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SpaceX Has Beamed Scotty Up to Orbit
After its launch yesterday, the Dragon capsule is now on its way to the International Space Station. But the Falcon 9 rocket carried something else: the ashes of James Doohan, the actor who played Scotty in Star Trek.
His ashes were in the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket, which separated from the capsule nine minutes and 49 seconds after the launch. The ashes canister is now in orbit alongside some not so famous, but a a true hero: Gordon Cooper. He was one of the original Mercury Seven, the first astronauts in the history of American spaceflight. The guys with The Right Stuff.
Cooper was the first American to sleep in orbit and the last American astronaut to be in orbit on his own. He was also part of the Gemini Project but didn’t make it into Apollo.

SpaceX Has Beamed Scotty Up to Orbit

After its launch yesterday, the Dragon capsule is now on its way to the International Space Station. But the Falcon 9 rocket carried something else: the ashes of James Doohan, the actor who played Scotty in Star Trek.

His ashes were in the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket, which separated from the capsule nine minutes and 49 seconds after the launch. The ashes canister is now in orbit alongside some not so famous, but a a true hero: Gordon Cooper. He was one of the original Mercury Seven, the first astronauts in the history of American spaceflight. The guys with The Right Stuff.

Cooper was the first American to sleep in orbit and the last American astronaut to be in orbit on his own. He was also part of the Gemini Project but didn’t make it into Apollo.

 ESA’s Venus Express has been used to study the geology in a region near Venus’ equator. Using near-infrared observations collected by the Venus Monitoring Camera (VMC), scientists have found evidence that the planet’s rugged highlands are scattered with geochemically more evolved rocks, rather than the basaltic rocks of the volcanic plains. This finding is in agreement with previous studies, which used data from the spacecraft’s Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer (VIRTIS) to map the planet’s surface in the southern hemisphere.
Investigations into the nature of Venus’ surface are complicated by the fact that the surface is concealed behind a dense covering of clouds. Since the 1980s, radar instruments on board orbiting spacecraft have been used to peer through these clouds to gain insight into the texture of the surface. However, in order to understand how Venus has evolved, geologists want to ‘dig a bit deeper’ and study the composition of its rocks – information that radar imaging can’t provide. 

They’re eager to learn if geological features revealed in radar images, such as steep-sided domes and rugged highland terrain (called tesserae), contain materials that are rich in silicates, such as ‘felsic rocks’. On Earth, most felsic rocks – the most common of which is granite – formed in a water environment. This makes them particularly interesting with regards to planetary evolution.
 
Chimon-mana Tessera and areas studied with VMC. Credit: A.T. Basilevsky et al. 2012
Since Venus Express began its observations, scientists are now starting to unearth the planet’s geology. The near-infrared channels of the VMC and VIRTIS instruments have measured the intensity of 1 micron-wavelength radiation, which is dependent upon the surface temperature and emissivity of the rocks. It’s the latter that is important here, as it depends on several factors, including the surface texture and mineral composition.
In a new study, the first findings about the geology of Venus based on VMC data have been published. The study, which was led by Alexander Basilevsky from the Vernadsky Institute of Geochemistry and Analytical Chemistry in Moscow, Russia, analysed the rugged highland terrain called Chimon-mana Tessera and its surrounding volcanic plains. This region was chosen for the VMC study because its equatorial position prevented solar light from skewing the data; by observing the night-side of Venus and keeping within low latitudes (40 degrees above and below the equator), the planet eclipsed the Sun from the spacecraft.
Read more >

ESA’s Venus Express has been used to study the geology in a region near Venus’ equator. Using near-infrared observations collected by the Venus Monitoring Camera (VMC), scientists have found evidence that the planet’s rugged highlands are scattered with geochemically more evolved rocks, rather than the basaltic rocks of the volcanic plains. This finding is in agreement with previous studies, which used data from the spacecraft’s Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer (VIRTIS) to map the planet’s surface in the southern hemisphere.

Investigations into the nature of Venus’ are complicated by the fact that the surface is concealed behind a dense covering of . Since the 1980s, radar instruments on board orbiting spacecraft have been used to peer through these clouds to gain insight into the texture of the surface. However, in order to understand how Venus has evolved, want to ‘dig a bit deeper’ and study the composition of its rocks – information that radar imaging can’t provide. 

