Houston, we have a problem. And you can see it!

(PhysOrg.com) — Endeavor astronaut Heidi Stefanyshyn-Piper’s loss has turned out to be an amateur star gazers’ event of the season. The $100,000 tool bag slipped out of her reach and floated into space while she was trying to clean up a greasy mess on the starboard section of the space station. The tool bag is now dubbed ISS Toolbag and is orbiting the Earth. According to Space.com, Edward Light spotted the orbiting tool bag using 10 x 50 binoculars from his backyard in Lakewood, New Jersey.

SpaceWeather.com has launched a satellite tracking system which allows the public to input their zip code and get a schedule of when the ISS tool bag will be doing a flyby in their neighborhood. The satellite tracking system provides the time, date, direction to look, transit time, maximum elevation and magnitude of the ISS Toolbag.

SpaceWeather.com has launched a satellite tracking system which allows the public to input their zip code and get a schedule of when the ISS tool bag will be doing a flyby in their neighborhood. The satellite tracking system provides the time, date, direction to look, transit time, maximum elevation and magnitude of the ISS Toolbag.

Close behind the ISS Toolbag is the International Space Station doing its flyby. The ISS has a very bright appearance compared to the tool bag. The site gives a week ahead calendar of the flyby events. If you miss one evening, you can catch it some other night. The ISS Toolbag is expected to continue to orbit until its fiery reentry some time in June, 2009.

According to NASA scientist Nicholas Johnson, the exact date of reentry is dependent on solar activity. So, the actual fiery end of the ISS Toolbag could be sooner or later than the predicted June date. It is not expected that any components of the Toolbag will reach the Earth´s surface. A reentry survivability analysis has not been conducted, but in all likelihood it will simply burn up during reentry.

The orbiting tool bag weighs approximately 30-pounds. It measures 20-inches wide and 12-inches long. The tool bag contains two grease guns, a scraper tool, a large trash bag and a small debris bag. Given the size and dim magnitude of the orbiting tool bag, star gazers will need binoculars or a small telescope to view it.

On November 22, Kevin Fetter of Brockville, Ontario Canada captured the orbiting ISS Tool Bag on video. See his Lost Tool Bag YouTube Video above. Astronaut Heidi Stefanyshyn-Piper’s now infamous tool bag fumble can be viewed in another Short Version YouTube video. In the weeks to come the ISS Tool Bag will be visible to all of North America.

From Physorg.com

First photos of exoplanets


The first pictures of planets outside our Solar System have been taken, two groups report in the journal Science.

Visible and infrared images have been snapped of a planet orbiting a star 25 light-years away.

The planet is believed to be the coolest, lowest-mass object ever seen outside our own solar neighbourhood.

In a separate study, an exoplanetary system, comprising three planets, has been directly imaged, circling a star in the constellation Pegasus.

While several claims have been made to such direct detection before, they have later been proven wrong or await confirmation.

The search for exoplanets has up to now depended on detecting either the wobble they induce in their parent star or, if their orbits are side-on to telescopes, watching them dim the star’s light as they pass in front of it.

Being able to directly detect the light from these planets will allow astronomers to study their composition and atmospheres in detail.

The difficulty for astronomers imaging exoplanets is that their parent star’s light swamps them – like trying to spot a match next to a floodlight at a distance of a mile.

But advances in optics and image processing have allowed astronomers to effectively subtract the bright light from stars, leaving behind light from the planets. That light can either come in the infrared, caused by the planets’ heat, or be reflected starlight.

Paul Kalas of the University of California, Berkeley, led an international group that used the Hubble Space Telescope to image the region around a star called Fomalhaut in the constellation Piscis Austrinus.

The star has a massive ring of dust surrounding it that appears to have a cleanly groomed inner edge.

That is in keeping with what is known as accretion theory – that young planets gather up dust and matter as they orbit – and prompted the team to begin looking for the suspected planet in 2005.

The team estimates that the planet, designated Fomalhaut b, is some 18 billion kilometres (11 billion miles) away from its star, about as massive as Jupiter and completes an orbit in about 870 years. It may also have a ring around it.

“I nearly had a heart attack at the end of May when I confirmed that Fomalhaut b orbits its parent star,” Dr Kalas said. “It’s a profound and overwhelming experience to lay eyes on a planet never before seen.”

