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NASA Launches Satellite to Study How Sun’s Atmosphere Is Energized

NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) spacecraft launched Thursday at 7:27 p.m. PDT (10:27 p.m. EDT) from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The mission to study the solar atmosphere was placed in orbit by an Orbital Sciences Corporation Pegasus XL rocket.

“We are thrilled to add IRIS to the suite of NASA missions studying the sun,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for science in Washington. “IRIS will help scientists understand the mysterious and energetic interface between the surface and corona of the sun.”

IRIS is a NASA Explorer Mission to observe how solar material moves, gathers energy and heats up as it travels through a little-understood region in the sun’s lower atmosphere. This interface region between the sun’s photosphere and corona powers its dynamic million-degree atmosphere and drives the solar wind. The interface region also is where most of the sun’s ultraviolet emission is generated. These emissions impact the near-Earth space environment and Earth’s climate.

The Pegasus XL carrying IRIS was deployed from an Orbital L-1011 carrier aircraft over the Pacific Ocean at an altitude of 39,000 feet, off the central coast of California about 100 miles northwest of Vandenberg. The rocket placed IRIS into a sun-synchronous polar orbit that will allow it to make almost continuous solar observations during its two-year mission.

The L-1011 took off from Vandenberg at 6:30 p.m. PDT and flew to the drop point over the Pacific Ocean, where the aircraft released the Pegasus XL from beneath its belly. The first stage ignited five seconds later to carry IRIS into space. IRIS successfully separated from the third stage of the Pegasus rocket at 7:40 p.m. At 8:05 p.m., the IRIS team confirmed the spacecraft had successfully deployed its solar arrays, has power and has acquired the sun, indications that all systems are operating as expected.

“Congratulations to the entire team on the successful development and deployment of the IRIS mission,” said IRIS project manager Gary Kushner of the Lockheed Martin Solar and Atmospheric Laboratory in Palo Alto, Calif. “Now that IRIS is in orbit, we can begin our 30-day engineering checkout followed by a 30-day science checkout and calibration period.”

IRIS is expected to start science observations upon completion of its 60-day commissioning phase. During this phase the team will check image quality and perform calibrations and other tests to ensure a successful mission.

NASA’s Explorer Program at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., provides overall management of the IRIS mission. The principal investigator institution is Lockheed Martin Space Systems Advanced Technology Center. NASA’s Ames Research Center will perform ground commanding and flight operations and receive science data and spacecraft telemetry.

The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory designed the IRIS telescope. The Norwegian Space Centre and NASA’s Near Earth Network provide the ground stations using antennas at Svalbard, Norway; Fairbanks, Alaska; McMurdo, Antarctica; and Wallops Island, Va. NASA’s Launch Services Program at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is responsible for the launch service procurement, including managing the launch and countdown. Orbital Sciences Corporation provided the L-1011 aircraft and Pegasus XL launch system.

For more information about the IRIS mission, visit:



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Japan OKs world’s first iPS stemcell clinical trial Read more: Japan OKs world’s first iPS stemcell clinical trial – Latest – New Straits Times

English: A diagram illustrating the disctincti...

English: A diagram illustrating the disctinction between cancer stem cell targeted (above) and conventional (below) cancer therapies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Stem Cell Therapy (dog) - Thérapie par transpl...

Stem Cell Therapy (dog) – Thérapie par transplantation (chien) (Photo credit:



AMD (Photo credit: Majiscup – The Papercup & Sleeve)


English: Fat Stem Cells

English: Fat Stem Cells (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Stem cell division and differentiation

Stem cell division and differentiation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Diseases and conditions where stem cell treatm...

Diseases and conditions where stem cell treatment is promising or emerging. (See Wikipedia:Stem cell#Treatments). Bone marrow transplantation is, as of 2009, the only established use of stem cells. Model: Mikael Häggström. To discuss image, please see Template talk:Häggström diagrams (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Stem Cell Week 2012

Stem Cell Week 2012 (Photo credit: UC Irvine)


Diagram of stem cell division and differentiat...

