Monday, December 31, 2012

Damaged Bones May Be Replaced With Wood Implants

The question of whether damaged bones could be replaced with wood implants is one that Italian researchers from the National Research Council of Italy (CNR) have been studying. Their findings are presented in the forthcoming issue of the International Journal of Healthcare Technology and Management.

Ageing presents threats such as osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, bone cancer and other diseases. It is estimated that 2.2 million bone grafting procedures are performed annually around the world, and the numbers continue to increase as lifestyles change and people live longer.

Presently, finding biomimetic materials (the structure and function of biological systems), which are similar to bone in terms of strength, flexibility and density, is an ongoing concern for medical scientists. The hope is that it might be possible supplement metal alloy implants using such materials.

Indeed, what has been discovered is that the structure of some woods at the microscopic level is very close to that of natural bone. Furthermore, the structure shares biomechanical properties such as high strength and lightness, due to its hierarchical organisation.

A case study on the implications of new technology was recently carried out by Professor Ugo Finardi (CNR Institute for Economic Research on Firms and Growth (CERIS), and University of Torino) and Professor Simone Sprio (CNR Institute of Science and Technology for Ceramics (ISTEC)). The Research Group on Biomaterials of ISTEC has developed this and taken inspiration from nature using a nanotechnological approach to transform rattan wood into hierarchically organised implants. The Professors, with their team of researchers, Anna Tampieri, Simone Sprio and Andrea Ruffini, found that biomimetic materials have a strength and flexibility similar to natural bone, something that cannot be achieved with current metal alloy technologies.

The professors believe that the technology could exploit the hierarchical physical structure of rattan wood to render it useful as a scaffold, thus creating a synthetic material to replace damaged and lost bone. An additional benefit is that such a material could be load-bearing, a factor that has precluded the use of earlier biomimetic materials.
Illustration of this article
However, the processing of raw wood to remove chemical components, which are incompatible with implants for humans, is long and complex. But the professors believe the benefits of producing a material, which is similar to bone, far outweigh such issues.

The process of turning wood into implants involves heat treatment of the wood to remove cellulose, lignin and other plant materials. This leaves behind a carbon skeleton that can be infiltrated and reacted with calcium, oxygen and phosphate to make a porous material, which in turn can chemically and mechanically mimic bone.

In concluding, the research team say that unlike metal alloys, ceramics and even donor bone, their patented material is low cost, has very good biomechanics and is biocompatible. It can also be integrated into existing bone, thus properly assisting bone regeneration.

For more information, please visit:
Institute for Economic Research on Firms and Growth:

Institute of Science and Technology for Ceramics:

Source: CORDIS

Complementary Medicine Popular Across Europe

Surveys conducted in several European countries have shown a high demand for complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), as an increasing number of citizens seek relief for disorders they feel cannot be treated with conventional therapy. As many as half of those surveyed said they used alternative healthcare for their needs. The European Commission estimates that spending on CAM by consumers now tops EUR 100 million. 

There are currently more than 150,000 registered medical doctors with additional CAM certification. But when it comes to advice on CAM, it was found in countries such as Ireland, Israel, Norway, Turkey and the United Kingdom that citizens sought the opinions of their social network of friends and family, rather than professionals, for advice.
Illustration of this article
Information sharing through social networks is seen as an important element of CAM use, particularly as a result of citizens' personal experience, which seems to influence initial and repeated use of alternative medicine. This was the finding from studies in nine European countries. The trend of attitudes to CAM being shaped by personal experience was also observed for biomedical professions and students of such professions.

In Europe, there are more than 180,000 registered and certified non-medical CAM practitioners. This amounts to 65 CAM providers per 100,000 inhabitants, as compared to the EU figures of 95 general medical practitioners per 100,000 inhabitants. However, regulation of and education in CAM is different in each of the 39 European countries studied.

Speaking at the final conference of the European research network for complementary and alternative medicine (CAMbrella), Professor Vinjar Fonnebo, director of the Norwegian Institute for CAM research at the University of Tromso, said: 'The current EU regulation and education chaos for CAM provision makes it impossible for health professionals to give safety and security to their patients and clients.'

His comments follow a three-year study showing that CAM is a neglected area of research and knowledge, and that it differs across countries. In particular, it was revealed that Europe lags behind North America, Asia and Australia in its approach to CAM. This underlines the need for a centralised and coordinated effort to enhance knowledge within this field. In addition, researchers at the conference stressed the need for a coordinated European approach by presenting a roadmap for European CAM research.

Professor Jarle Aaarbacke, rector of the University of Tromso, believes research is key: 'CAM is not part of the medicine we teach and learn in European universities, but it is nevertheless used by large numbers of patients and providers across Europe, so [it is better that] we understand more about it.'

Professor Benno Brinkhaus, who led the event, concludes: 'If CAM is to be employed as part of the solution to the healthcare challenges we face in 2020, it is vital to obtain reliable information on its cost, safety and effectiveness in real world settings. CAMbrella's vision is for an evidence base which enables European citizens and policymakers to make informed decisions about CAM.'

