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Archive for March, 2010


Quick, take out your telescopes and binoculars… our red neighbour is putting on its last show!

Geoff Gaherty
Starry Night Education
SPACE.com geoff Gaherty
starry Night Education
space.com
Wed Mar 24, 7:15 pm ET

On Thursday night, March 25, many people may look up at the sky and ask the question, “What’s that bright star next to the moon?”

The answer for Thursday night is Mars, but that answer changes night by night as the moon travels along the ecliptic, the path the sun, moon and planets follow across the sky. If you ask the question again on Monday night, March 29, the answer will be the ringed planet Saturn.

Such conjunctions of the moon and planets are regular reminders of how rapidly the moon moves across the sky.

Mars was in opposition to the Sun on Jan. 29, when it appeared 14 arcseconds in diameter, 1/120 of the diameter of the moon. Two months later, it is much farther away, and has shrunk to only 10 arcseconds in diameter.

This will be your last chance to get a good look at Mars until it approaches the Earth again in 2012 [see more Mars photos].

The sky these spring evenings presents a striking contrast between its western half, filled with the bright stars and constellations of winter, and its eastern half, with Regulus the only bright star. Mars sits in solitary splendor in Cancer, one of the most insignificant zodiac constellations, just above the plane of the Milky Way.

But there is much lurking beyond the dim stars of spring, for we are entering the realm of the galaxies. The constellation Leo alone contains five of the brightest galaxies in Charles Messier’s famous 18th century catalog of deep sky objects.

When we look towards Leo, we are looking above the plane of our Milky Way galaxy at the depths of intergalactic space, unhindered by the clouds of dust and gas which fill our galaxy.

This article was provided to SPACE.com by Starry Night Education, the leader in space science curriculum solutions.

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An interesting article from Yahoo! News.

AP – In this photo taken Monday, March 22, 2010, Zac Browning, owner of Browning’s Honey Co. Inc, shows a …

By GARANCE BURKE and SETH BORENSTEIN, Associated Press Writers Garance Burke And Seth Borenstein, Associated Press Writers Wed Mar 24, 8:05 am ET

MERCED, Calif. – The mysterious 4-year-old crisis of disappearing honeybees is deepening. A quick federal survey indicates a heavy bee die-off this winter, while a new study shows honeybees’ pollen and hives laden with pesticides.

Two federal agencies along with regulators in California and Canada are scrambling to figure out what is behind this relatively recent threat, ordering new research on pesticides used in fields and orchards. Federal courts are even weighing in this month, ruling that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency overlooked a requirement when allowing a pesticide on the market.

And on Thursday, chemists at a scientific conference in San Francisco will tackle the issue of chemicals and dwindling bees in response to the new study.

Scientists are concerned because of the vital role bees play in our food supply. About one-third of the human diet is from plants that require pollination from honeybees, which means everything from apples to zucchini.

Bees have been declining over decades from various causes. But in 2006 a new concern, “colony collapse disorder,” was blamed for large, inexplicable die-offs. The disorder, which causes adult bees to abandon their hives and fly off to die, is likely a combination of many causes, including parasites, viruses, bacteria, poor nutrition and pesticides, experts say.

“It’s just gotten so much worse in the past four years,” said Jeff Pettis, research leader of the Department of Agriculture’s Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Md. “We’re just not keeping bees alive that long.”

This year bees seem to be in bigger trouble than normal after a bad winter, according to an informal survey of commercial bee brokers cited in an internal USDA document. One-third of those surveyed had trouble finding enough hives to pollinate California’s blossoming nut trees, which grow the bulk of the world’s almonds. A more formal survey will be done in April.

“There were a lot of beekeepers scrambling to fill their orders and that implies that mortality was high,” said Penn State University bee researcher Dennis vanEngelsdorp, who worked on the USDA snapshot survey.

Beekeeper Zac Browning shipped his hives from Idaho to California to pollinate the blossoming almond groves. He got a shock when he checked on them, finding hundreds of the hives empty, abandoned by the worker bees.

The losses were extreme, three times higher than the previous year.

“It wasn’t one load or two loads, but every load we were pulling out that was dead. It got extremely depressing to see a third of my livestock gone,” Browning said, standing next to stacks of dead bee colonies in a clearing near Merced, at the center of California’s fertile San Joaquin Valley.