Diagram of stem cell division and differentiation. A – stem cell; B – progenitor cell; C – differentiated cell; 1 – symmetric stem cell division; 2 – asymmetric stem cell division; 3 – progenitor division; 4 – terminal differentiation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


English: Embryonic Stem Cells. (A) shows hESCs...

English: Embryonic Stem Cells. (A) shows hESCs. (B) shows neurons derived from hESCs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The same view with age-related macular degener...

The same view with age-related macular degeneration (B&W). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Image representing AMD as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase


clinical trials forum university of maryland b...

clinical trials forum university of maryland bio park techninical trials forum university of maryland bio park (Photo credit: MDGovpics)


Newspaper advertisements seeking patients and ...

Newspaper advertisements seeking patients and healthy volunteers to participate in clinical trials. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Mouse embryonic stem cells. More lab photos

Mouse embryonic stem cells. More lab photos (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


English: This table summarizes the key strateg...

English: This table summarizes the key strategies and techniques used to develop iPS cells over the past half-decade. Rows of similar colors represents studies that used similar strategies for reprogramming. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


organ regeneration example from induced plurip...

organ regeneration example from induced pluripotent stem cells(iPS cell) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


clinical trial capsules

clinical trial capsules (Photo credit: Esthr)


Clinical trials 05

Clinical trials 05 (Photo credit: Sanofi Pasteur)


A scheme of the generation of induced pluripot...

A scheme of the generation of induced pluripotent stern (iPS) cells. (1)Isolate and culture donor cells. (2)Transfect stern cell-associated genes into the cells by viral vectors. Red cells indicate the cells expressing the exogenous genes. (3)Harvest and culture the cells according to ES cell culture, using mitotically inactivated feeder cells (lightgray). (4)A small subset of the transfected cells become iPS cells and generate ES-like colonies. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


TOKYO: Japan has given the green light to the world’s first clinical trial using stem cells harvested from a patient’s own body, officials said Thursday, testing a treatment that may offer hope to millions of people robbed of their sight.


A government committee approved proposals for tests aimed at treating age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a common medical condition that causes blindness in older people, using “induced Pluripotent Stem (iPS) cells”, a health ministry official said.


The trial treatment will try to create retinal cells that can be transplanted into the eyes of patients suffering from AMD, replacing the damaged part of the eye.


AMD, a condition that is incurable at present, affects mostly middle-aged and older people and can lead to blindness. It afflicts around 700,000 people in Japan alone.


Stem cell research is a pioneering field that has excited many in the scientific community with the potential they believe it offers.


A China-based research group on Wednesday said they were hoping for regulatory approval to test stemcell therapy on spinal cord injuries they believe can help immobile people walk again.


Stem cells are infant cells that can develop into any part of the body.


Until the discovery of iPS cells several years ago, the only way to obtain stem cells was to harvest them from human embryos.


This is controversial because it requires the destruction of the embryo, a process to which religious conservatives, among others, object.


Groundbreaking work done in 2006 by Shinya Yamanaka at Kyoto University, a Nobel Laureate in medicine last year, succeeded in generating stem cells from adult skin tissue.


Like embryonic stem cells, iPS cells are also capable of developing into any cell in the body, but crucially their source material is readily available.


Following the government approval, the Riken Center for Developmental Biology will start the world’s first clinical trial using iPS cells as soon as next summer, a Riken spokesman said.


Riken will recruit six patients suffering from AMD, all aged at least 50 years, and take cells from their skin.


These cells will be genetically reprogrammed to become iPS cells. The infant cells will then be nudged in the direction of developing into retina cells.


Once a network of retina cells has been developed — a process that could take around 10 months — this can be transplanted into the patient’s eye, the spokesman said.


Patients will be monitored over the next four years to determine how well the implants have performed, whether the body has accepted them and if they have become cancerous.


“Because no one in the world has used iPS cells in a clinical trial, what we are doing will set the standard,” research leader Masayo Takahashi told the Mainichi, a daily paper.


“It’s a daunting prospect, but one that brings joy.” She said she expects that patients in the initial trial will see only a very modest improvement in their sight.