For more information, please visit:


Alliance for Natural Health

Liar, Liar, Nose On Fire: Pinocchio Effect Revealed

European researchers have made a major advance in thermal imaging techniques that is bringing to life an old fable. Everyone is familiar with the children's story of Pinocchio, a wooden puppet, with a nose that grew every time he told a lie. Now researchers from Spain are seeing parts of this tale ring true.

The researchers from the University of Granada, Department of Experimental Psychology have discovered that when a person lies he or she experiences what they have termed a 'Pinocchio effect'. During the Pinocchio effect the subject may experience an increase in the temperature around their nose and in the orbital muscle in the inner corner of their eyes. In addition to this, the researchers discovered that when people perform a considerable mental effort, temperature around the face drops, and when we have an anxiety attack our face temperature rises. These are some of the conclusions that were arrived at in their pioneering study and as a result of their new applications in the field of thermography. 

Thermal Image Showing Pinocchio Effect
Illustration of this article
Credit: University of Granada

Thermography first developed in the United States during World War II to detect the enemy, is a technique based on body temperature that has been applied in many and wide ranging fields from the building industry to medicine. Thermographic cameras are already in use measuring energy loss in buildings, and indicating respiratory diseases in bovine animals or rabies in raccoons.

Emilio Gómez Milán and Elvira Salazar López from the University of Granada have pioneered the application of thermography in the field of psychology, and they have obtained very innovative and interesting results.
Temperature changes also occur in the face when a mental effort is made such as performing difficult tasks, being interrogated on a specific event or lying.

The researchers discovered that when we lie about our feelings, the temperature around our nose rises and a brain element called 'insula' is activated. The insula is a component of the brain reward system, and it only activates when we experience real feelings (called 'qualias'). The insula is involved in the detection and regulation of body temperature. Therefore, there is a strong negative correlation between insula activity and temperature increase: the more active the insulae (the greater the feeling) the lower the temperature change, and vice versa, the researchers state.

The researchers have also demonstrated that temperature asymmetries on both sides of the body and local temperature changes are associated with the physical, mental and emotional status of the subject. The thermogram is a somatic marker of subjective or mental states and allows us to see what a person is feeling or thinking, professor Salazar states.

Sexual excitement and desire can also be identified in both men and women using thermography, since they induce an increase in chest and genital temperatures. This study demonstrated that - in physiological terms - men and women get excited at the same time, even though women may say they are not excited or only slightly excited.

Finally, thermography is useful for evaluating emotions (since the face thermal pattern is different) and identifying emotional contagion. For example, when a highly empathic person sees another person having an electric discharge in their forearm, they are affected by their suffering and temperature in their own forearm increases. In patients with certain neurological disease such as multiple sclerosis, the body does not properly regulate temperature, which can be detected by a thermogram. Thermography can also be applied to determine body fat patterns, which is very useful in weight loss and training programmes. It can also be applied to assess body temperature in coeliac patients and in patients with anorexia, and so on.

For more information, please visit:

University of Granada:

CANALUGR Science Portal:

Sound That Cuts Flesh, Invisible Sonic Surgical Blade

A carbon-nanotube-coated lens that converts light to sound can focus high-pressure sound waves to finer points than ever before. The University of Michigan engineering researchers who developed the new therapeutic ultrasound approach say it could lead to an invisible knife for noninvasive surgery.

Today's ultrasound technology enables far more than glimpses into the womb. Doctors routinely use focused sound waves to blast apart kidney stones and prostate tumors, for example. The tools work primarily by focusing sound waves tightly enough to generate heat, says Jay Guo, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science, mechanical engineering, and macromolecular science and engineering. Guo is a co-author of a paper on the new technique published in the current issue of Nature's journal Scientific Reports.

Abstract vision of sound. (stock image)
Credit: University of Michigan

The beams that today's technology produces can be unwieldy, says Hyoung Won Baac, a research fellow at Harvard Medical School who worked on this project as a doctoral student in Guo's lab.

"A major drawback of current strongly focused ultrasound technology is a bulky focal spot, which is on the order of several millimeters," Baac said. "A few centimeters is typical. Therefore, it can be difficult to treat tissue objects in a high-precision manner, for targeting delicate vasculature, thin tissue layer and cellular texture. We can enhance the focal accuracy 100-fold."

The team was able to concentrate high-amplitude sound waves to a speck just 75 by 400 micrometers (a micrometer is one-thousandth of a millimeter). Their beam can blast and cut with pressure, rather than heat. Guo speculates that it might be able to operate painlessly because its beam is so finely focused it could avoid nerve fibers. The device hasn't been tested in animals or humans yet, though.

"We believe this could be used as an invisible knife for noninvasive surgery," Guo said. "Nothing pokes into your body, just the ultrasound beam. And it is so tightly focused, you can disrupt individual cells."

