Smaller, Quicker, Secret, Robotic: Inside America’s New Space Force

4:19:32 PM, Thursday, April 05, 2012

“(www.wired.com)The past and future of America’s space arsenal intersected, briefly, in the summer of 2011. For two weeks in July, NASA’s Space Shuttle Atlantis roughly shared its Earth orbit with the Air Force’s X-37B, a 29-foot-long, highly maneuverable robotic spacecraft that entered service in early 2010 and has been cloaked in secrecy ever since. The X-37 was around 80 miles higher than the Shuttle, so it’s doubtful the four-person Atlantis crew, conducting the 135th and last Shuttle mission, ever saw the robotic craft. The X-37's small size — barely a quarter the length of Atlantis — made a sighting even less likely.

Equally striking was the difference in cost between Atlantis and its tiny robotic compatriot. Atlantis costmore than $10 billion to design and build and around $500 million to launch on that one mission. The Boeing-built X-37 mini-shuttle set the taxpayers back an estimated $1 billion for development and construction and just $180 million to send into space. (All cost figures in this story are in today’s dollars.)

There are lots of things Atlantis could do that the X-37 cannot and vice versa, complicating any direct comparison. Both craft were designed to carry scientific and military payloads into orbit:Atlantis, with its school-bus-size cargo bay, emphasized carrying capacity; the X-37, optimized for endurance, has a bay the size of a pickup truck’s bed. Still, it’s almost unheard of for a major government technology to be cheaper than its immediate predecessor. Just ask the Air Force, with its $400 million F-22 fighters replacing F-15s that cost a quarter as much.

Moreover, the X-37B is meant to be launched into space on short notice, remain in orbit for a year or more and return only when its fuel tanks finally run dry. After a few weeks or months of reconditioning, the mini-shuttle is ready to return to space atop an Atlas rocket. With its fleet of two X-37s, the Air Force can keep at least one in orbit at all times.

Because they had to support their human crews, Atlantis and her sister Space Shuttles could spend at most two weeks in orbit before their water and air supplies began to run out. Between flights the manned orbiters needed nine months of expensive reconditioning by Rockwell, the main Shuttle contractor. It would have taken a fleet of 18 Space Shuttles to ensure one was in space at all times, but NASA built only five of the massive spacecraft for a total program cost of more than $200 billion.From huge, slow and expensive to tiny, speedy and cheaper, Atlantis’ and the X-37's brief proximity last summer represented a passing-of-the-torch for the world’s leading space power. The era of big space missions is fading. “Small” is the new watch-word for America’s orbital force. But as the X-37 and a host of other new spacecraft demonstrate, small doesn’t mean less capable...”

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Pope Denounces Priests Who Question Catholic Teachings On Celibacy And Women Ordination

4:08:42 PM, Thursday, April 05, 2012

“(www.huffingtonpost.com)VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI has denounced priests who have questioned church teaching on celibacy and ordaining women, saying Thursday they were disobeying his authority to try to impose their own ideas on the church.

Benedict made the rare and explicit criticism from the altar of St. Peter's Basilica in his homily on Holy Thursday, when priests recall the promises they made when ordained.

In 2006, a group of Austrian priests launched the Pfarrer Initiative, or pastor initiative, a call to disobedience aimed at abolishing priestly celibacy and opening the clergy to women to relieve the shortages of priests.

Last June, the group's members essentially threatened a schism, saying the Vatican's refusal to hear their complaints left them no choice but to "follow our conscience and act independently."

They issued a revised call to disobedience in which they said parishes would celebrate Eucharistic services without priests, that they would let women preach, and they pledged to speak out publicly and frequently for female and married priests.

The group now claims more than 300 Austrian priests and deacons as well as supporters in other countries, and its influence has grown to such an extent that top Austrian bishops met with Vatican officials in January to discuss how to handle them, Italian news reports said.

So far, neither the Vatican nor the archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, have imposed any canonical penalties on them…”

-- During a visit to Cuba, - "It is evident today that Marxist ideology as it had been conceived no longer responds to reality," Benedict continued.The Catholic Church should heed its own advice, because one would be hard pressed to find any of the Church's ideology that responds to reality!

