Zap! NASA’s Curiosity Rover Fires 100,000th Laser Shot on Mars

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NASA’s trigger-happy Curiosity rover has fired its 100,000th laser shot on Mars, a science milestone in its mission to determine what rocks on the Red Planet are made of, NASA announced Thursday (Dec. 5).
Each laser pulse shot by the Curiosity rover packs the power nearly 1 million light…

NASA’s trigger-happy Curiosity rover has fired its 100,000th laser shot on Mars, a science milestone in its mission to determine what rocks on the Red Planet are made of, NASA announced Thursday (Dec. 5).

Each laser pulse shot by the Curiosity rover packs the power nearly 1 million light bulbs — strong enough to vaporize rock and dust from up to 30 feet (9 meters) away.

“#PewPewPew I’ve fired my ChemCam laser 100,000+ times on Mars for SCIENCE!” Curiosity’s team wrote in the voice of the rover in a Twitter post Thursday. [Latest Photos of Mars by NASA's Curiosity Rover]

Originating from the French-made ChemCam instrument on Curiosity’s “head,” these beams are used to study the chemical composition of Mars. ChemCam has a spectrometer that analyzes the light emitted by the zapped targets on Mars. The instrument is sensitive enough to detect light from every element on the periodic table.

The 100,000th laser firing came as Curiosity was shooting a target called “Ithaca” in late October, according to NASA.

Roger Wiens, a planetary scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and principal investigator for ChemCam, said the laser-firing instrument has exceeded expectations.

“The information we’ve gleaned from the instrument will continue to enhance our understanding of the Red Planet, and will nicely complement information from the other nine instruments aboard Curiosity as we continue our odyssey to Mount Sharp,” Wiens said in a statement from Los Alamos.

Rising 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the center of Mars’ huge Gale Crater — where Curiosity landed in August 2012 — Mount Sharp is the rover’s main destination. Scientists hope Curiosity, which is about the size of a small SUV, will uncover clues about the ancient environment and habitability of Mars while scouring the foothills of the mountain.

The Curiosity rover has already made some amazing discoveries on Mars using ChemCam and its other instruments. Besides findings that Mars had a rather wet past, Curiosity recently helped scientists determine that each cubic foot of surface soil on Mars is made up of 2 percent water, which may be enough to quench the thirst of future astronauts.

“ChemCam was designed to fire one million shots, so we’ll have lots of stories to tell later on,” Wiens added.

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Magnitude-7.5 Earthquake Shakes Mexico

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A 7.5-magnitude earthquake struck southern Mexico’s Guerrero state Friday morning, the U.S. Geological Survey said.
The quake occurred on the Pacific Coast between the major resort towns of Acapulco and Zijuatanejo during Holy Week, when Mexicans traditionally flock to the beaches, and…

A 7.5-magnitude earthquake struck southern Mexico’s Guerrero state Friday morning, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

The quake occurred on the Pacific Coast between the major resort towns of Acapulco and Zijuatanejo during Holy Week, when Mexicans traditionally flock to the beaches, and resorts run at full capacity.

The quake happened at 9:27 a.m. local time (10:27 a.m. ET) about 19 miles (31 kilometers) northwest of Tecpan, Mexico, according to the Mexican National Seismological Service, which measured the quake at 7.0.

The quake shook Mexico City for at least 30 seconds, with buildings swaying as people fled high rises and took to the streets. Because of the Easter holiday, that city was less crowded than usual.

The quake’s depth at the epicenter was a shallow 30 miles (48 kilometers), the USGS said.

At least one building was damaged in Mexico City, 165 miles (265 kilometers) northeast of where the quake was centered.
Tecpan is 54 miles (87 kilometers) northwest of Acapulco.

Authorities were looking for damage and injuries. In some areas, telephone cell service was disrupted.

Much of Mexico City was destroyed and more than 10,000 people were killed in a magnitude 8.1 earthquake in 1985, but officials say they have put more safeguards into place since then.

Mayor Miguel Angel Mancerra, who was in the middle of a Good Friday news conference when the quake struck, said “protocols” were being immediately launched in the sprawling capital, which include dispatching helicopters to survey the most vulnerable neighborhoods.

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Tropical Storm Lorenzo Forms

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Tropical Storm Lorenzo formed over the central Atlantic Monday afternoon and has maximum sustained winds of 40 mph, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.
As of 5 p.m., Lorenzo was moving north-northweast at 7 mph about 635 miles east-southeast of Bermuda. It is the 12th tropical storm of…

Tropical Storm Lorenzo formed over the central Atlantic Monday afternoon and has maximum sustained winds of 40 mph, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

As of 5 p.m., Lorenzo was moving north-northweast at 7 mph about 635 miles east-southeast of Bermuda. It is the 12th tropical storm of the 2013 season.