With a new technique that uses tightly-focused sound waves for micro-surgery, University of Michigan engineering researchers drilled a 150-micrometer hole in a confetti-sized artificial kidney stone.
Image credit: Hyoung Won Baac

To achieve this superfine beam, Guo's team took an optoacoustic approach that converts light from a pulsed laser to high-amplitude sound waves through a specially designed lens. The general technique has been around since Thomas Edison's time. It has advanced over the centuries, but for medical applications today, the process doesn't normally generate a sound signal strong enough to be useful.

The U-M researchers' system is unique because it performs three functions: it converts the light to sound, focuses it to a tiny spot and amplifies the sound waves. To achieve the amplification, the researchers coated their lens with a layer of carbon nanotubes and a layer of a rubbery material called polydimethylsiloxane. The carbon nanotube layer absorbs the light and generates heat from it. Then the rubbery layer, which expands when exposed to heat, drastically boosts the signal by the rapid thermal expansion.

The resulting sound waves are 10,000 times higher frequency than humans can hear. They work in tissues by creating shockwaves and microbubbles that exert pressure toward the target, which Guo envisions could be tiny cancerous tumors, artery-clogging plaques or single cells to deliver drugs. The technique might also have applications in cosmetic surgery.

In experiments, the researchers demonstrated micro ultrasonic surgery, accurately detaching a single ovarian cancer cell and blasting a hole less than 150 micrometers in an artificial kidney stone in less than a minute.

"This is just the beginning," Guo said. "This work opens a way to probe cells or tissues in much smaller scale."

The researchers will present the work at the SPIE Photonics West meeting in San Francisco. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

Related Links:
Jay Guo:
View the complete paper: Carbon-Nanotube Optoacoustic Lens for Focused Ultrasound Generation and High-Precision Targeted Therap

Contacts and sources"
Nicole Casal Moore
University of Michigan

Stellar Debris In The Large Magellanic Cloud

This is a composite image of N49, the brightest supernova remnant in optical light in the Large Magellanic Cloud. The Chandra X-ray image (blue) shows million-degree gas in the center. Much cooler gas at the outer parts of the remnant is seen in the infrared image from Spitzer (red). While astronomers expected that dust particles were generating most of the infrared emission, the study of this object indicates that much of the infrared is instead generated in heated gas.
This is a composite image of N49, the brightest supernova remnant in optical light in the Large Magellanic Cloud; the image combines data from the Chandra X-ray Telescope (blue) and NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope (red).
The unique filamentary structure seen in the optical image by Hubble (white and yellow) has long set N49 apart from other well understood supernova remnants, as most supernova remnants appear roughly circular in visible light. Recent mapping of molecular clouds suggests that this supernova remnant is expanding into a denser region to the southeast, which would cause its asymmetrical appearance. This idea is confirmed by the Chandra data. Although X-rays reveal a round shell of emission, the X-rays also show brightening in the southeast, confirming the idea of colliding material in that area.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory 

By The Numbers: Comparing Spending By Gun Rights And Gun Control Interest Groups

by Suevon LeeProPublica  

 Political spending by gun rights groups far outweighs that by gun control groups. Here, we break down just how wide the discrepancy is.