They’re eager to learn if geological features revealed in radar images, such as steep-sided domes and rugged highland terrain (called tesserae), contain materials that are rich in silicates, such as ‘felsic rocks’. On Earth, most felsic rocks – the most common of which is granite – formed in a water environment. This makes them particularly interesting with regards to planetary evolution.

Venus Express unearths new clues to the planet's geological history

Chimon-mana Tessera and areas studied with VMC. Credit: A.T. Basilevsky et al. 2012

Since Venus Express began its observations, scientists are now starting to unearth the planet’s . The near-infrared channels of the VMC and VIRTIS instruments have measured the intensity of 1 micron-wavelength radiation, which is dependent upon the surface temperature and emissivity of the rocks. It’s the latter that is important here, as it depends on several factors, including the surface and mineral composition.

In a new study, the first findings about the geology of Venus based on VMC data have been published. The study, which was led by Alexander Basilevsky from the Vernadsky Institute of Geochemistry and Analytical Chemistry in Moscow, Russia, analysed the rugged highland terrain called Chimon-mana Tessera and its surrounding volcanic plains. This region was chosen for the VMC study because its equatorial position prevented solar light from skewing the data; by observing the night-side of Venus and keeping within low latitudes (40 degrees above and below the equator), the planet eclipsed the Sun from the .

Read more >

Patients’ Skin Cells Turned Into Heart Muscle Cells to Repair Their Damaged Hearts

For the first time scientists have succeeded in taking skin cells from heart failure patients and reprogramming them to transform into healthy, new heart muscle cells that are capable of integrating with existing heart tissue.

The research, which is published online May 22 in the European Heart Journal, opens up the prospect of treating heart failure patients with their own, human-induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) to repair their damaged hearts. As the reprogrammed cells would be derived from the patients themselves, this could avoid the problem of the patients’ immune systems rejecting the cells as “foreign.” However, the researchers warn that there are a number of obstacles to overcome before it would be possible to use hiPSCs in humans in this way, and it could take at least five to ten years before clinical trials could start.

Recent advances in stem cell biology and tissue engineering have enabled researchers to consider ways of restoring and repairing damaged heart muscle with new cells, but a major problem has been the lack of good sources of human heart muscle cells and the problem of rejection by the immune system. Recent studies have shown that it is possible to derive hiPSCs from young and healthy people and that these are capable of transforming into heart cells. However, it has not been shown that hiPSCs could be obtained from elderly and diseased patients. In addition, until now researchers have not been able to show that heart cells created from hiPSCs could integrate with existing heart tissue.

Professor Lior Gepstein, Professor of Medicine (Cardiology) and Physiology at the Sohnis Research Laboratory for Cardiac Electrophysiology and Regenerative Medicine, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel, who led the research, said: “What is new and exciting about our research is that we have shown that it’s possible to take skin cells from an elderly patient with advanced heart failure and end up with his own beating cells in a laboratory dish that are healthy and young — the equivalent to the stage of his heart cells when he was just born.”

Ms Limor Zwi-Dantsis, who is a PhD student in the Sohnis Research Laboratory, Prof Gepstein and their colleagues took skin cells from two male heart failure patients (aged 51 and 61) and reprogrammed them by delivering three genes or “transcription factors” (Sox2, Klf4 and Oct4), followed by a small molecule called valproic acid, to the cell nucleus. Crucially, this reprogramming cocktail did not include a transcription factor called c-Myc, which has been used for creating stem cells but which is a known cancer-causing gene.

"One of the obstacles to using hiPSCs clinically in humans is the potential for the cells to develop out of control and become tumours," explained Prof Gepstein. "This potential risk may stem from several reasons, including the oncogenic factor c-Myc, and the random integration into the cell’s DNA of the virus that is used to carry the transcription factors — a process known as insertional oncogenesis."

The researchers also used an alternative strategy that involved a virus that delivered reprogramming information to the cell nucleus but which was capable of being removed afterwards so as to avoid insertional oncogenesis.

