levitan, who devised the ant-like trailing ability.

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Researchers in Brazil Innovate Offshore Oil Spill Cleanup Method

Researchers in Brazil, a global frontier in deepwater oil exploration, have developed a method for cleaning up offshore oil spills that avoids the use of chemical dispersants and hazardous burn-offs.

Scientists say they can use glycerin, a chemical often used in soap and cosmetics, to collect oil in offshore spills and recover it for later use.

That technology may come in handy for Brazil, which is driving forward with its campaign to tap billions of barrels of deepwater crude despite concern over offshore operations sparked by the massive BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The process converts glycerin into a powder that when thrown on top of an oil spill turns into a plastic-like substance that absorbs oil.

“It’s a natural phenomenon that takes place to absorb the oil, because both substances are equally hydrophobic so they both flee the water at the same time,” said Fernando Gomes de Souza, a chemistry professor at the Institute of Macromolecules at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

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Space:

NASA and Microsoft Release Interactive Tour of Mars

NASA and Microsoft have teamed up to bring us an interactive tour of Mars chock full of high-res images and loads of information unlike anything most scientists have ever seen.

For the past three years, scientists at NASA have been compiling data on over 100 computers to create this comprehensive map of Mars. The collection of data spans about 40 years worth of space exploration, from the Viking orbiters to the current Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

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General:

Science Historian Cracks the ‘Plato code’

A science historian at The University of Manchester has cracked “The Plato Code” – the long disputed secret messages hidden in the great philosopher’s writings.

Plato was the Einstein of Greece’s Golden Age and his work founded Western culture and science. Dr Jay Kennedy‘s findings are set to revolutionise the history of the origins of Western thought.

Dr Kennedy, whose findings are published in the leading US journal Apeiron, reveals that Plato used a regular pattern of symbols, inherited from the ancient followers of Pythagoras, to give his books a musical structure. A century earlier, Pythagoras had declared that the planets and stars made an inaudible music, a ‘harmony of the spheres’. Plato imitated this hidden music in his books.

The hidden codes show that Plato anticipated the Scientific Revolution 2,000 years before Isaac Newton, discovering its most important idea – the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics. The decoded messages also open up a surprising way to unite science and religion. The awe and beauty we feel in nature, Plato says, shows that it is divine; discovering the scientific order of nature is getting closer to God. This could transform today’s culture wars between science and religion.

“Plato’s books played a major role in founding Western culture but they are mysterious and end in riddles,” Dr Kennedy, at Manchester’s Faculty of Life Sciences explains.

“In antiquity, many of his followers said the books contained hidden layers of meaning and secret codes, but this was rejected by modern scholars.

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