We define gun rights groups as non-profit organizations that lobby Congress and advocate on behalf of the ownership and use of firearms, and we define gun control groups as non-profit organizations that lobby Congress and advocate for gun control legislation. (Where relevant, we've also included donations from super PACs where gun control policy is a major focus.)\
File:Gun pyre in Uhuru Gardens, Nairobi.jpg
Credit: Wikipedia
We've honed in on the largest and most prominent of these special interest groups. See how their spending breaks down
Federal Campaign Contributions
Total amount of top campaign contributions by gun rights interest groups in 2012
Percent of the above figure donated to Republicans
Total campaign contributions by the National Rifle Association, the nation's largest gun rights group, in 2012
Percent of the above figure donated to Republicans
Total campaign contributions by gun control interest groups in 2012
Percent of the above figure donated to Democrats
Largest-ever total of campaign contributions from the gun control lobby (in 2000)
Independent Expenditures
(defined by the Federal Election Commission as an advertisement "expressly advocating the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate")
NRA's reported independent expenditures in the 2012 election cycle
How much the NRA spent against all Democratic candidates in 2012
How much the NRA spent against President Obama in 2012
Reported independent expenditures in the 2012 election cycle by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the largest grassroots organization dedicated to gun control measures
Amount spent by Independence USA PAC, a super PAC founded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2012 that focuses on issues of gun control, school reform and marriage equality, to help unseat former U.S. Rep. Joe Baca, R-Calif., known to be pro-gun rights
Amount spent by Independence USA PAC this election to help unseat former U.S. Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle, R-N.Y., known to oppose restrictions on gun ownership
Amount that gun rights groups on a whole spent lobbying Congress in 2012
Amount that the NRA spent lobbying Congress in 2012
Number of congressional bills NRA lobbied on behalf of in 2012
Number of U.S. House members to whom NRA has given an "A" rating
Number of U.S. House members to whom NRA has given a "D" or "F" rating
Number of U.S. senators to whom NRA has given an "A" rating
Number of U.S. senators to whom NRA has given a "D" or "F" rating
Amount that gun control groups on a whole spent lobbying Congress in 2012
Percent of the above figure spent solely by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a coalition of mayors founded in 2006 dedicated to promoting gun control initiatives
Largest-ever amount the Brady Campaign spent on lobbying (in 2004)
Amount the Brady Campaign spent lobbying Congress in 2012
Number of congressional bills the Brady Campaign lobbied on behalf of in 2012
Largest-ever amount gun control groups on a whole spent lobbying Congress (in 2001)
NRA's total revenue in 2010 (most recent year available)
Total amount NRA collected from membership dues and fees in 2010
Number of NRA employees in 2010
Number of NRA volunteers in 2010
Current estimated number of NRA members
Estimated membership of Gun Owners of America, another gun rights lobbying group
Total compensation for NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre in 2010
Total compensation for NRA Executive Director of General Operations Kayne Robinson in 2010
Estimated contribution range to NRA from outside corporations since 2005 through a corporate-giving program, per a report by the Violence Policy Center, a non-profit organization that advocates for stricter gun control
Percent of the above amount contributed by the firearms industry (manufacturers and sellers of guns and gun products)
Estimated revenue in 2012 by the gun and ammunitions industry
Brady Campaign's total revenue in 2010 (most recent year available)
Number of Brady Campaign employees in 2010
Number of Brady campaign volunteers in 2010
Total compensation for Brady Campaign's then-president Paul Helmke in 2010
Total revenue drawn by Mayors Against Illegal Guns Action Fund in 2010

Contacts and sources:
by Suevon LeeProPublica

A Wanderer Dances The Dance Of Stars And Space

The Hubble Space Telescope captured a spectacular image of the bright star-forming ring that surrounds the heart of the barred spiral galaxy NGC 1097. In this image, the larger-scale structure of the galaxy is barely visible: its comparatively dim spiral arms, which surround its heart in a loose embrace, reach out beyond the edges of this frame.
Image Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble

This face-on galaxy, lying 45 million light-years away from Earth in the southern constellation of Fornax (The Furnace), is particularly attractive for astronomers. NGC 1097 is a Seyfert galaxy. Lurking at the very center of the galaxy, a supermassive black hole 100 million times the mass of our sun is gradually sucking in the matter around it. The area immediately around the black hole shines powerfully with radiation coming from the material falling in.

The distinctive ring around the black hole is bursting with new star formation due to an inflow of material toward the central bar of the galaxy. These star-forming regions are glowing brightly thanks to emission from clouds of ionized hydrogen. The ring is around 5000 light-years across, although the spiral arms of the galaxy extend tens of thousands of light-years beyond it.

Contacts and sources:

TrackingPoint Precision Guided Firearms Demonstration

The release of the official trailer video for TrackingPoint's Precision Guided Firearms:  this trailer includes footage shot during the company field testing in the snow at altitude hunting western game, on safari hunting plains game, and hunting hogs from helicopters right in our back yard in Texas.

Fact Sheet

After reviewing the online discussion and incoming emails stemming from the initial product videos, the company  put together a short fact sheet that addresses some of the most asked questions about TrackingPoint PGFs. They expect that it will help provide some insight into their technology prior to the official company, product, and website launch on 14 January 2013.

Shot Show

And finally if you're at SHOT Show, Trackingpoint is in booth 12451 and shooting live at SHOT Media Day on the 14th. Company president Jason  Schauble  welcomes you to stop by and meet the team.
Contacts and sources:
Jason Schauble, President TrackingPoint

Sharpest Views Of Sunspots And Solar Granulation

The highest ever resolution image of a sunspot, made with the New Solar Telescope at the Big Bear Solar Observatory.

 Credit: BBSO

Sunspots appear as temporary darker regions on the visible surface of the Sun. They are caused by strong magnetic fields blocking the transfer of heat from the solar interior, allowing the region above to cool. Sunspots are characterised by a darker core or umbra surrounded by a lighter penumbra and are often larger than the Earth.

After a long period of relative calm and few sunspots, activity on the Sun is rising towards an expected peak sometime between 2012 and 2014. At the Big Bear Solar Observatory (BBSO) in California, astronomers are commissioning the New Solar Telescope (NST), an instrument with a mirror 1.6-m across.

The NST is already producing remarkable images like the one above, where details as small as 50 km across can be seen on the disk of the Sun, 150 million km away from the Earth, making it the sharpest ever image of a sunspot. The umbra, penumbra and surrounding granulation (marking convection cells) are all clearly visible.

