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Space

Submission + - Hubble sees tribe of baby galaxies 13+ billion light years away

The Bad Astronomer writes: "Using Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have spotted seven galaxies that are all over 13 billion light years away... including one that appears to be a record breaker at a staggering 13.3+ billion light years distant. That one is seen as it was only 380 million years after the Big Bang. This observation reaches into the era of the young cosmos when stars were first forming, and allows astronomers to better understand what the Universe was like back then — a time we know very little about."

Submission + - Atheist blogger sentenced to 3 years of prison for insulting Islam (alarabiya.net)

An anonymous reader writes: Egyptian blogger Alber Saber, maintainer of the Egyptian Atheists Facebook page, has been
sentenced to three years in prison under Egypt's blasphemy law for posting the trailer for the anti-Muslim film Innocence of Muslims. This film was widely blamed for al-Qaeda's coordinated attacks on US embassies on September 11 of this year, which were meant to pressure the US for the release of Omar Abdel-Rahman, who is imprisoned in the US for his role in the World Trade Center attack of 1993.

Science

Submission + - Congress promotes antivaccination quackery

The Bad Astronomer writes: "A recent hearing of the Congressional Committee on Oversight and Government Reform became a bully pulpit for antivaccination rhetoric when Representatives Dan Burton (R-Ind.) and Dennis Kucinich (D-Oh.) made speeches connecting vaccines to autism — a connection that medical experts have shown does not exist. Although there were actual medical researchers there as witnesses, they were mostly berated by the Congressmen on the panel.

Vaccines are one of the most successful medical advancements in human history, having saved hundreds of millions of lives, and after copious studies have been shown to have no connection with autism. Despite this, a vocal antivax lobby exists, including, clearly, members of Congress. In part this is why preventable and potentially fatal diseases like pertussis and measles are once again on the rise."
NASA

Submission + - MESSENGER probe finds strong evidence of ice at Mercury's north pole

The Bad Astronomer writes: "Just in time for the holiday season, the NASA space probe MESSENGER appears to have all but confirmed the existence of ice at Mercury's north pole. Ice has long been suspected to be hiding in permanently shadowed areas in deep craters at the planet's pole, but new data show several converging lines of evidence (thermal and visible light mapping, radar, neutron emission) that as much as a trillion tons of ice may be buried just centimeters deep under the surface. Scientists also see evidence of organic (carbon-based) molecules as well. That's not life, but it's more of an indication that volatile compounds can exist on the solar system's innermost planet."
Space

Submission + - Astronomers get picture of nearby exoplanet

The Bad Astronomer writes: "While nearly a thousand planets are known to orbit other stars, getting direct pictures of them is extremely difficult due to the glare from their host stars. Fewer than a dozen images of exoplanets exist. However, we can now add one more to the list: Kappa Andromedae b, or Kap And b for short. It's about 170 light years away, and orbits Kappa And, a massive star bright enough to see with the naked eye. One hitch: its mass puts it right at the upper limit for a planet, and it may edge into brown dwarf territory. Further observations are needed to pin its mass down."
Space

Submission + - NASA satellite sees black hole belching out hundred million degree X-rays

The Bad Astronomer writes: "NASA's NuSTAR satellite, designed to detect cosmic X-rays, detected a flare of high-energy emission coming from the Milky Way galaxy's central supermassive black hole. The X-rays were the dying gasp of a small gas cloud being torn apart, heated to a hundred million degrees, and then falling into the black hole itself. Events like this are relatively uncommon, so it's fortunate NuSTAR happened to be observing the black hole when it flared."
Space

Submission + - Alpha Centauri has an Earth-sized planet

The Bad Astronomer writes: "Astronomers have announced that the nearest star system in the sky — Alpha Centauri — has an Earth-sized planet orbiting one of its stars. Alpha Cen is technically a three-star system: a binary composed of two stars very much like the Sun, orbited by a third, a red dwarf, much farther out. Using the Doppler technique (looking for very small changes in the velocities of the stars) astronomers detected a planet orbiting the smaller of the two stars in the binary, Alpha Centauri B. The planet has a mass only 1.13 times that of the Earth, making it one of the smallest yet detected.However, it orbits the star only 6 million kilometers out, so it's far too hot to be habitable.