The resulting hiPSCs were able to differentiate to become heart muscle cells (cardiomyocytes) just as effectively as hiPSCs that had been developed from healthy, young volunteers who acted as controls for this study. Then the researchers were able to make the cardiomyocytes develop into heart muscle tissue, which they cultured together with pre-existing cardiac tissue. Within 24-48 hours the tissues were beating together. “The tissue was behaving like a tiny microscopic cardiac tissue composed of approximately 1000 cells in each beating area,” said Prof Gepstein.

Finally, the new tissue was transplanted into healthy rat hearts and the researchers found that the grafted tissue started to establish connections with the cells in the host tissue.

Read more >

Science is primarily an investigation of our place of the Universe — the place that people occupy in a world which ranges from the tiniest subatomic particles to the furthest reaches of space and time. We do not exist in isolation, and science is a human cultural activity, not a purely dispassionate striving after truth, no matter how hard we might try. It is all about where we came from, and where we are going. And it is the most exciting story ever told.
John Gribbin’s 1997 meditation from the introduction to Almost Everyone’s Guide to Science: The Universe, Life and Everything  (via fieldnotesbiologyculture)

(Source: brainpickings.org)

BE NICE! Else you’ll spend the rest of your life fighting and competing and you’ll never trust anyone and you will end up just not being very happy and stuff :D
Limits to growth: Scientists identify key metastasis-enabling enzyme
On the complex road to eradicating cancer, controlling or preventing metastatic growth initiated by primary tumors is high on the to-do list. A key area of such research is the development of therapies based on identifying markers of metastasis associated with altered choline metabolism in breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers. Recently, scientists at the Leibniz Research Centre for Working Environment and Human Factors (IfADO), University of Dortmund, Germany, studying the tumor metabolome – the characteristic metabolic phenotype of tumor cells fundamental to the tumor’s metastatic capacity – identified EDI3 (endometrial differential 3) as the enzyme responsible for a decreased glycerophosphocholine (GPC) to phosphocholine (PC) ratio by cleaving GPC to produce choline. The scientists concluded that since inhibiting EDI3 activity corrects the GPC/PC ratio and thereby decreases tumor cell migration capacity, it represents a possible therapeutic modality.
Not surprisingly, Dr. Jan G. Hengstler and his team – Dr. Joanna D. Stewart, Dr. Rosemarie Marchan, Dr. Michaela S. Lesjak, and other researchers – had to deal with a number of challenges in identifying EDI3 as the critical enzyme in glycerophosphocholine cleaving. “The story started,” recalls Hengstler, “when we scraped out a band from a silver gel. This band contained a gene expressed in metastasizing, but not non-metastasizing endometrial carcinomas. Nothing was known about the function of this gene, which we named EDI3 because its precursors EDI1 and EDI2 were not confirmed in independent clinical samples, and therefore not further studied.” In fact, at that point EDI3 was not yet included on the Affymetrix genomic analysis chip, which may explain why EDI3 was completely unexplored.
“Some initial attempts to understand EDI3’s function and relevance failed,” Hengstler tells Medical Xpress. “At this time the small EDI3-project was almost dead. Fortunately, persistence and some brilliant ideas from two post docs and a PhD student - Rosemarie Marchan, Joanna Stewart and Michaela Lesjak – gave the project new life. By some clever in silico studies, they came up with a small number of hypotheses on the mode of action of EDI3 – and one of them could indeed be experimentally confirmed.” EDI3 cleaves glycerophosphocholine to release choline and glycerol-3-phosphate – an important metabolic step, because choline metabolism not only provides membrane phospholipids essential for neoplastic cells, but is essential for the activation of a number of signaling proteins. “This reaction, also known as Kennedy-pathway, was already in the textbooks, Hengstler adds, “and some components of the choline metabolism were even being explored as possible targets in cancer. However, a key enzymatic protein positioned at the start of this pathway remained unidentified.”
As soon as the enzymatic mechanism was clear, the project progressed rapidly. “Through what I’d consider amazing teamwork,” says Hengstler, “Marchan, Stewart and Lesjak worked together to establish methods that allowed them to manipulate EDI3’s levels, while at the same time developing the reagents and methods needed to measure EDI3.” The latter included the development of an EDI3 antibody and an enzymatic assay to measure EDI3’s activity. “From this we learned that EDI3 has a tremendous influence on lipid patterns, particularly both lysophosphatidic acid and phosphatidic acid. Things got even more exciting when it became clear that phosphatidic acid creates membrane anchoring points for proteins that activate many intracellular signaling pathways, many that are altered in cancer. In addition, phosphatidic acid is a direct precursor to another important signaling lipid – diacylglycerol, which directly activates protein kinase C (PKC).” Activated PKC increases migration activity of several tumor cell lines, and increased migration contributes to the high metastatic capacity observed in EDI3 overexpressing carcinomas.