Credit: Big Bear Solar Observatory

New observations of the solar granulation with the New Solar Telescope (NST) at the Big Bear Solar Observatory (BBSO) allowed a NJIT-Stanford research team to make the next step in understanding of the solar surface structure. A new complex world of very small granules became visible between normal solar granules. Mini-granules, as small as Maine, form a multi-fractal structure, similar to other systems in nature, such as coast lines, glaciers, earthquakes, stock market, etc. A key property of such systems is their unpredictable, burst-like behavior and jagged, irregular shape. Usually, occurrence of numerous independent random processes lead to the formation of a such system. Studying of such systems is beneficial for understanding both the universe and the social life.

The image shows solar granulation acquired with the NST on August 3, 2010 with overplotted contours of detected mini-granules (structures of equivalent diameter less than 600 km). The image size is 20500x19000 km. A map of USA is overplotted for comparison.

Until now it was thought that solar convection produces convection cells, visible on the solar surface as granules, of characteristic (dominant) spatial scale of about 1000km and a Gaussian (normal) distribution of granule sizes. In this case, the mechanism that produces granules is "programmed" to churn up convection cells of a typical size, without much freedom in size variation. Mini-granules do not display any characteristic ("dominant") scale, their size distribution is continuous and can be described by a decreasing power law (Gaussian distribution does not work any longer here) across all scales ranging from 140 to 2000 km. A majority (about 80%) of mini-granules are smaller than 600 km and about 50% are smaller than 300 km in diameter. This non-Gaussian distribution of sizes implies that a much more sophisticated mechanism, with much more degrees of freedom may be at work, where any very small fluctuation in density, pressure, velocity and magnetic fields may have significant impact and affect the resulting dynamics.

Scientist for long time saw difference in properties of small and large granules. However, low contrast and spatial resolution did not allow scientists to explore the entire range of structures. The NST provides images with contrast twice that of the previous data. It also enables us to see features on the solar surface as small as 80~km. These capabilities allowed us for the first time to accurately detect and measure very small convection cells. Their existence and properties were a subject of debate for long time, and now the NST solves the puzzle of the small (mini) granules.

Original paper titled "Detection of small-scale granular structures in the quiet sun with the New Solar Telescope" by V. I. Abramenko, V.B. Yurchyshyn, P.R. Goode (Big Bear Solar Observatory, NJIT) and I.N. Kitiashvili, A.G. Kosovichev (Stanford University) will be published by Astrophysical Journal Letters at the end of August, 2012

These results were published in Sept 2012 issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters (ADS | Arxiv)

Contacts and sources:
Royal Astronomical Society.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Giant Bird's Killer Foot

The Upland Moa (Megalapteryx didinus) was a species of Moa bird endemic to New Zealand. Ratites are flightless birds with a sternum without a keel. They also have a distinctive palate. It was the last moa species to become extinct, vanishing around 1500. It has been ascertained that this moa resided on the South Island only and in high-altitude beech forest

Preserved Megalapteryx foot.

Credit: Wikipedia

It was the last moa species to become extinct, vanishing around 1500. The Upland Moa was around 1.3 metres tall and weighing perhaps 25 kilos, according to It was one of the smallest of the moa species, the upland counterpart to the Little Bush Moa. As its name implies, it lived in the higher, cooler parts of the country, browsing in the high country forests, and in summer on the shrubs and herbs of the subalpine zone. As far as we know, the Upland Moa was unique to the South Island. From a mummified find, a foot, we know that, unlike other Moa, this one had feathers right down to its ankle — probably an adaptation to its cold home.

In 1878, H.L. Squires obtained near Queenstown the remains of a Moa with the skin still attached to the head and feet. Part of this was fowarded to the British Museum a few years afterwards and was the basis of the species Dinornis didinus of Owen. Two nearly complete skeletons are known, one found at Pokororo and now in the British Museum, and the other found near Cromwell and now preserved in the Dominion Museum, Wellington, according to
Credit: Wikipedia

Nibiru And The Threat To Earth: The World Will End Just Not This Month Says Bucknell Astronomer

This year's winter solstice took place on Dec. 21, the same date on which some believed the world would come to an end, coinciding with the end of the Mayan long-count calendar. Doomsday prophecies even prompted NASA to address people's concerns. Bucknell University Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy Ned Ladd says the world will end, just not this month.

Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy Ned Ladd peers through Bucknell's Clark telescope
Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy Ned Ladd peers through Bucknell's Clark telescope
Credit: Bucknell University

Question: One popular theory among Doomsdayers is a collision between Earth and a planet named "Nibiru." Should we be concerned?

Answer: Many forecasts of doom, including the Nibiru fable, involve a collision between the Earth and another celestial object — a giant asteroid, comet, or rogue planet. There's a kernel of truth to this idea. The Earth has been smacked by celestial objects in its past — some of them big enough to cause global change. Perhaps the most famous of these is the "asteroid that killed the dinosaurs," an object about 5 to 10 miles across that impacted Earth about 65 million years ago and radically changed our ecosystem.