The signal from the planet is extremely weak but solidly detected, giving astronomers even greater hope of being able to find an Earth-like planet orbiting a star in its habitable zone."
Space

Submission + - First planet found in a four-star system... by amateur planet hunters

The Bad Astronomer writes: "For the first time, a planet has been found in a stellar system composed of four stars. The planet, called PH-1, orbits a binary star made of two sun-like stars in a tight orbit. That binary is itself orbited by another binary pair much farther out. Even more amazing, this planet was found by two "citizen scientists", amateurs who participated in Planet Hunters, a project which puts Kepler Observatory data online for lay people to analyze. At least two confirmed planets have been found by this project, but this is the first — ever — in a quaternary system."
Youtube

Submission + - Skydiver Baumgartner sets YouTube live view record (bbc.co.uk)

another random user writes: Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner smashed a number of records with his "edge of space" stunt — including for live streaming.

More than eight million people flocked to their devices to watch the 43-year-old break the speed of sound live on Google's YouTube site. It is the largest number of concurrent live streams in the website's history, Google UK confirmed to the BBC.

Space

Submission + - Dying star weaves a trillion-mile-wide spiral in the sky

The Bad Astronomer writes: "Using the newly-commissioned ALMA radio observatory, astronomers have taken detailed images of one of the most amazing objects in the sky: the red giant R Sculptoris. As the star dies, it undergoes gigantic seizures beneath its surface that blast out waves of gas and dust from the surface. These normally expand into a spherical shell, but the presence of a nearby companion star changes things. The combined orbits of the two stars fling out the material like a garden sprinkler, forming enormous and incredibly beautiful spiral arms. Measuring the size and shape of the spiral shows the last eruption was 1800 years ago, lasted for nearly two centuries, and expelled enough material to make a thousand earths."
Biotech

Submission + - The half-life of DNA - seems that Jurassic Park was impossible (nature.com)

another random user writes: Few researchers have given credence to claims that samples of dinosaur DNA have survived to the present day, but no one knew just how long it would take for genetic material to fall apart. Now, a study of fossils found in New Zealand is laying the matter to rest — and putting paid to hopes of cloning a Tyrannosaurus rex.

After cell death, enzymes start to break down the bonds between the nucleotides that form the backbone of DNA, and micro-organisms speed the decay. In the long run, however, reactions with water are thought to be responsible for most bond degradation. Groundwater is almost ubiquitous, so DNA in buried bone samples should, in theory, degrade at a set rate.

Determining that rate has been difficult because it is rare to find large sets of DNA-containing fossils with which to make meaningful comparisons. To make matters worse, variable environmental conditions such as temperature, degree of microbial attack and oxygenation alter the speed of the decay process.

By comparing the specimens' ages and degrees of DNA degradation, the researchers calculated that DNA has a half-life of 521 years. That means that after 521 years, half of the bonds between nucleotides in the backbone of a sample would have broken; after another 521 years half of the remaining bonds would have gone; and so on.

Space

Submission + - Investigation into solar storm sat-nav disruption (bbc.co.uk)

another random user writes: Scientists in the Arctic have launched an urgent investigation into how solar storms can disrupt sat-nav.

Studies have revealed how space weather can cut the accuracy of GPS by tens of metres. Flares from the Sun interact with the upper atmosphere and can distort the signals from global positioning satellites.

The project is under way at a remote observatory on a windswept mountainside in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard in the High Arctic. The site was chosen for its isolation from electronic pollution and for its position in relation to the Earth's magnetic field which flows from space down towards the far North.

Space

Submission + - New study shows Universe still expanding on schedule 1

The Bad Astronomer writes: "A century ago, astronomers (including Edwin Hubble) discovered the Universe was expanding. Using the same methods — but this time with observations from an orbiting infrared space telescope — a new study confirms this expansion, and nails the rate with higher precision than done before. If you're curious, the expansion rate found was 74.3 +/- 2.1 kilometers per second per megaparsec — almost precisely in line with previous messureents."
Space

Submission + - The deepest picture of the Universe ever taken: the Hubble Extreme Deep Field

The Bad Astronomer writes: "Astronomers have unveiled what may be the deepest image of the Universe ever created: the Hubble Extreme Deep Field, a 2 million second exposure that reveals galaxies over 13 billion light years away. The faintest galaxies in the images are at magnitude 31, or one-ten-billionth as bright as the faintest object your naked eye can detect. Some are seen as they were when they were only 500 million years old."

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