Among all the stresses to bee health, it’s the pesticides that are attracting scrutiny now. A study published Friday in the scientific journal PLOS (Public Library of Science) One found about three out of five pollen and wax samples from 23 states had at least one systemic pesticide — a chemical designed to spread throughout all parts of a plant.

EPA officials said they are aware of problems involving pesticides and bees and the agency is “very seriously concerned.”

The pesticides are not a risk to honey sold to consumers, federal officials say. And the pollen that people eat is probably safe because it is usually from remote areas where pesticides are not used, Pettis said. But the PLOS study found 121 different types of pesticides within 887 wax, pollen, bee and hive samples.

“The pollen is not in good shape,” said Chris Mullin of Penn State University, lead author.

None of the chemicals themselves were at high enough levels to kill bees, he said, but it was the combination and variety of them that is worrisome.

University of Illinois entomologist May Berenbaum called the results “kind of alarming.”

Despite EPA assurances, environmental groups don’t think the EPA is doing enough on pesticides.

Bayer Crop Science started petitioning the agency to approve a new pesticide for sale in 2006. After reviewing the company’s studies of its effects on bees, the EPA gave Bayer conditional approval to sell the product two years later, but said it had to carry a label warning that it was “potentially toxic to honey bee larvae through residues in pollen and nectar.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council sued, saying the agency failed to give the public timely notice for the new pesticide application. In December, a federal judge in New York agreed, banning the pesticide’s sale and earlier this month, two more judges upheld the ruling.

“This court decision is obviously very painful for us right now, and for growers who don’t have access to that product,” said Jack Boyne, an entomologist and spokesman for Bayer Crop Science. “This product quite frankly is not harmful to honeybees.”

Boyne said the pesticide was sold for only about a year and most sales were in California, Arizona and Florida. The product is intended to disrupt the mating patterns of insects that threaten citrus, lettuce and grapes, he said.

Berenbaum’s research shows pesticides are not the only problem. She said multiple viruses also are attacking the bees, making it tough to propose a single solution.

“Things are still heading downhill,” she said.

For Browning, one of the country’s largest commercial beekeepers, the latest woes have led to a $1 million loss this year.

“It’s just hard to get past this,” he said, watching as workers cleaned honey from empty wooden hives Monday. “I’m going to rebuild, but I have plenty of friends who aren’t going to make it.”

___

AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein reported from Washington, D.C.

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I found this very interesting post from Yahoo! Green and thought of sharing it with all of you.

Turritopsis nutricula JellyfishBy Bryan Nelson, Mother Nature Network (http://green.yahoo.com/blog/guest_bloggers/26/the-world-s-only-immortal-animal.html)
(Photo: Peter Schuchert)

The turritopsis nutricula species of jellyfish may be the only animal in the world to have truly discovered the fountain of youth.

Since it is capable of cycling from a mature adult stage to an immature polyp stage and back again, there may be no natural limit to its life span. Scientists say the hydrozoan jellyfish is the only known animal that can repeatedly turn back the hands of time and revert to its polyp state (its first stage of life).

The key lies in a process called transdifferentiation, where one type of cell is transformed into another type of cell. Some animals can undergo limited transdifferentiation and regenerate organs, such as salamanders, which can regrow limbs. Turritopsi nutricula, on the other hand, can regenerate its entire body over and over again. Researchers are studying the jellyfish to discover how it is able to reverse its aging process.

Because they are able to bypass death, the number of individuals is spiking. They’re now found in oceans around the globe rather than just in their native Caribbean waters.  “We are looking at a worldwide silent invasion,” says Dr. Maria Miglietta of the Smithsonian Tropical Marine Institute.

Bryan Nelson is a regular contributor to Mother Nature Network, where a version of this post originally appeared.

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My 15th Birthday


On March 13, 2010 I turned 15! I just love birthdays, especially when it is mine… And as most of us opening the birthday presents and cards are the most interesting part.