Christian Marois of the Herzberg Institute for Astrophysics, Canada, and his team used the Keck and Gemini telescopes in Hawaii to look near a star called HR 8799, which is just visible to the naked eye.

The team studied light in the infrared part of the spectrum, hoping to spot planets that were still hot from their formation.

What they found in 2004, and confirmed again this year, are three planets circling the star.

According to a theoretical model that accounts for the light coming from the planets, they range in size from five to 13 times the mass of Jupiter and are probably only about 60 million years old.

The trio have similarities with our own Solar System. Their orbits are comparable in size to those of the outer planets, and the smaller planets are those closest to the Sun – again suggesting a system that formed through accretion.

Dr Marois points out that the current methods used in the exoplanet hunt are sensitive primarily to Jupiter-sized planets and larger.

“We thus do not have a full picture,” he told BBC News. “The detection of the three planets around HR 8799 does not mean that no planets are orbiting at smaller separations. Other gas giant or even rocky planets could reside there.”

The study of the light directly from the planets will yield information about their atmospheres and surfaces that is impossible to collect from planets discovered indirectly.

Further, the current results will also support theories of how planets form from the grand discs of dust and material around stars, and lead to better estimates of how many Earth-like planets are likely to exist.

These latest claims are both based on observations that were well-spaced in time, allowing the researchers to apply a rigorous test for direct detection.

“You see an object next to a star and you might think it’s a planet,” commented Mark McCaughrean, an astrophysicist at the University of Exeter, UK.

“But you have to watch it for several years and make sure that it moves around the star and with the star as it moves across the sky. Though I’ve been very sceptical in the past, these ones all seem pretty real to me,” he told BBC News

“It’s like a London bus – you’ve been waiting for one for ages and suddenly four come along at once.”

From BBC.co.uk

e=mc2: 103 years later, Einstein’s proven right

It’s taken more than a century, but Einstein’s celebrated formula e=mc2 has finally been corroborated, thanks to a heroic computational effort by French, German and Hungarian physicists.

A brainpower consortium led by Laurent Lellouch of France’s Centre for Theoretical Physics, using some of the world’s mightiest supercomputers, have set down the calculations for estimating the mass of protons and neutrons, the particles at the nucleus of atoms.

According to the conventional model of particle physics, protons and neutrons comprise smaller particles known as quarks, which in turn are bound by gluons.

The odd thing is this: the mass of gluons is zero and the mass of quarks is only five percent. Where, therefore, is the missing 95 percent?

The answer, according to the study published in the US journal Science on Thursday, comes from the energy from the movements and interactions of quarks and gluons.

In other words, energy and mass are equivalent, as Einstein proposed in his Special Theory of Relativity in 1905.

The e=mc2 formula shows that mass can be converted into energy, and energy can be converted into mass.

By showing how much energy would be released if a certain amount of mass were to be converted into energy, the equation has been used many times, most famously as the inspirational basis for building atomic weapons.

But resolving e=mc2 at the scale of sub-atomic particles — in equations called quantum chromodynamics — has been fiendishly difficult.

“Until now, this has been a hypothesis,” France’s National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) said proudly in a press release.

“It has now been corroborated for the first time.”

For those keen to know more: the computations involve “envisioning space and time as part of a four-dimensional crystal lattice, with discrete points spaced along columns and rows.”

From physorg.com

Which way ‘out of Africa’?


New evidence provides an alternative route ‘out of Africa’ for early humans.

The widely held belief that the Nile valley was the most likely route out of sub-Saharan Africa for early modern humans 120,000 year ago is challenged in a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A team led by the University of Bristol shows that wetter conditions reached a lot further north than previously thought, providing a wet ‘corridor’ through Libya for early human migrations. The results also help explain inconsistencies between archaeological finds.

While it is widely accepted that modern humans originated in sub-Saharan Africa 150-200 thousand years ago, their route of dispersal across the hyper-arid Sahara remains controversial. The Sahara covers most of North Africa and to cross it on foot would be a serious undertaking, even today with the most advanced equipment.

Well-documented evidence shows there was increased rainfall across the southern part of the Sahara during the last interglacial period (130-117 thousand years ago). The Bristol University team, with collaborators from the universities of Southampton, Oxford, Hull and Tripoli (Libya), investigated whether these wetter conditions had reached a lot further north than previously thought.