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First Evidence For Pre-Columbian Sources Of Maya Blue

3:53:33 PM, Thursday, April 05, 2012

“Once again, science and anthropology have teamed up to solve questions concerning the fascinating, brilliantly hued pigment known as Maya Blue. Impervious to the effects of chemical or physical weathering, the pigment was applied to pottery, sculpture, and murals in Mesoamerica largely during the Classic and Postclassic periods (AD 250-1520), playing a central role in ancient Maya religious practice. This unusual blue paint was used to coat the victims of human sacrifice and the altars on which they were dispatched.

For some time, scientists have known that Maya Blue is formed through the chemical combination of indigo and the clay mineral palygorskite. Only now, however, have researchers established a link between contemporary indigenous knowledge and ancient sources of the mineral.

In a paper published online in the Journal of Archaeological Science on March 16, 2012, researchers from Wheaton College, The Field Museum of Natural History, the United States Geological Survey, California State University of Long Beach, and the Smithsonian Institution, demonstrated that the palygorskite component in some of the Maya Blue samples came from mines in two locations in Mexico’s northern Yucatan Peninsula.

Research on sources for palygorskite has been ongoing since the late 1960's. Through a combination of ethnographic research and mineralogical analyses, Dean E. Arnold, Professor of Anthropology at Wheaton College, and now Adjunct Curator of Anthropology at The Field Museum, discovered that palygorskite was well known among indigenous potters of Ticul, Yucatán. These contemporary Maya used palygorskite as a key component of pottery and also prescribed the mineral for medicinal purposes. Indigenous knowledge further extends to sources of palygorskite: potters extracted the mineral from two mines in Yucatán – one in Sacalum and the other near the city of Ticul at a location called Yo’ Sah Kab…”

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25 Unbelievable Pictures Of The Tornadoes That Hit The Dallas/Fort Worth Area

3:48:19 PM, Thursday, April 05, 2012

-- Multiple tornadoes touched down across the Dallas/Fort Worth area causing extensive damage on Monday. These pictures are pretty insane, especially the ones of the hail and semi-trucks. Fortunately, no one was killed.

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Staten Island Pit Bull Takes Bullet To Save Owner, Justin Becker, During Break-In And Survives

7:32:31 PM, Wednesday, April 04, 2012

“Kilo, the pit bull, has been hailed a super-pooch after he took a bullet to protect his owner and survived, New York Post reports.

Over the weekend, an armed intruder and would-be burglar -- posing as a FedEx delivery man -- attempted to push his way into Justin Becker's home in Staten Island, NY.

According to the Staten Island Advance, Becker lunged against the door to prevent the aggressor from getting any further, while his girlfriend, Nicole Percoco, 22, ran to the kitchen to get a knife.

That's when Becker's 12-year-old pooch, Kilo, leapt into action.

"I get the guy in between the door, and Kilo was trying to bite him to through the door," said Becker.

It was then that the gunman shot the dog in the head -- before making a quick escape.

Incredibly, the bullet ricocheted off Kilo’s skull and exited through his neck, giving the dog a chance of survival.

But Becker's girlfriend, Nicole Percoco, was certain that Kilo was going to die.

"Hold him in your arms. Let him die in your arms," she told Becker.

Instead, Becker took the wounded dog to Staten Island's South Shore Animal Hospital.

"This is like, one in a million," Dr. Greg Panarello, the vet whose clinic operated on Kilo told Fox News. "He’s very lucky."

The staff at the hospital was so impressed with Kilo -- who is now back home and recovering well -- that they adorned his bandage with an 'S' for 'superhero.'

"Kilo's amazing. This makes me realize how special he is," Percoco told the Staten Island Advance.”

-- Yes, a positive Pit Bull story for once! Love these dogs.

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Maquech Beetles Decorated and Used as Pieces of Living Jewelry

4:43:01 PM, Wednesday, April 04, 2012

-- Apparently as part of old Mayan tradition, folks in Mexico have been decorating Maquech beetles and clipping them to their clothes as living jewelry...

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2013 SRT Viper Reborn as a 640-hp Detroit-Built Supercar

4:11:54 PM, Wednesday, April 04, 2012

“The original Dodge Viper was the definition of irresistible force in a movable object -- a V-10 powered roadster that couldn't be beat in a straight line but punished those who couldn't master it around a curve. After a two-year hiatus driven by Chrysler's bankruptcy, the only V-10 American-built supercar has been reborn as the 2013 SRT Viper, and gifted with Ferrari-fighting levels of power and refinement. The fangs have grown sharper.