Limits to growth: Scientists identify key metastasis-enabling enzyme


On the complex road to eradicating cancer, controlling or preventing metastatic growth initiated by primary tumors is high on the to-do list. A key area of such research is the development of therapies based on identifying markers of metastasis associated with altered choline metabolism in breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers. Recently, scientists at the Leibniz Research Centre for Working Environment and Human Factors (IfADO), University of Dortmund, Germany, studying the tumor metabolome – the characteristic metabolic phenotype of tumor cells fundamental to the tumor’s metastatic capacity – identified EDI3 (endometrial differential 3) as the enzyme responsible for a decreased glycerophosphocholine (GPC) to phosphocholine (PC) ratio by cleaving GPC to produce choline. The scientists concluded that since inhibiting EDI3 activity corrects the GPC/PC ratio and thereby decreases tumor cell migration capacity, it represents a possible therapeutic modality.

Not surprisingly, Dr. Jan G. Hengstler and his team – Dr. Joanna D. Stewart, Dr. Rosemarie Marchan, Dr. Michaela S. Lesjak, and other researchers – had to deal with a number of challenges in identifying EDI3 as the critical enzyme in glycerophosphocholine cleaving. “The story started,” recalls Hengstler, “when we scraped out a band from a silver gel. This band contained a gene expressed in metastasizing, but not non-metastasizing endometrial carcinomas. Nothing was known about the function of this gene, which we named EDI3 because its precursors EDI1 and EDI2 were not confirmed in independent clinical samples, and therefore not further studied.” In fact, at that point EDI3 was not yet included on the Affymetrix genomic analysis chip, which may explain why EDI3 was completely unexplored.

“Some initial attempts to understand EDI3’s function and relevance failed,” Hengstler tells Medical Xpress. “At this time the small EDI3-project was almost dead. Fortunately, persistence and some brilliant ideas from two post docs and a PhD student - Rosemarie Marchan, Joanna Stewart and Michaela Lesjak – gave the project new life. By some clever in silico studies, they came up with a small number of hypotheses on the mode of action of EDI3 – and one of them could indeed be experimentally confirmed.” EDI3 cleaves glycerophosphocholine to release choline and glycerol-3-phosphate – an important metabolic step, because choline not only provides membrane phospholipids essential for neoplastic cells, but is essential for the activation of a number of signaling proteins. “This reaction, also known as Kennedy-pathway, was already in the textbooks, Hengstler adds, “and some components of the choline metabolism were even being explored as possible targets in . However, a key enzymatic protein positioned at the start of this pathway remained unidentified.”

As soon as the enzymatic mechanism was clear, the project progressed rapidly. “Through what I’d consider amazing teamwork,” says Hengstler, “Marchan, Stewart and Lesjak worked together to establish methods that allowed them to manipulate EDI3’s levels, while at the same time developing the reagents and methods needed to measure EDI3.” The latter included the development of an EDI3 antibody and an enzymatic assay to measure EDI3’s activity. “From this we learned that EDI3 has a tremendous influence on lipid patterns, particularly both lysophosphatidic acid and phosphatidic acid. Things got even more exciting when it became clear that phosphatidic acid creates membrane anchoring points for proteins that activate many intracellular signaling pathways, many that are altered in cancer. In addition, phosphatidic acid is a direct precursor to another important signaling lipid – diacylglycerol, which directly activates protein kinase C (PKC).” Activated PKC increases migration activity of several cell lines, and increased migration contributes to the high metastatic capacity observed in EDI3 overexpressing carcinomas.