“We don’t want people to have excessive expectations,” she said.


Kanji Takahashi, chief ophthalmologist at Kansai Medical University Hirokata hospital, told AFP the trial was a positive step, but not a done deal.


He said current treatment regimes include monthly drug injections directly into the eyes of AMD sufferers, at a cost of 150,000-170,000 yen ($1,500-$1,700) per injection.


“Improving the eyesight of AMD patients is a difficult task, and what’s important is whether transplanting cells improves vision,” he said.


“The trial is a hope for AMD patients, but it will probably take years before the new treatment will actually contribute to improving the vision of  many people.” — AFP




Read more: Japan OKs world’s first iPS stemcell clinical trial – Latest – New Straits Times








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Hawaiian Telescope Discovers Ten Thousandth Near-Earth Object

English: Asteroid Toutatis from Paranal

English: Asteroid Toutatis from Paranal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Timelapse of Asteroid 2004 FH's flyby (NASA/JP...

Timelapse of Asteroid 2004 FH’s flyby (NASA/JPL Public Domain) 2004 FH is the centre dot being followed by the sequence; the object that flashes by near the end is an artificial satellite. Images obtained by Stefano Sposetti, Switzerland on March 18, 2004. Animation made Raoul Behrend, Geneva Observatory, Switzerland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



NASA said the 10,000th near-Earth object (NEO) has been discovered using the Pan-STARRS-1 telescope in Hawaii.


Astronomers spotted asteroid 2013 MZ5 on the night of June 18, marking a significant milestone for the NEO search. The space agency said 90 percent of all NEOs discovered were first detected by NASA-supported surveys.


“But there are at least 10 times that many more to be found before we can be assured we will have found any and all that could impact and do significant harm to the citizens of Earth,” said Lindley Johnson, program executive for NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program at NASA Headquarters, Washington.


In order to be classified as an NEO, a comet or asteroid must approach Earth at an orbital distance to within about 28 million miles. They range in size from as small as a few feet to as large as 25 miles for the largest NEO. Asteroid 2013 MZ5 is about 1,000 feet across and will never be close enough to Earth to be considered potentially hazardous.


“The first near-Earth object was discovered in 1898,” said Don Yeomans, long-time manager of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “Over the next hundred years, only about 500 had been found. But then, with the advent of NASA’s NEO Observations program in 1998, we’ve been racking them up ever since. And with new, more capable systems coming on line, we are learning even more about where the NEOs are currently in our solar system, and where they will be in the future.”


About 10 percent of the 10,000 NEOs discovered are larger than six-tenths of a mile, which is roughly the size that could produce global consequences if one struck Earth. However, NASA says its program has found that none of these larger NEOs currently pose an impact threat.


NASA said scientists predict there to be about 15,000 NEOs that are one-and-a-half football fields in size, or 480 feet. There could be more than a million NEOs that are about one-third of a football field in size. An NEO hitting Earth would need to be about 100 feet or larger in order to cause significant damage in a populated area. The space agency said less than one percent of the 100-foot-sized NEOs have been detected.


“These days we average three NEO discoveries a day, and each month the Minor Planet Center receives hundreds of thousands of observations on asteroids, including those in the main-belt,” said Tim Spahr, director of the Minor Planet Center. “The work done by the NASA surveys, and the other international professional and amateur astronomers, to discover and track NEOs is really remarkable.”


Earlier this month, NASA announced a grand challenge focused on finding all asteroid threats to human populations. This “Great Challenge” asks citizen scientists, along with industry professionals, to focus on detecting and characterizing asteroids and learn how to deal with potential threats.


“We will also harness public engagement, open innovation and citizen science to help solve this global problem,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver.


The space agency also invited industry and potential partners to offer up some ideas on accomplishing NASA’s goals to locate, redirect and explore an asteroid.




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Three Habitable Super-Earths Discovered In Multi-Planetary Star System

Astronomers have discovered a record-breaking planetary system with at least six planets orbiting its host star.