Anne Osborne, lead author on the paper said: “Space-borne radar images showed fossil river channels crossing the Sahara in Libya, flowing north from the central Saharan watershed all the way to the Mediterranean. Using geochemical analyses, we demonstrate that these channels were active during the last interglacial period. This provides an important water course across this otherwise arid region.” The critical ‘central Saharan watershed’ is a range of volcanic mountains formerly considered to be the limit of this wetter region.

The researchers measured the isotopic composition of snail shells taken from two sites in the fossil river channels and from the shells of planktonic microfossils in the Mediterranean. Despite being hundreds of kilometres from the volcanic rocks in the mountains of the Saharan watershed, these shells had a distinctly volcanic ‘signature’, very different from the other rocks surrounding the sites. Water flowing from these volcanic mountains is the only possible source of this signature.

Dr Derek Vance, senior author on the paper, added: “The study shows, for the first time, that monsoon rains fed rivers that extended from the Saharan watershed, across the northern Sahara, to the Mediterranean Sea. These corridors rivaled the Nile Valley as potential routes for early modern human migrations to the Mediterranean shores.”

The similarities between Middle Stone Age artefacts in places like Chad and the Sudan, with those of Libya, strongly support this theory. “We now need to focus archaeological fieldwork around the large drainage channels and palaeo-lakes to test these ideas” said Nick Barton, a contributor to the project from the University of Oxford.

Full story available at Bristol.ac.uk

The beauty in the horror


Several wildfires raged throughout Southern California this weekend, in the hills surrounding Los Angeles, burning some 35,000 acres (55 sq mi) and destroying around 1,000 homes as California’s Fire Season extends toward becoming a year-round condition. Dry Santa Ana winds of up to 70 mph drove flames and embers across valleys and into neighborhoods, in some cases burning only a few homes, in others, wiping out entire communities. Most of the fires are contained now – the causes still under investigation. Fortunately, few injuries and no deaths have been reported, as some 50,000 evacuees begin returning to their homes to assess the damage.

See the amazing photos at Boston.com

World’s Oldest Nuclear Family

IN A case of prehistoric paternity testing, the world’s oldest known nuclear family has been identified: a mum, dad and two boys who lived 4600 years ago.

Although their deaths were violent, they were buried with care in a single grave: arms entwined, children facing their parents.

“Their unity in death suggests a unity in life,” said Wolfgang Haak, of the University of Adelaide, co-leader of an international team that studied ancient DNA from the remains.

The well-preserved family was buried near three other graves containing the skeletons of nine people in a Stone Age cemetery near Eulau in Germany.

The mother was 35 to 50 years old and was laid to rest according to custom, on her left side, with her head pointing to the east. Her male partner, aged 40 to 60, was also in a traditional position.

The two boys, aged about four and eight, should also have lain like their father. But “it appears that the burial orientation pattern was overruled for each boy to face a parent to express a biological relationship,” Dr Haak, whose study is published in the Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences, said.

The 13 people were all participants in a prehistoric tragedy. One woman had a stone arrowhead embedded in her spine. Others had fractured skulls, including the family’s eight-year-old, and some had injuries on their arms and hands where they had tried to defend themselves from blows. This suggested they were victims of a sudden, fierce raid, the researchers said. “The injury patterns point to a violent event which most probably resulted in the death of all 13 individuals.”

Survivors had obviously had an intimate knowledge of the victims’ relationships from the careful way they had buried the slain.

One of the graves contained a woman, two children and a baby. DNA testing showed the children were probably brother and sister, but the woman was not their mother. And this was reflected in the pair’s burial position near her, but not facing her.

Studies of strontium in the people’s teeth also revealed the women in the group had grown up elsewhere, while the men and children were from the local area.

The men and boys were buried with stone axes and the women and girls with animal tooth pendants and flint tools.

From SMH.com

LHC Update

Fixing the world’s largest atom smasher will cost at least 25 million francs ($21 million) and may take until early summer, its operator said Monday.

An electrical failure shut down the Large Hadron Collider on Sept. 19, nine days after the $10 billion machine started up with great fanfare.

The European Organization for Nuclear Research recently said that the repairs would be completed by May or early June. Spokesman James Gillies said the organization know as CERN is now estimating the restart will be at the end of June or later.