So an impact like this can happen, but it's a very rare event. We know it's rare because we've scanned the skies for objects large enough to cause trouble. NASA's Near Earth Object Program searches for these objects and monitors the positions and orbits of those they detect. With modern technology, we can detect all objects of dino-killing size, and quite a bit smaller. There are no large objects which present a collision danger.

Artist’s conception of the rogue planet Nibiru, or Planet X. 

Credit: gilderm |

The Nibiru story involves a collision between Earth and a heretofore undetected Earth-sized planet that comes careening in from our outer solar system. An object that large would be easy to detect, even if it were still far out in the distant reaches of our solar system. It's just not out there.

Q: Another Doomsday prediction calls for a unique planetary alignment to bring about the end of the world. What impact do celestial alignments have on Earth?

A: Celestial alignment can produce spectacularly beautiful sights, but they have little or no physical significance. Perhaps the most famous of these is the alignment of the Earth, Moon, and Sun that produces solar and lunar eclipses. Planetary alignments are a little less spectacular, since the planets themselves look like bright "stars" in our night sky. There's no evidence that planetary alignments affect Earth processes in any way. The only conceivable interaction would involve the combined gravitational pull of the aligning planets, but the planets are so far away that the gravitational forces they exert on the Earth are minute.

Exceptions are the Sun and Moon, which are close enough (in the case of the Moon) or massive enough (the Sun) to influence the motion of water in our oceans and produce tides. Tidal torques act to slow the Earth's rotation rate, but only by a tiny amount — a "day" today is about 30 milliseconds longer than it was 2000 years ago. There's nothing out there capable of changing the Earth's rotation rate any more quickly than this.

Q: What about the theory that a black hole in the center of the galaxy will swallow up Earth?
A: Black holes are marvelous and real celestial objects surrounded by such strong gravitational fields that even light cannot escape. Of course, you have to be near enough to one of these monsters to experience those high gravity effects, and black holes are pretty small by celestial standards. Even the super-massive black hole at the center of our galaxy, an enormous beast with a mass at least a million times that of the Sun, produces extreme effects only very locally. That black hole is more than 27,000 light years away, so we're safely out of the danger zone.

Q: Doomsday aside, will Earth one day cease to exist?

A: When you start to consider really long time scales, like millions or billions of years, events that are extremely unlikely to happen anytime soon become almost certain to happen. For example, there's virtually no risk of a large asteroid impacting Earth in the next 100 years, but it's very likely that one will hit us in the next 100 million years. A large one, say 10 miles across or larger, could have devastating effects on our ecosystem, and probably could be called an "extinction event."

If rocks from space don't get us first, then we'll start to have a problem with the Sun in about two billion years. As the Sun ages it will puff up in size and become more luminous, slowly raising the temperatures on Earth. Eventually, our oceans will boil away and our atmosphere will become thick with water vapor and carbon dioxide, creating a runaway greenhouse effect like that on the planet Venus. By then temperatures on our dry, barren planet will be above 1000 degrees, and it's hard to see how we might survive in that environment.

But all of these events will take place in what we sometimes call the "deep future." I suspect there are many more pressing issues, such as climate change, the spread of nuclear materials, and the poisoning of our environment, that should demand our more immediate attention. If we don't survive those challenges, the astrophysical threats millions of years in our future are irrelevant.

Source: Cornell

Groundbreaking Air-Cleaner Saves Polluting Industrials

Industries across Europe are threatened with shutdown as European Union emission rules for Volatile Organic Compounds are tightened. Now an air cleaning invention from the University of Copenhagen has proven its ability to remove these compounds. And in the process they have helped a business in Danish town Aarhus improve relations to angry neighbors.

Inventor, Copenhagen chemist Matthew Johnson, presented evidence for the air cleaning invention at the conference "First International Education Forum on Environment and Energy Science" held on Hawaii December 14 to 18.

This is a picture of the researcher and inventor of new air cleaning technology. Mathew Johnsson from the University of Copenhagen.

Credit: University of Copenhagen

In deepest secrecy the inventor Matthew Johnson from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Copenhagen has been collaborating with an investor, INFUSER, in mounting and testing a revolutionary air cleaning device at the industrial plant, "Jysk Miljoerens" in Danish town Aarhus. The reason for keeping the testing secret was that they wanted to be absolutely sure that they could in fact remove the pollution before going public. Now their measurements are concluded and the results are in. And the device actually works.

Natural way to remove air pollution

At the department of Chemistry atmospheric chemist Matthew Johnson invented and patented the air cleaning method which is based on the natural ability of the Earth atmosphere to clean itself. In a process triggered by sunlight, polluting gasses rising into the sky start forming particles when they come across naturally occurring compounds such as ozone. The newly formed particles are washed out of the atmosphere by rain. Once the rain hits the ground, the atmosphere is clean again. In other words the whole process is nature's own purification works, explains Professor Johnson.