New observations of Gliese 667C show for the first time that three of these six new planet candidates are super-Earths. In order for a planet to qualify as a super-Earth, it must exist within the “habitable zone,” which is the zone around the star where liquid water could exist, making it a possible candidate to host life.

Gliese 667C is just one-third the mass of the Sun and is part of a star system known as Gliese 667. The star sits 22 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Scorpius. Astronomers have seen before that Gliese 667C hosted three planets, with one of them in the habitable zone, but the latest observation shows the count is much higher than that.

If you were to stand on the surface of one of these newly found planets, two other suns would look like a pair of very bright stars visible in the daytime. At night, the nearby stars are so close they would be providing as much illumination as the full moon.

This new discovery means the habitable zone around Gliese 667C is completely full, leaving no more room for another planet to exist.

“We knew that the star had three planets from previous studies, so we wanted to see whether there were any more,” says Mikko Tuomi of the University of Hertfordshire, UK. “By adding some new observations and revisiting existing data we were able to confirm these three and confidently reveal several more. Finding three low-mass planets in the star’s habitable zone is very exciting!”

Super-Earths, as opposed to Earth-like, are planets that are more massive than Earth but still in the habitable zone.

“The number of potentially habitable planets in our galaxy is much greater if we can expect to find several of them around each low-mass star — instead of looking at ten stars to look for a single potentially habitable planet, we now know we can look at just one star and find several of them,” said Rory Barnes from the University of Washington and co-author of the study published in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

The habitable zone around Gliese 667C sits entirely within an orbit the size of Mercury’s. In our system Mercury is incredibly hot, thus unable to host liquid water. However, Gliese 667C is smaller than our star, so the orbit for the habitable zone can sit closer in. Gliese 667C is the first example of a system where such a low-mass star can host several potentially rocky planets.

“This exciting result was largely made possible by the power of HARPS and its associated software and it also underlines the value of the ESO archive,” said the European Space Observatory (ESO) scientist responsible for HARPS, Gaspare Lo Curto. “It is very good to also see several independent research groups exploiting this unique instrument and achieving the ultimate precision.”



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Supermoon Coming June 24th

The Moon appears to be in a nearly circular orbit around the Earth. But that word “nearly” means that there are slight variations in its motion across the heavens.

As it turns out, the distance from the Earth to the Moon varies by about 30,000 miles. This sounds like a lot, but it only represents about a 6-7 percent deviation from the average distance between the two bodies.

On Earth, the difference between when the Moon is at its closest point (perigee) and its farthest position (apogee) causes the Moon to appear slightly smaller or larger in the sky. [Note: these terms can be a little confusing, because perigee and apogee vary after each orbit, which means they change from month to month and year to year. So they really represent the nearest and farthest points in the lunar orbit over a specific period of time.]

On June 24th, the Moon will be in a nearly full moon phase as it reaches perigee, making it appear slightly larger in the night sky. On that day, the Moon will be the closest to Earth that it will be for all of 2013. Such approaches, when perigee coincides closely with a full moon, are known as supermoons. But the apparent size difference is very difficult to see; only careful measurements reveal the difference.

This particular supermoon is actually not that great. Occurrences in each of the coming years will be even better. The best one of the century won’t happen until December 6, 2052. And the Moon will not cross within 356,400 kilometers until January 1, 2257 (356,371 km), a truly rare approach!

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New Technique Defies Laws of Physics, Causing Material To Expand Under Pressure

What happens when you squeeze something? It usually gets smaller, but not if you are at Argonne National Laboratory.

Contrary to basic laws of physics, researchers at the Chicago laboratory have discovered a new technique for applying pressure to a material that actually causes it to expand instead of compress or contract.

“It’s like squeezing a stone and forming a giant sponge,” said Karena Chapman, a chemist at the US Department of Energy laboratory. “Materials are supposed to become denser and more compact under pressure. We are seeing the exact opposite. The pressure-treated material has half the density of the original state. This is counterintuitive to the laws of physics.”

This behavior seemed so unlikely that Chapman and her colleagues repeated the experiment for several years with each experiment producing the same results. Finally, the sheer data essentially forced them to believe what seemed unbelievable and accept the somewhat confusing results.