Hubble captures first pictures of auroras on Uranus
NASA’s Hubble space telescope has captured the first images of auroras on the ice giant Uranus.
Uranus, the seventh planet from the sun, is an oddball world. At some point in its past, the planet appears to have been knocked on its side, so now its “North Pole” sits where the equator on most planets is located.
The newly observed auroras — seen as tiny white dots in the image above — underscore just how strange Uranus really is.
Auroras, also known as the Northern Lights, appear on Earth when the solar wind – a stream of charged particles emanating from the sun — interacts with our planet’s magnetic field. While terrestrial auroras appear as giant green curtains of light and may last hours, the auroras seen recently on Uranus were relatively small and stuck around only a few minutes.
Scientists don’t know much about Uranus’ magnetic field because it has only been investigated in detail once, 25 years ago when the Voyager 2 satellite zoomed by. At that time, Voyager detected auroras but Earth-based attempts to reexamine the atmospheric phenomenon on Uranus have all failed since.

Hubble captures first pictures of auroras on Uranus

NASA’s Hubble space telescope has captured the first images of auroras on the ice giant Uranus.

Uranus, the seventh planet from the sun, is an oddball world. At some point in its past, the planet appears to have been knocked on its side, so now its “North Pole” sits where the equator on most planets is located.

The newly observed auroras — seen as tiny white dots in the image above — underscore just how strange Uranus really is.

Auroras, also known as the Northern Lights, appear on Earth when the solar wind – a stream of charged particles emanating from the sun — interacts with our planet’s magnetic field. While terrestrial auroras appear as giant green curtains of light and may last hours, the auroras seen recently on Uranus were relatively small and stuck around only a few minutes.

Scientists don’t know much about Uranus’ magnetic field because it has only been investigated in detail once, 25 years ago when the Voyager 2 satellite zoomed by. At that time, Voyager detected auroras but Earth-based attempts to reexamine the atmospheric phenomenon on Uranus have all failed since.

Edge-on Beauty
Visible in the constellation of Andromeda, NGC 891 is located approximately 30 million light-years away from Earth. The Hubble Space Telescope turned its powerful wide field Advanced Camera for Surveys towards this spiral galaxy and took this close-up of its northern half. The galaxy’s central bulge is just out of the image on the bottom left.
The galaxy, spanning some 100 000 light-years, is seen exactly edge-on, and reveals its thick plane of dust and interstellar gas. While initially thought to look like our own Milky Way if seen from the side, more detailed surveys revealed the existence of filaments of dust and gas escaping the plane of the galaxy into the halo over hundreds of light-years.
They can be clearly seen here against the bright background of the galaxy halo, expanding into space from the disc of the galaxy. Astronomers believe these filaments to be the result of the ejection of material due to supernovae or intense stellar formation activity.
A few foreground stars from the Milky Way shine brightly in the image, while distant elliptical galaxies can be seen in the lower right of the image. NGC 891 is part of a small group of galaxies bound together by gravity.

Edge-on Beauty

Visible in the constellation of Andromeda, NGC 891 is located approximately 30 million light-years away from Earth. The Hubble Space Telescope turned its powerful wide field Advanced Camera for Surveys towards this spiral galaxy and took this close-up of its northern half. The galaxy’s central bulge is just out of the image on the bottom left.

The galaxy, spanning some 100 000 light-years, is seen exactly edge-on, and reveals its thick plane of dust and interstellar gas. While initially thought to look like our own Milky Way if seen from the side, more detailed surveys revealed the existence of filaments of dust and gas escaping the plane of the galaxy into the halo over hundreds of light-years.

They can be clearly seen here against the bright background of the galaxy halo, expanding into space from the disc of the galaxy. Astronomers believe these filaments to be the result of the ejection of material due to supernovae or intense stellar formation activity.

A few foreground stars from the Milky Way shine brightly in the image, while distant elliptical galaxies can be seen in the lower right of the image. NGC 891 is part of a small group of galaxies bound together by gravity.

Huge Sunspot Aimed at Earth — Eruption Imminent?

The active region in question, called AR1476, is huge. In fact, as cheerfully pointed out by the SDO’s little yellow chicken mascot Camilla, the sunspot complex underlying the active region is about the size of Jupiter! In the image shown above, we are looking at light generated by plasma (heated to approximately 6,000 Celsius/Kelvin) in the sun’s photosphere. The sunspots appear dark as the sun’s intense magnetic field is thrusting through the photosphere from the interior, pushing the hotter surface layers aside, exposing the cooler plasma below.