It formed as a tropical depression over the ocean Monday morning.

There were no coastal watches or warnings in effect and no threat to land.

Tropical Storm Lorenzo is expected to turn toward the northeast by Monday night, followed by a turn toward the east-northeast on Tuesday.

Some additional strengthening is possible during the next day or so, but weakening is likely by Wednesday, forecasters said.

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Earthquake Hits Coastal Peru

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A magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck northwestern Peru near its border with Ecuador on Saturday, the U.S. Geological Survey reported.
Peru’s National Civil Defense Institute (INDECI) said it had not received reports of serious damage or injuries, and authorities did not issue a tsunami…

A magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck northwestern Peru near its border with Ecuador on Saturday, the U.S. Geological Survey reported.

Peru’s National Civil Defense Institute (INDECI) said it had not received reports of serious damage or injuries, and authorities did not issue a tsunami alert.

The quake struck at 6:51 p.m. local time (2351 GMT). Its epicenter was 28 miles south-southwest of Piura and it occurred at a depth of 6.1 miles, the USGS said.

Brazilian construction company Odebrecht SA said its $700 million irrigation project in the area was unaffected.

Still, the quake jolted the northern coastal region of Peru, with local media reporting that some people ran into the street after the tremor, fearing their homes could cave in.

A witness on local radio RPP said the cross on the dome of a local church fell off.

The quake was also felt in parts of neighboring Ecuador, according to Peruvian newspaper El Comercio.

The quake happened in a region that marks the boundary between two tectonic plates, where the oceanic crust of the Nazca Plate moves under the South American Plate. These subduction zones are often the sites of volcanic activity and earthquakes.

The temblor in northern Peru on Saturday evening was not related to the magnitude-6.1 quake that hit the southern part of the country earlier in the day, IGP director Hernan Tavera told RPP Noticias.

Both earthquakes were caused by shifting plates under the ocean, Tavera said.

Peru is located in the Pacific Ring of Fire, a region of frequent quakes and volcano activity.

The Pacific Ring of Fire accounts for about 85 percent of the world’s seismic activity.

A magnitude-5.6 earthquake injured 16 people in Ica, a region in southern Peru, in February.

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Brains Have Switch Board to Guide Behavior In Response To External Stimuli

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(sensory stimulation) with information on our internal state such as hunger, fear or stress? NERF-scientists demonstrate that the habenula, a specific part in our brain consisting of neural circuits, acts as a gate for sensory information, thus regulating behavior in response to external…

(sensory stimulation) with information on our internal state such as hunger, fear or stress? NERF-scientists demonstrate that the habenula, a specific part in our brain consisting of neural circuits, acts as a gate for sensory information, thus regulating behavior in response to external stimuli.

Emre Yaksi (NERF — VIB/imec/KU Leuven): “Our brain has high levels of spontaneous activity, even in the absence of sensory stimulation. We think that this spontaneous neural activity in combination with sensory stimulation results in a particular internal state of the habenula. By this functional organization the habenula acts as a kind of switch board, selecting certain sensory information and sending it to the downstream brainstem areas. Thus the habenula regulats our behavior. It will be interesting to test whether experience or learning can alter the functional organization of these circuits.”

Unraveling neural circuits

Neuroscientists all over the world are gradually unraveling the processes in our brain. However our brain still remains a mystery. The activity of single neurons and the functioning of ‘one-to-one’ interactions have been examined in detail. Yet, the information processing at the level of neural circuits is less well-understood. Emre Yaksi and his NERF-colleagues integrate neurobiology and nano-scale engineering to study brain function at multiple levels of detail. This multidisciplinary approach enables the researchers to look beyond the brain cells, and it provides them with great tools to study neural circuits and their link with behavior.

Exploring brain structures in zebrafish

Zebrafish is a useful model organism for neurological research. To find out how brains combine external and internal stimuli, Suresh Kumar Jetti, Nuria Vendrell Llopis and Emre Yaksi focused on the dorsal habenula (dHb) in zebrafish. The dHb is an equivalent of the habenula in mammals and relays information from the sensory areas to the brain region that regulates animal behavior under stress conditions. In zebrafish, the dHb receives input from cells of the olfactory bulbthus odors can trigger distinct behaviors (e.g. feeding, courtship, alarm).

Spontaneous activity is highly organized

The ongoing spontaneous activity in neurons was thought to be associated with several neurological phenomenons, such as sleep, or the learning and sensory process. The researchers observed that dHb is highly active even in the absence of any sensory stimulation. Moreover they showed that the spontaneous activity of dHb is not random but highly structured in the spatial clusters of neurons. Later the team showed that this spontaneous activity is very prominent during sensory stimulation and governs the odor responses in the dHb. The scientists their conclusion is that dHb acts like a switch board for the sensory information and is controlled by spontaneous activity.