I wrote down a list of presents that I would love to have but I kept it to myself and see if I shall receive any of them. Amazingly, 4 of my wishes came true, a sketch pad from my little sister Anisah, a set of coloured pens useful for writing notes from my popular little blogger brother Ahmad Ali, a set of Faber Castell gel pens from my little sister Aeshah and a bottle each of Herbal Essences: Hello Hydration shampoo and conditioner from everyone in my family.  Mum gave me a bar of goat’s milk soap. I could never understand why is the soap so expensive…

I guess the most wonderful present is another present from Ahmad Ali. He gave me 2 bags of marbles! Mom once gave me a congkak board but I could never use it since we do not have the marbles to play it with. ‘Congkak’ is a Malaysian traditional game rather similar to Mancala but our ‘congkak’ board which come in a shape of a boat has 14 small holes and 2 big ones.

Anyway, the best present is a keyboard from dad! Thank you, Abah. I really, really love it. Well, I’ve always hope to have a keyboard for years and finally I get one!

I wish to thank my parents and siblings for making my birthday a very special day for me and for all the wonderful presents…

Anyway I know that there’ll be more presents to come… Sometimes even in November when mom found something that I would love; she’ll buy it and say that it is another belated birthday present! At least it is better that way rather than keeping it aside for my next birthday but ended up forgetting where it is kept.

I bought something for my little brother’s birthday a few years ago and kept it in a very ‘safe’ place. Came his birthday I can’t remember where did I keep the present and ‘lost’ it for a few years. At last it was my little brother who found it a few years later!

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By Kate Kelland, Health and Science Correspondent Kate Kelland, Health And Science Correspondent Thu Mar 4, 2:07 pm ET

LONDON (Reuters) – A giant asteroid smashing into Earth is the only plausible explanation for the extinction of the dinosaurs, a global scientific team said on Thursday, hoping to settle a row that has divided experts for decades.

A panel of 41 scientists from across the world reviewed 20 years’ worth of research to try to confirm the cause of the so-called Cretaceous-Tertiary (KT) extinction, which created a “hellish environment” around 65 million years ago and wiped out more than half of all species on the planet.

Scientific opinion was split over whether the extinction was caused by an asteroid or by volcanic activity in the Deccan Traps in what is now India, where there were a series of super volcanic eruptions that lasted around 1.5 million years.

The new study, conducted by scientists from Europe, the United States, Mexico, Canada and Japan and published in the journal Science, found that a 15-kilometre (9 miles) wide asteroid slamming into Earth at Chicxulub in what is now Mexico was the culprit.

“We now have great confidence that an asteroid was the cause of the KT extinction. This triggered large-scale fires, earthquakes measuring more than 10 on the Richter scale, and continental landslides, which created tsunamis,” said Joanna Morgan of Imperial College London, a co-author of the review.

The asteroid is thought to have hit Earth with a force a billion times more powerful than the atomic bomb at Hiroshima.

Morgan said the “final nail in the coffin for the dinosaurs” came when blasted material flew into the atmosphere, shrouding the planet in darkness, causing a global winter and “killing off many species that couldn’t adapt to this hellish environment.”

Scientists working on the study analyzed the work of paleontologists, geochemists, climate modelers, geophysicists and sedimentologists who have been collecting evidence about the KT extinction over the last 20 years.

Geological records show the event that triggered the dinosaurs’ demise rapidly destroyed marine and land ecosystems, they said, and the asteroid hit “is the only plausible explanation for this.”

Peter Schulte of the University of Erlangen in Germany, a lead author on the study, said fossil records clearly show a mass extinction about 65.5 million years ago — a time now known as the K-Pg boundary.

Despite evidence of active volcanism in India, marine and land ecosystems only showed minor changes in the 500,000 years before the K-Pg boundary, suggesting the extinction did not come earlier and was not prompted by eruptions.

The Deccan volcano theory is also thrown into doubt by models of atmospheric chemistry, the team said, which show the asteroid impact would have released much larger amounts of sulphur, dust and soot in a much shorter time than the volcanic eruptions could have, causing extreme darkening and cooling.

Gareth Collins, another co-author from Imperial College, said the asteroid impact created a “hellish day” that signaled the end of the 160-million-year reign of the dinosaurs, but also turned out to be a great day for mammals.

“The KT extinction was a pivotal moment in Earth’s history, which ultimately paved the way for humans to become the dominant species on Earth,” he wrote in a commentary on the study.

(Collins has created a website at http://impact.ese.ic.ac.uk/ImpactEffects/Chicxulub.html which allows readers to see the effects of the asteroid impact.)

(Editing by Myra MacDonald)

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