Read more >

Ink Wants to Form Neurons, and an Artful Scientist Obliges

1. The Secret of Shimmer

Dunn has been recently been playing with iridescence, adding more colors while still allowing the metals to shine. This painting of the cerebellar lobe is an example of his newer work.

Listening to him explain iridescence, you can see how his scientific background factors into his art: “[Iridescence] is when you have small crystalline patterns at the microscopic level which break up the incoming light and distribute it a different way, and so you get light coming into your eye from different angles in just a planar surface,” he explains. Dunn gets his paintings to shimmer and change under different light with a special technique he developed—and which he keeps under his hat.

2. The Fractal Solution to the Universe

In his second year of neuroscience grad school, Greg Dunn was moonlighting with a different kind of experiment: blowing ink across pieces of paper. The neuron-like pattern it formed was instantly recognizable to him as a neuroscientist. “Ink spreads because it wants to go in the direction of less resistance, and that’s probably also the case of when branches grow or neurons grow,” he says. “The reason the technique works really well is because it’s directly related to how neurons are actually behaving.”

Dunn calls this the “fractal solution to the universe,” which he sees as the “fundamental beauty of nature.” He’s fascinated that this branching pattern holds true across orders of magnitude, whether that’s nanometers for neurons, centimeters for ink, or meters for a tree branch.

3. Asian-Inspired Art

The branching tree motif of Asian art is especially fitting for Dunn’s neuron paintings. Simplicity is key: “What I love about Asian art is that you boil away all the unnecessary crap, and you’re left with an expression of an idea that’s done with spontaneity and grace.” There is nothing extraneous here in this painting of two pyramidal cells, a type of neuron found in the cerebellum and hippocampus.

4. Artistic Creation, Scientific Method

Before he ever touches a brush, Dunn mocks up his paintings in Photoshop, setting the composition and color scheme. Paintings, like a set of experiments, must be planned through in advance. “If the silhouette isn’t great, that painting will never be great. You’ve got to build on a strong foundation,” he says. “That’s true of science as well.”

The curled structure depicted here is the hippocampus, one of the most-studied parts of the brain. It has an integral role in memory and spatial navigation. The famous patient HM, who’d had his hippocampus removed, was unable to form new memories.

A new image of Messier 55 from ESO’s VISTA infrared survey telescope shows tens of thousands of stars crowded together like a swarm of bees. Besides being packed into a relatively small space, these stars are also among the oldest in the Universe. Astronomers study Messier 55 and other ancient objects like it, called globular clusters, to learn how galaxies evolve and stars age.
Globular clusters are held together in a tight spherical shape by gravity. In Messier 55, the stars certainly do keep close company: approximately one hundred thousand stars are packed within a sphere with a diameter of only about 25 times the distance between the Sun and the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri.
About 160 globular clusters have been spotted encircling our galaxy, the Milky Way, mostly toward its bulging centre. The two latest discoveries, made using VISTA, were recently announced. The largest galaxies can have thousands of these rich collections of stars in orbit around them.
Observations of globular clusters’ stars reveal that they originated around the same time — more than 10 billion years ago — and from the same cloud of gas. As this formative period was just a few billion years after the Big Bang, nearly all of the gas on hand was the simplest, lightest and most common in the cosmos: hydrogen, along with some helium and much smaller amounts of heavier chemical elements such as oxygen and nitrogen.
Being made mostly from hydrogen distinguishes globular cluster residents from stars born in later eras, like our Sun, that are infused with heavier elements created in earlier generations of stars. The Sun lit up some 4.6 billion years ago, making it only about half as old as the elderly stars in most globular clusters. The chemical makeup of the cloud from which the Sun formed is reflected in the abundances of elements found throughout the Solar System — in asteroids, in the planets and in our own bodies.
Sky watchers can find Messier 55 in the constellation of Sagittarius (The Archer). The notably large cluster appears nearly two-thirds the width of the full Moon, and is not at all difficult to see in a small telescope, even though it is located at a distance of about 17 000 light-years from Earth.

Read more >

A new image of Messier 55 from ESO’s VISTA infrared survey telescope shows tens of thousands of stars crowded together like a swarm of bees. Besides being packed into a relatively small space, these stars are also among the oldest in the Universe. Astronomers study Messier 55 and other ancient objects like it, called globular clusters, to learn how galaxies evolve and stars age.