To a packed crowd at the New York Auto Show preview, SRT chief Ralph Gilles drove not just a production Viper on stage but a race version that will compete in the GT class of the American LeMans series. Gilles, wearing a "Detroit" t-shirt, made clear that the Viper wouldn't sell in huge numbers nor really matter to the company's finances. "The Viper shows we still have a soul here at Chrysler," Gilles says, adding that one colleague announced when the Viper plan's won approval that "today, we are a car company again."

While the company considered using pieces of the Fiat-Ferrari parts bin, Gilles and team chose instead to rework the internals of the previous Viper, which has soldiered on for several years as a track killer that was barely suitable for everyday driving. Engineers redesigned the frame to raise its stiffness and lightness, the restyled body uses mostly carbon-fiber panels, and the 8.4-liter V-10 was given a brace of updates that not only raised its power by 40 hp to 640 hp and 600 ft.-lbs. of torque, but made the power more usable. The combination of all such measures, Gilles says, creates a car that has a better power-to-weight ratio than a Lamborghini Aventador and the Chevrolet Corvette ZR1. (Fuel economy ratings are to be determined, but if you have to ask...)

But it's inside where the Viper breaks with tradition most. Admitting that the previous Viper's interior was considered a "joke" by competitors, Gilles said the new one was designed to match them. The seats are built by the same supplier who sells them to Ferrari; the dash includes two video screens. And for a car whose owners reveled in the lack of electronic driving aids, the new Viper not only comes with cruise control and stability control, but a launch system to snap off consistent drag strip times. (The launch control can be shut off, so that owners can turn the massive 355-ration Pirelli P Zero tires to smoke upon demand.)

In one small change, the Viper will be sold as two models; the GTS as a loaded version and a regular Viper with different bodywork and fewer interior options. Chrysler didn't release prices for the Viper, but the ZR1 Corvette and the Nissan GT-R now run about $100,000.

The previous Viper still holds the record for the fastest lap around Nürburgring of any production sports car. Given Chrysler almost sold off the Viper in bankruptcy, it's a marvel the car exists again at all -- but the Chrysler SRT team seems ready to take any comers once again when the Viper emerges this fall, if for no other reason than to show the company's soul survived.”

-- Do want! Always loved the Viper.

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Earth Has Scores of Mini-Moons, Models Predict

3:59:55 AM, Wednesday, April 04, 2012

“(Nat. Geo.) Our moon is not alone: Scores of unseen mini-moons are now in orbit around Earth, new computer models predict.

What's more, these tiny moons occasionally plummet through our planet's atmosphere, creating brilliant fireballs, the researchers say.

The findings are based on supercomputer simulations of ten million asteroids known to fly through the Earth-moon system. The models show that objects that circle the sun in orbits similar to Earth's are likely to be captured as mini-moons.

"We accurately tracked their motion—including the gravitational tugs from the sun and all the other planets and big asteroids in the solar system—and found that 18,000 of [these asteroids] were captured and briefly went into orbit around the Earth," said study co-author Robert Jedicke, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii.

"We estimate that there are one or two washing machine-size mini-moons and about a thousand larger than a softball [orbiting Earth] at any time," he said.

The captured moons would orbit Earth in twisted, convoluted paths. In fact, the simulations show that most mini-moons hang around for less than a year before they're either spit back out to orbit the sun or end up on a collision course with Earth, Jedicke said.

"The moon perturbs the orbit of about one in a thousand, so they hit the Earth—some of the meteors that you see at night are actually mini-moons falling to Earth."

Prehistoric Double Moons?

In addition to small space rocks, the models predict that once in awhile Earth captures something even larger.

The team's estimates show that every half century an object the size of a large dump truck—about 33 feet (10 meters) across—joins our roughly 2,100-mile-wide (3,400-kilometer-wide) moon.

And even larger objects—each the size of a football field, or about 328 feet (100 meters) across—can be captured by Earth's gravity every hundred thousand years.

At that size, Jedicke speculates, the extra moons might even be visible to the naked eye.