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Rare Form Of Nitrogen Detected In Comet ISON

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team of astronomers, led by Ph.D. candidate Yoshiharu Shinnaka and Professor Hideyo Kawakita, both from Kyoto Sangyo University, successfully observed the Comet ISON during its bright outburst in the middle of November 2013. Subaru Telescope’s High Dispersion Spectrograph (HDS) detected…

team of astronomers, led by Ph.D. candidate Yoshiharu Shinnaka and Professor Hideyo Kawakita, both from Kyoto Sangyo University, successfully observed the Comet ISON during its bright outburst in the middle of November 2013. Subaru Telescope’s High Dispersion Spectrograph (HDS) detected two forms of nitrogen–14NH2 and 15NH2–in the comet. This is the first time that astronomers have reported a clear detection of the relatively rare isotope 15NH2 in a single comet and also measured the relative abundance of two different forms of nitrogen (“nitrogen isotopic ratio”) of cometary ammonia (NH3). Their results support the hypothesis that there were two distinct reservoirs of nitrogen the massive, dense cloud (“solar nebula”) from which our Solar System may have formed and evolved.

Why did the team focus on studying these different forms of nitrogen in the comet? Comets are relatively small Solar System objects composed of ice and dust, which formed 4.6 billion years ago in the solar nebula when our Solar System was in its infancy. Because they usually reside in cold regions far from the Sun, e.g., the Kuiper belt and Oort cloud, they probably preserve information about the physical and chemical conditions in the early Solar System. Different forms and abundances of the same molecule provide information about their source and evolution. Were they from a stellar nursery (a primordial interstellar cloud) or from a distinctive cloud (solar nebula) that may have formed our Solar System’s star, the Sun? Scientists do not yet understand very well how cometary molecules separate into isotopes with different abundances. Isotopes of nitrogen from ammonia (NH3) may hold the key.

Ammonia (NH3) is a particularly important molecule, because it is the most abundant nitrogen-bearing volatile (a substance that vaporizes) in cometary ice and one of the simplest molecules in an amino group (-NH2) closely related to life. This means that these different forms of nitrogen could link the components of interstellar space to life on Earth as we know it.

Since ammonia is the major carrier of nitrogen in a comet, it is necessary to clear it from the relative abundance of its isotopes to understand how 15NH2 separates in cometary molecules. However, the direct detection of cometary ammonia is difficult, and there are only a few reports of its clear detection. Therefore, the team concentrated on studying the form of NH2 developed after the ammonia was broken down by the light (“photodissociation”) in the cometary coma. The team was fortunate to observe the comet as it neared the Sun, when its icy composition was evaporating. They were also fortunate that NH2, a derivative of ammonia (NH3), is easy to observe in the optical wavelength, and the relative abundance of nitrogen isotopes of cometary ammonia is probably close to that of NH2.

The team used Subaru Telescope’s HDS to successfully observe Comet ISON on November 15th and 16th when the comet had its bright outburst that began on November 14th. The observation clearly detected 15NH2 from Comet ISON, and the team inferred that the ratio of cometary ammonia of 14N/15N (139±38) is consistent with the average (14N/15N~130) of that from the spectra of 12 other comets. In other words, Comet ISON is typical in its relative abundance of 14N/15N in cometary ammonia.

These findings support the hypothesis that there were two distinct reservoirs of nitrogen in the solar nebula: 1) primordial N2 gas having a protosolar value of 14N/15N, and 2) less volatile and probably solid molecules having a ratio of about 14N/15N~150 in the solar nebula. In the case of a dense molecular cloud core, the isotopic ratio of hydrogen cyanide (HCN) is similar to that of comets while its ratio in ammonia is different from its cometary value.

This may mean that the ammonia formed in an environment of a low temperature dust surface, not in the gas of the molecular cloud. Laboratory experiments show that various complex molecules can form on the surface of low temperature dust. If the ammonia molecule formed on the low temperature dust surface, the cometary nucleus could contain a complex molecule that relates to the origin of life, in addition to the ammonia. If this is so, it raises the possibility that the comet brought these materials to Earth.

In the future, the team would like to increase the sample of comets for which nitrogen isotopic ratios of cometary ammonia have been determined. They would also like to carry out laboratory measurements of 15NH2 to obtain more precise isotopic ratios. On a larger scale, the team hopes to investigate the origin of Comet ISON and the mechanisms that triggered its outburst so that we can better understand the evolution of the Solar System.

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BREAKING NEWS: Captured Video Confirms Solar Flare Phenomena

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Scientists have for the first time witnessed the mechanism behind explosive energy releases in the Sun’s atmosphere, confirming new theories about how solar flares are created.