Globular clusters are held together in a tight spherical shape by . In Messier 55, the stars certainly do keep close company: approximately one hundred thousand stars are packed within a sphere with a diameter of only about 25 times the distance between the Sun and the nearest , Alpha Centauri.

About 160 globular clusters have been spotted encircling our galaxy, the , mostly toward its bulging centre. The two latest discoveries, made using VISTA, were recently announced. The largest can have thousands of these rich collections of stars in around them.

Observations of globular clusters’ stars reveal that they originated around the same time — more than 10 billion years ago — and from the same cloud of gas. As this formative period was just a few billion years after the Big Bang, nearly all of the gas on hand was the simplest, lightest and most common in the cosmos: hydrogen, along with some helium and much smaller amounts of heavier chemical elements such as oxygen and nitrogen.

Being made mostly from hydrogen distinguishes globular cluster residents from stars born in later eras, like our Sun, that are infused with heavier elements created in earlier generations of stars. The Sun lit up some 4.6 billion years ago, making it only about half as old as the elderly stars in most . The chemical makeup of the cloud from which the Sun formed is reflected in the abundances of elements found throughout the Solar System — in asteroids, in the planets and in our own bodies.

Sky watchers can find Messier 55 in the constellation of Sagittarius (The Archer). The notably large cluster appears nearly two-thirds the width of the full Moon, and is not at all difficult to see in a small telescope, even though it is located at a distance of about 17 000 light-years from Earth.

Read more >

expose-the-light:

Witness the Moon’s breathtaking 4.5-billion-year evolution in less than three minutes

When we gaze up at the Moon, we expect a certain degree of consistency. Sure, it moves through its phases, shifting in and out of darkness over the course of the month, but generally speaking, the Moon’s surface looks the same to us — night after night, year after year. But the Moon has not always looked the way it does now.

In the last 4.5 billion years, the Moon has transformed from a roiling mass of ejected terrestrial matter, to an unblemished orb, to the heavily cratered, volcanic-crust laden entity we know and love today. We know these things occurred because the Moon’s surface features tell a story, and for close to three years now, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has been getting an up close look at what those features have to say.

Now, the folks at NASA’s Goddard Multimedia team have used the latest data on the Moon’s history, acquired by LRO, to packr 4.5 billion years of lunar evolution into the stunning video you see up top.

This is the latest in a series of really beautiful work from the Goddard Visualization Studio. You can check our more of their work over at the Goddard Space Flight Center website.

wilwheaton:

moderation:

Huge Coronal Hole Is Sending Solar Wind Our Way
—
An enormous triangular hole in the Sun’s corona was captured earlier today by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, seen above from the AIA 211 imaging assembly. This gap in the Sun’s atmosphere is allowing more charged solar particles to stream out into the Solar System… and toward Earth as well.
Normally, loops of magnetic energy keep much of the Sun’s outward flow of gas contained. Coronal holes are regions — sometimes very large regions, such as the one witnessed today — where the magnetic fields don’t loop back onto the Sun but instead stream outwards, creating channels for solar material to escape.
The material constantly flowing outward is called the solar wind, which typically “blows” at around 250 miles (400 km) per second. When a coronal hole is present, though, the wind speed can double to nearly 500 miles (800 km) per second.
(via universetoday)

Holy shit, you guys. The Sun is the Eye of Sauron.

wilwheaton:

moderation:

Huge Coronal Hole Is Sending Solar Wind Our Way

An enormous triangular hole in the Sun’s corona was captured earlier today by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, seen above from the AIA 211 imaging assembly. This gap in the Sun’s atmosphere is allowing more charged solar particles to stream out into the Solar System… and toward Earth as well.

Normally, loops of magnetic energy keep much of the Sun’s outward flow of gas contained. Coronal holes are regions — sometimes very large regions, such as the one witnessed today — where the magnetic fields don’t loop back onto the Sun but instead stream outwards, creating channels for solar material to escape.

The material constantly flowing outward is called the solar wind, which typically “blows” at around 250 miles (400 km) per second. When a coronal hole is present, though, the wind speed can double to nearly 500 miles (800 km) per second.

(via universetoday)

Holy shit, you guys. The Sun is the Eye of Sauron.