"A hundred thousand years is about the time frame that human beings have been doing things like leaving their handprints on cave walls, so maybe in that time frame somebody once actually looked into the sky and saw a mini-moon moving across the sky," he added.

Jedicke and his team are the first to make predictions about mini-moon sizes and distribution, and it appears their predictions are fairly accurate.

The only known mini-moon was a 9.8-foot-wide (3-meter-wide) asteroid dubbed 2006 RH120, which orbited Earth less than a year before resuming its previous life orbiting the sun.

"The size and orbital properties of 2006 RH120 are perfectly consistent with our models," Jedicke said. "Had we done our study ten years ago, we could have predicted that an object like 2006 RH120 would be detected soon."

Mini-Moons Still Hard to Spot

Even with the new simulations, the researchers caution that actually seeing more mini-moons will be challenging, because the objects are relatively small and thus faint.

In addition, the gravitational effects that draw in Earth's extra moons tend to set them whipping around the planet at high speeds, making them even harder to pinpoint.

"We are currently trying to figure out how to use astronomical surveys to spot them regularly," Jedicke said.

For instance, "the largest ones could be detectable by the advanced amateur astronomer with a 50-centimeter-diameter [20-inch-diameter] telescope," he said.

"But discovering new mini-moons will require an asteroid survey that covers much of the sky in a single night and detects objects that are very faint."”

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Research on Stickleback Fish Shows How Adaptation to New Environments Involves Many Genes

3:53:27 AM, Wednesday, April 04, 2012

“(physorg.com) A current controversy raging in evolutionary biology is whether adaptation to new environments is the result of many genes, each of relatively small effect, or just a few genes of large effect. A new study published in Molecular Ecologystrongly supports the first "many-small" hypothesis.

McGill University professor Andrew Hendry, from the Department of Biology and the Redpath Museum, and evolutionary geneticists at Basel University in Switzerland, studied how threespine stickleback fish adapted to lake and stream environments in British Columbia, Canada. The authors used cutting-edge genomic methods to test for genetic differences at thousands of positions ("loci") scattered across the stickleback genome. Very large genetic differences between lake and stream stickleback were discovered at more than a dozen of these loci, which is considerably more than expected under the alternative "few-large" hypothesis.

By examining four independently evolved lake-stream population pairs, the researchers were further able to show that increasing divergence between the populations involved genetic differences that were larger and present at more and more loci.

As these results were obtained using new high-resolution genetic methods, it is conceivable that previous perceptions of adaptation as being a genetically simple process are simply the result of a bias resulting from previous lower-resolution genomic methods.

"I suspect that as more and more studies use these methods, the tide of opinion will swerve strongly to the view that adaptation is a complex process that involves many genes spread across diverse places in the genome," says Prof. Hendry.”

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Dutch 'Flying Car' Takes to the Skies

3:44:15 AM, Wednesday, April 04, 2012

“(physorg.com) Is it a flying car or a driving aircraft? Either way, the Personal Air and Land Vehicle, or PAL-V for short, has just proved it can handle the skies as well as the highway, both at up to 180 kilometres (112 miles) per hour, its Dutch developers said Tuesday.

The PAL-V is a gyrocopter that can fly as far as 500 kilometres (315 miles) at an altitude of up to 4,000 feet (1,200 metres).

When it lands, it tucks away its rotor-blades and turns into a road-legal three-wheeled vehicle with a range of 1,200 kilometres.

"In future, you will be able to drive from home to the airport, take off, land and then drive to your destination in one go," said Robert Dingemanse, chief executive of the company, also called PAL-V.

In development since 2008, the first commercial models of the arrow-shaped PAL-V are expected to go on sale in 2014 at 250,000-300,000 euros ($330,000-$400,000), Dingemanse told AFP.

"The successful maiden flight of the PAL-V protoype was conducted at a Dutch Air Force base last month," added the head of the company, based in Raamsdonksveer near the eastern city of Nijmegen.

"It will revolutionise the era of personal air travel," said Jacco Hoekstra, dean of the aerospace faculty at Delft Technical University, which with the Dutch National Aerospace Laboratory cooperated on the project.

"Before, air travel was mainly based on public transport," Hoekstra said. "Now it will become a lot more personal -- you will simply be able to walk out your door, drive to a small airfield and fly away."