Credit: Wikipedia

"I have investigated the self-cleaning mechanism of the atmosphere for years. Suddenly I realized, that the mechanism is so simple, that we could wrap it in a box and use it to clean indoor air. This makes for a better indoor climate, and in this particular case it also removes smells from this industrial process allowing the company to stay in business and making the neighbours happy," says Matthew Johnson.

Frutifull collaboration between business and research

For the INFUSER CEO Lars Nannerup the new air cleaning method was a heavensent. For some time he had wanted to establish a cleantech business delivering green and sustainable solutions to industry.

-For INFUSER, collaborating with the University of Copenhagen has been extremely fruitful. We have been operating in an electrifying field between fundamental research and commercial development. This is an area where pure theory and good ideas are tested outside the very competent walls of the university. And we have been extraordinarily successful. We are excited to be able to bring to market this revolutionary technology. We are proud that it is a Danish invention, and we're proud that this invention helps making the world a better and a cleaner place," says Nannerup.

Low energy consumption allows climate friendly air treatment

In scientific terms, Matthew Johnsons patented process is known as an atmospheric photochemical accelerator. The whole process is housed in five aluminium boxes on the roof of the Aarhus business. Compared to traditional methods the new process outshines by removing pollution rather than diluting it, as is the case when we send smoke up a chimney. The method requires no filters, so maintenance is inexpensive. It consumes very little energy, so its climate impact is negligible. Finally it removes the need for a chimney which would have been costly to erect. For all these reason INFUSER and the photochemical air-purification was the right choice for Jysk Miljoerens.

Pollution in the sky of Athens, Greece 
File:Smoke Above Sintagma.jpg
Credit: Wikipedia

Photochemistry solved pressing problem for environmental business

The company Jysk Miljoerens makes a living separating oil from bilge water in ships, so that the oil may be recycled. For manager Bent Naldal all the parameters were important, but above all he is just happy that the new method has managed to remove the smells from his wastewater treatment plant. Because the smells were threatening to put him out of business.

"It's no big secret, that we've faced challenges in getting rid of the smells originating in our treatment plant. For this reason we were very happy when INFUSER got in touch, saying that they had a solution to our problem. Unlike other solutions that we've investigated to combat smells and air pollution we can now see, that INFUSER delivered. They've solved a pressing problem for Jysk Miloerens, and for the city of Aarhus," says CEO Naldal.

Perfect example of collaboration between industry and academia

For the University of Copenhagen it has been an especial pleasure to follow the collaboration between inventor and investor. The university unit for technology transfer has helped Johnson in the patenting process, in getting financing to conduct experiments and in drawing up the licensing agreement with INFUSER. Unit leader Anna Haldrup feels that the air cleaning technology is a perfect example of how universities can help industrial partners.

Contacts and sources:
Matthew Johnson
University of Copenhagen

An Image Gallery Gift From NASA's Swift

Of the three telescopes carried by NASA's Swift satellite, only one captures cosmic light at energies similar to those seen by the human eye. Although small by the standards of ground-based observatories, Swift's Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope (UVOT) plays a critical role in rapidly pinpointing the locations of gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), the brightest explosions in the cosmos.

This mosaic of M31 merges 330 individual images taken by the Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope aboard NASA's Swift spacecraft. It is the highest-resolution image of the galaxy ever recorded in the ultraviolet. The image shows a region 200,000 light-years wide and 100,000 light-years high (100 arcminutes by 50 arcminutes). 
Credit: NASA/Swift/Stefan Immler (GSFC) and Erin Grand (UMCP)

Between May 25 and July 26, 2008, Swift's Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope (UVOT) acquired 330 images of M31 at wavelengths of 192.8, 224.6, and 260 nanometers. This video will take you on a tour of some of these images.
Credit: NASA

But as the proxy to the human eye aboard Swift, the UVOT takes some amazing pictures. The Swift team is celebrating eight years of UVOT operations by collecting more than 100 of the instrument's best snapshots in a web-based photo gallery. The images also can be viewed with the free Swift Explorer Mission iPhone app developed by the Swift Mission Operations Center (MOC), which is located in State College, Pa., and operated by Penn State.

The Crab Nebula is the wreckage of an exploded star, or supernova, observed in the year 1054. The expanding cloud of gas is located 6,500 light-years away in the constellation Taurus. This composite of three Swift UVOT ultraviolet images highlights the luminous hot gas in the supernova remnant. The image is constructed from exposures using these filters: uvw1, centered at 2,600 angstroms (shown as red); uvm2, centered at 2,246 angstroms (green); and uvw2, centered at 1,928 angstroms (blue).