New footage put together by an international team led by University of Cambridge researchers shows how entangled…

Scientists have for the first time witnessed the mechanism behind explosive energy releases in the Sun’s atmosphere, confirming new theories about how solar flares are created.

hi_c's_m

New footage put together by an international team led by University of Cambridge researchers shows how entangled magnetic field lines looping from the Sun’s surface slip around each other and lead to an eruption 35 times the size of the Earth and an explosive release of magnetic energy into space.

Equation:
Charged Particles (sunspots, solar flares, filament, coronal holes, etc.) → Magnetic Field Shift → Shifting Ocean and Jet Stream Currents → Extreme Weather and Human Disruption (mitch battros 1998).

sun_magnetic_field_magnetic_core_m

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The discoveries of a gigantic energy build-up bring us a step closer to predicting when and where large flares will occur, which is crucial in protecting the Earth from potentially devastating charged particles. The study is published in The Astrophysical Journal.

The paper’s lead author, Dr. Jaroslav Dudik, Royal Society Newton International Fellow at the University of Cambridge’s Center for Mathematical Sciences, said: “We care about this as during flares we can have CMEs and sometimes they are sent in our direction. Human civilization is at risk by highly charged particles hitting our weakening magnetic field which can be a threat to airlines, world-wide electrical grids, our maintained technology and our health and wellbeing.

Space weather such as solar flares and CMEs has been identified as a significant risk to the country’s infrastructure by the UK’s National Risk Register and the US Department of Defense. Late last year The UK’s MET Office announced it would set up a daily space weather forecast to work with the USA’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC).

While solar flares have long been a spectacular reminder of our star’s power, they are also associated with coronal mass ejections (CMEs) — eruptions of solar material with a twisted magnetic structure flying out of the Sun and into interplanetary space.

carrington_event_m

VIDEO: CLICK HERE

 “They can also threaten airlines by disturbing the Earth’s magnetic field. Very large flares can even create currents within electricity grids and knock out energy supplies.”

One such event hit the Earth before technology was as integrated into human civilization as it is now, but still had a marked effect. In 1859 the Carrington storm made night skies so bright that newspapers could be read as easily as in daylight and telegraph systems caught fire.

Knowing the standard scientific models are right is therefore very important. The standard 3D model of solar flares has shown that they occur in places where the magnetic field is highly distorted.

In these places, the magnetic field lines can continuously reconnect while slipping and flipping around each other. In doing so, new magnetic structures are created.

Long before the flare the magnetic field lines are un-entangled and they appear in a smooth arc between two points on the photosphere (the Sun’s visible surface) — areas called field line footpoints.

In a smooth, none-entangled arc the magnetic energy levels are low but entanglement will occur naturally as the footpoints move about each other. Their movement is caused as they are jostled from below by powerful convection currents rising and falling beneath the photosphere.

region1777_062513

As the movement continues the entanglement of field lines causes magnetic energy to build up.

Like a group of straight cords which has been twisted, the lines will hold the energy until it becomes too great and then will release it, “straightening” back to the lower energy state.

Co-author Dr. Helen Mason, Head of the Atomic Astro-Physics Group at the University of Cambridge, said: “You build the stress slowly until a point where they are no longer sustainable. The field lines say they have had enough and ‘ping’, they go back to something simple.”

That “ping” creates the solar flare and CME. The word “ping” belies its power of course. Temperatures in the hotspots of the ejection can reach almost 20 million degrees Celsius.

The theory remained unconfirmed until Dudik was reviewing footage of the Sun for an unrelated project last year.

It is no surprise it has taken so long to make the discovery. The technology that created the video is part of the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) satellite mission which was only launched in 2010 by NASA.

It watches the Sun in the ultra-violet with the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) capturing ultra-high-definition images every 12 seconds.

The final piece of the theoretical jigsaw was put in place in 2012 by French scientists — a paper published just six days before the flare occurred. Dudik admits that the serendipity the discovery is hard to ignore. But in science, fortune favors the prepared: “Suddenly I knew what I was looking at,” he said.

What Dudik witnessed was the ultra-violet dance caused by the magnetic field lines slipping around each other, continuously “unzipping” and reconnecting as the footpoints of the flare loops move around on the surface. But during the flare, the footpoint slipping motion is highly ordered and much faster than the random motions entangling the field before the flare.

Dudik observations were helped by the sheer size of the flare he was looking at — it could encompass 35 Earths. Not only that, the flare was of the most energetic kind, known as an X Class flare, and it took around an hour to reach its maximum.

If it had happened in a smaller flare, the slipping motion might not have been visible, even with NASA’s technology to help.

Although only seen in an X Class flare to date, the mechanism might well be something which happens in all flares, said Dudik: “But we are not yet certain.”

The importance of seeing the evidence of theory cannot be underestimated said Dr. Mason: “In recent years there have been a lot of developments theoretically but unless you actually tie that down with observations you can speculate widely and move further away from the truth, not closer, without knowing it.”

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