If the PAL-V sounds like the perfect getaway vehicle from a traffic jam, there is a hitch -- it requires 165 metres of runway to take off, 30 metres to land and can only be flown from airports.

For more than a century inventors have been trying to combine cars and planes, and several companies have joined the race to make the first commercially-produced "flying car."

US-based firm Terrafugia said Monday they had successfully tested their own street-legal plane called the the "Transition."”

-- Follow the link to see it in action.

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Mammoth Carcass Found in Siberia

3:17:14 AM, Wednesday, April 04, 2012

"(BBC) The discovery of a well-preserved juvenile mammoth suggests that ancient humans "stole" mammoths from hunting lions, scientists say.

Bernard Buigues and Professor Alice Roberts were part of the team which unwrapped the frozen mammoth, known as Yuka, after its journey from the location where tusk hunters found it in northern Siberia.

Scientists have since completed an initial assessment of Yuka.

"Its foot pads and thick strawberry-blonde hair are exquisitely preserved," noted Professor Alice Roberts.

The mammoth was filmed as part of the BBC/Discovery co-production programme Woolly Mammoth: Secrets from the Ice, which will be broadcast in the UK on Wednesday 4 April at 21:00 BST on BBC Two, and in the US on the Discovery Channel at a later date.”

-- Follow the link for video and close-ups!

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Giant Tibetan Mastiff

3:04:44 AM, Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Photo: Reuters/Stringer

-- Look at this dog. Just look at it.

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Amazing Glow-in-the-Dark Jellyfish Art Sculptures

6:28:49 PM, Tuesday, April 03, 2012

-- U.S. firm The Amazing Jellyfish (theamazingjellyfish.com) takes the bioluminescent bodies of creatures that have died of natural causes and encase them in resin, thus preserving not just their bodies, but also their incredible glow-in-the-dark properties. Do want! Beautiful!

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Evidence of 'Earliest Fire Use'

3:51:18 PM, Tuesday, April 03, 2012

“(BBC) Scientists say they have new evidence that our ancestors were using fire as early as a million years ago.

It takes the form of ash and bone fragments recovered from Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa.

The team tells the journal PNAS that the sediments suggest frequent, controlled fires were lit on the site.

The ability to use fire is regarded as a key step in human development because it gave us access to cooked foods and new technologies.

Stone tools found at Wonderwerk Cave indicate the ancestor in question may have been Homo erectus, a species whose existence has been documented as far back as 1.8 million years ago.

Establishing precisely when humans first acquired the ability to control fire has been very difficult.

There have been several claims that the skill was in existence even earlier than at Wonderwerk.

But they have all been challenged, with sceptics arguing the fire remains from open sites could have been the result of natural blazes ignited by lightning.

In contrast, the PNAS team, which consists of scientists based at US, Israeli, German and South African institutions, says statements about the Northern Cape cave are far more secure.

If correct, the Wonderwerk discovery would push the earliest indisputable controlled use of fire back by about 300,000 years.

In their paper, the researchers describe burnt remains of grasses, brushes, leaves and even bones in the cave's sediments some 30m back from the entrance.

This makes it far less likely that what they are viewing is material from wildfires that was simply blown into the cave by wind, they argue.

The depth of the sediments also suggests fires were lit on the same spot over and over again.”

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New Milky Way Photo Captures 1 Billion Stars

4:27:45 AM, Tuesday, April 03, 2012

“(SPACE.com) More than a billion stars blaze bright in a new photo of our Milky Way galaxy snapped by an international team of astronomers.

The new picture, which was released today (March 28), combines infrared images of the Milky Way taken during sky surveys by two different instruments, the UK Infrared Telescope in Hawaii and the VISTA telescope in Chile. The photo is part of a 10-year project that is gathering mountains of data to help guide future research, scientists said.

"This incredible image gives us a new perspective of our galaxy, and illustrates the far-reaching discoveries we can make from large sky surveys," Nick Cross, of the University of Edinburgh, said in a statement. "Having data processed, archived and published by dedicated teams leaves other scientists free to concentrate on using the data, and is a very cost-effective way to do astronomy."

Cross will present the image Thursday (March 29) at the 2012 National Astronomy Meeting in Manchester, the United Kingdom.”

-- <1%...!!! Follow the link for high resolution image!

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