Credit: NASA/Swift/E. Hoversten, PSU
› Larger image (labeled) › Larger image (unlabeled)

Swift has detected an average of about 90 GRBs a year since its launch in 2004. "When we aren't studying GRBs, we use the satellite's unique capabilities to engage in other scientific investigations, some of which produce beautiful images from the UVOT that we're delighted to be able to share with the public," said Michael Siegel, the lead scientist on the UVOT and a research associate in astronomy and astrophysics at the MOC.

The targets range from comets and star clusters to supernova remnants, nearby galaxies and active galaxies powered by supermassive black holes.

This image composites XMM-Newton X-ray data onto an optical view of the Andromeda galaxy; the ULX is circled. Colors in the XMM image correspond to different X-ray energies: 0.2 to 1 keV (red), 1 to 2 keV (green) and 2 to 4.5 keV (blue).
This image composites XMM-Newton X-ray data onto an optical view of the Andromeda galaxy; the ULX is circled. Colors in the XMM image correspond to different X-ray energies: 0.2 to 1 keV (red), 1 to 2 keV (green) and 2 to 4.5 keV (blue).
Credit (background): Bill Schoening, Vanessa Harvey/REU program/NOAO/AURA/NSF
Credit (inset): ESA/M. Middleton et al.

"One of our more challenging projects in the past was completing an ultraviolet mosaic of M31, the famous Andromeda galaxy," said Stefan Immler, a member of the Swift team at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "Because the galaxy is so much larger than the UVOT field of view, we had to take dozens of pictures and blend them together to show the whole object."

An ongoing mosaic project targets the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, two small satellite galaxies orbiting our own, and makes the Andromeda effort look like child's play. Although the galaxies are much smaller than M31, they are both much closer to us and extend over much larger areas of the sky. The task involves acquiring and aligning hundreds of images and is far from complete.

With the UVOT's wavelength range of 1,700 to 6,000 angstroms, Swift remains one of few missions that study ultraviolet light, much of which is blocked by Earth's atmosphere.

Omega Centauri (also known as NGC 5139) is the largest, brightest and most massive of our galaxy's retinue of 150 or so globular star clusters. Packing some 10 million stars into a region just 150 light-years across, Omega Centauri is easily visible to the unaided eye despite lying nearly 16,000 light-years away. Unlike other star clusters, whose members all have similar age and chemical makeup, Omega Centauri displays a wide range of age and chemistry, from the ancient (12 billion years) to the relatively recent. The presence of different stellar populations suggests that Omega Centauri is not, in fact, a globular cluster, but the remnant core of a dwarf galaxy torn to shreds by the Milky Way’s gravity. The false-color ultraviolet composite from Swift UVOT's uvw1, uvm2 and uvw2 filters reveals a treasure trove of rare stars in various stages of demise.

Credit: NASA/Swift/S. Holland (Goddard), M. Siegel and E. Fonseca (PSU)
› Larger image (labeled) › Larger image (unlabeled)

The 6.5-foot-long (2 meter) UVOT is centered on an 11.8-inch (30 cm) primary mirror. Designed and built by the Mullard Space Science Laboratory in Surrey, England, the telescope module includes the primary and secondary mirrors, an external baffle to reduce scattered light, two redundant detectors -- only one has been used to date -- and a power supply.

Each detector lies behind an identical filter wheel. The wheel holds color filters that transmit a broad range of wavelengths as well as devices called grisms, which spread out incoming light in much the same way as a prism spreads sunlight into a rainbow of component colors. The detectors retain information on the position and arrival time of each photon of light, an operating mode similar to typical X-ray telescopes.

Because most ultraviolet light never reaches the ground, Swift's UVOT provides a unique perspective on the cosmos. For example, it can measure the amount of water produced in passing comets by detecting the ultraviolet emission of hydroxyl (OH), one of the molecular fragments created when ultraviolet sunlight breaks up water molecules. Other types of UVOT science include exploring emissions from the centers of active galaxies, studying regions undergoing star formation, and identifying some of the rarest and most exotic stars known.

Technicians prepare Swift's UVOT for vibration testing on Aug. 1, 2002, more than two years before launch, in the High Bay Clean Room at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center  › Larger image

Toward the end of its energy-producing life, a star like the sun will blow away its outer layers as its core transforms into a compact, Earth-sized remnant known as a white dwarf. This chapter of stellar evolution, known to astronomers as the post-asymptotic giant branch phase, lasts only about 100,000 years -- just an eye-blink in comparison to the star's total lifetime. To better understand the process, astronomers need to study large numbers of these unusual stars.
"The UVOT's capabilities give us a great tool for surveying stellar populations and cataloging rare types of ultraviolet-bright stars," Siegel explained.

One of the first targets for the stellar survey was the giant cluster Omega Centauri, which hosts millions of stars and may be the remains of a small galaxy. Thanks to Swift's UVOT, astronomers at Goddard and Penn State have cataloged hundreds of rare stellar types in the cluster and are now comparing their properties and numbers to predictions from theoretical models describing how stars evolve. 

Swift Images A Supernova