“The bonds in the material completely rearrange,” Chapman said. “This just blows my mind.”

This new material will not only change physics textbooks, it will also double the amount of porous materials used for manufacturing, health care and environmental sustainability.

Porous materials have sponge-like holes that can be tailored to trap, filter and store specific types of molecules. Selecting for specific molecules allows scientists to design porous materials for use as water filters, chemical sensors and compressible storage for carbon dioxide sequestration of hydrogen fuel cells.

Adjusting the release rate of chemicals in porous materials allows for possible applications in drug release therapy and instigates chemical reactions used in producing anything from foods to plastics.

“This could not only open up new materials to being porous, but it could also give us access to new structures for selectability and new release rates,” said Peter Chupas, an Argonne chemist who helped discover the new materials.

Details of their research were published in the May 22 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

To produce these fascinating materials, scientists placed zinc cyanide in a Diamond Anvil Cell, a device that can simulate pressures almost as great as those at the center of the earth. Pressures of 0.9 to 1.8 gigapascals were applied, which are about 9,000 to 18,000 times greater than the atmospheric pressure at sea level. The amount of high pressure used for the experiments is within an economically reproducible range by manufacturers for bulk storage systems.

Different fluids were used around the material to create five new phases of material, two of which retained their properties at normal pressure. Unique porous properties were determined based on the type of fluid used. Hydrostatic pressure has never before been used to convert dense materials into novel porous materials.

“By applying pressure, we were able to transform a normally dense, nonporous material into a range of new porous materials that can hold twice as much stuff,” Chapman said. “This counterintuitive discovery will likely double the amount of available porous framework materials, which will greatly expand their use in pharmaceutical delivery, sequestration, material separation and catalysis.”

Similar research using this new technique continues with alternative materials.

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Archeologists Say Humans Left Africa For Asia Only 60,000 Years Ago, Rejecting Previous Theory

Modern humans did not leave Africa prior to the massive eruption of Sumatra’s volcano Mount Toba 74,000 years ago, according to a new study appearing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Rather, Professor Martin Richards of the University of Huddersfield and colleagues have concluded that genetic evidence supports the belief that they departed for Asia approximately 60,000 years ago. Their findings refute a recent theory which had suggested that there was archaeological evidence establishing the presence of people in the southern part of the continent prior to the super-eruption, the university said in a statement.

Previous research completed by Richards used mitochondrial DNA evidence to show that anatomically modern men and women departed from Africa via a “southern coastal route” from the Horn and through Arabia some 14,000 years after the eruption of Mount Toba. Since then, however, archaeologists working in India say they had discovered evidence that humans had lived there far earlier – perhaps up to 120,000 years ago.

Those claims were made after the archaeologists discovered stone tools beneath a layer of Toba ash in 2007. In a rebuttal to those claims, Richards, University of Cambridge archaeologist Sir Paul Mellars, and others found additional genetic evidence to support Richards’ previous conclusion.

“One of the things we didn’t have in 2005 was very much evidence from India in the way of mitochondrial sequences. Now, with a lot of people doing sequencing and depositing material in databases there are about 1,000 sequences from India,” Mellars explained.

By using modern mitochondrial DNA and working backwards, Richards and his colleagues were able to make more exact estimates as to when exactly people set foot on the Indian continent. That genetic information, combined with additional evidence and research, led them to conclude that the dispersal from Africa and the settlement in India could have happened no earlier than 60,000 years ago.

“We also argue that close archaeological similarities between African and Indian stone-tool technologies after 70,000 years ago, as well as features such as beads and engravings, suggest that the slightly later Indian material had an African source,” Richards added. “There were people in India before the Toba eruption, because there are stone tools there, but they could have been Neanderthals – or some other pre-modern population.”

The recently-published research is “an unusually strong scientific put-down,” said Lewis Smith of the Daily Mail. He added that the research done by Richards’ team essentially declares that the pre-eruption settlement theory is “worthless,” and that the researchers wrote that they found “no evidence, either genetic or archaeological, for a very early modern human colonization of South Asia, before the Toba eruption.”