“If we can do it sooner, all well and good. But I think we can do it realistically (in) early summer,” he said.

The organization has blamed the shutdown on the failure of a single, badly soldered electrical connection.

The atom smasher operates at temperatures colder than outer space to get maximum efficiency and experts needed to gradually warm the damaged section to better assess it, he said.

“Now the sector is warm so they are able to go in and physically look at each of the interconnections,” Gillies told The Associated Press.

The cost of the work will fall within the organization’s existing budget, Gillies said.

The massive machine on the Swiss-French border was built to smash protons from hydrogen atoms together at high energy and record what particles are produced by the collisions, giving scientists a better idea of the makeup of the smallest components of matter.

That will show on a tiny scale what happened one-trillionth of a second after the so-called Big Bang, which many scientists theorize was the massive explosion that formed the universe. The theory holds that the universe was rapidly cooling at that stage and matter was changing rapidly.

Scientists have taken the setback in stride, saying that particle colliders always have such problems in the startup phase.

When games become movies…

As excited I am for each new Indiana Jones incarnation, I’m equally excited for each new Tomb Raider game. And since George Lucas ruined my childhood with the last film (harsh, I know), Tomb Raider has become the new outlet for my inner adventurist. The most recent release immerses players in an unbelievably detailed world where Lara searches for the hammer of the Norse god Thor. Even those who aren’t thrilled by games can appreciate the cinematic feel that the most recent video presents.

In homage to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, I must say:

When games become movies, play the game.

Photo of the Day – Severn Estuary Sunset


Severn Estuary, UK
November 2008

“To stand at the edge of the sea, to sense the ebb and flow of the tides, to feelthe breath of a mist moving over a great salt marsh, to watch the flight of shore birds that have swept up and down the surf lines of the continents for untold thousands of year, to see the running of the old eels and the young shad to the sea, is to have knowledge of things that are as nearly eternal as any earthly life can be.” – Rachel Carson

The Vanishing Bees

“What do you mean the bees are vanishing?” – Doctor Who

It’s true.  Anyone who hasn’t been living in a cave the past couple years knows that bees around the world are vanishing.  How many time have you been stung and wished all bees would just disappear?  I for one have been there, but an idle thought may be coming into fruition and scientists are baffled as to why.

Physorg.com constantly impresses me with their coverage of scientific research around the globe, but I was blown away to read a fantastic article on the dwindling bee population written by Melissa Beattie-Moss. The in depth article covers unveils the global initiative to unravel the mystery of the bees and I encourage you to follow the link below and read it for yourself.

Colonies in collapse: What’s causing massive honeybee die-offs?

Google Earth rebuilds ancient Rome online

Google on Wednesday resurrected ancient Rome online, opening a three-dimensional virtual version of the city for cyber-explorers interested in trips back through time.

People using free Google Earth software can seemingly fly past more than 6,500 buildings that stood in the city at the peak of the Roman Empire in 320 AD.

Online visitors can swoop in for close-ups of structures and peruse pop-up information “bubbles” written by historians.

Some buildings feature full interiors. Internet surfers can visit the Roman Forum; linger in the center of the Colosseum; pass through the Arch of Constantine and follow in the footsteps of gladiators in the Ludus Magnus.

Rome is the first ancient city recreated at Google Earth, an interactive online Atlas that provides tools and technology that enable people to explore the world.

To commemorate the launch, Google is inviting US educators to take part in a contest promising prizes for innovative lesson plans based on the virtual Ancient Rome feature.

From Physorg.com

Photo of the Day – Remember, remember the fifth of November…


Brean, UK
November 5, 2008

Brean Down is a promontory off the coast of Somerset standing 320 feet (98 m) high and extending 1.5 miles (2 km) into the Bristol Channel between Weston-super-Mare and Burnham on Sea.

Made of carboniferous limestone, it is a continuation of the Mendip Hills, and two further continuations are the small islands of Steep Holm and Flat Holm.

It is now owned by the National Trust, and is rich in wildlife, history and archaeology. It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. There are steep cliffs and, at its seaward point, a Brean Down Fort built in 1865 and then re-armed in the Second World War.

Also, today just so happend to be the 53rd anniversary of the day in which Doc Brown fell off of his toliet while hanging his clock, hit his head and came up with the idea for the flux capacitor!