Space engineering helps drill better holes in planet Earth

Expertise derived from working on the joint NASA-ESA Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn and its moon Titan is now being applied to underground drilling machines. This is providing tunnelling engineers with an improved ability to virtually ‘see’ some 40 metres into solid rock and pinpoint obstacles ahead. It’s an old miners’ expression: “There is darkness in front of the pick”. Billions of years of geological history has laid down complex folds of strata, patterns of faulting and embedded irregular objects in the ground beneath our feet. The character of the earth can and often does change unexpectedly with every metre excavated.

Men with 3 of 5 metabolic abnormalities risk diabetes, heart disease

Men who have at least three metabolic abnormalities are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease, researchers report.
Using a new, simplified definition of the “metabolic syndrome”? the clustering of certain metabolic-related heart disease risk factors ? researchers predicted diabetes and coronary heart disease (CHD) at an early stage of disease development. This is noteworthy because early prediction might identify people who may benefit from aggressive lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise to delay or derail the disease process, says lead author Naveed Sattar, M.D., an honorary consultant in clinical biochemistry at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary in Scotland.

Spectrum of West Nile Symptoms Includes Paralysis

As the nation gears up for another season of West Nile virus, a new study extends the understanding of the clinical spectrum of West Nile symptoms, and points to extreme muscle weakness or paralysis as a significant cause of complications in affected patients. The study appears in the July 8 issue of Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Icebound Antarctic telescope delivers first neutrino sky map

A novel telescope that uses the Antarctic ice sheet as its window to the cosmos, has produced the first map of the high-energy neutrino sky. The map, unveiled for astronomers here today at a meeting of the International Astronomical Union, provides astronomers with their first tantalizing glimpse of very high energy neutrinos, ghostly particles that are believed to emanate from some of the most violent events in the universe ? crashing black holes, gamma ray bursts, and the violent cores of distant galaxies.

New Sensor Can Detect DNA in One Step

Imagine that your doctor, using a small hand-held sensor, could detect from a drop of your blood if you carry the gene for cystic fibrosis, or whether or not you have HIV. Or on the battlefield, a soldier could wear a small sensor that detects the smallest amount of anthrax in the air. In the food industry the same type of sensor could check for the DNA signature of salmonella.

Satellites will join search for source of Ebola virus

Microscopes are not the only tools available to study disease. A new ESA project employs satellites to predict and help combat epidemic outbreaks, as well as join the hunt for the origin of the deadly Ebola virus. Ebola haemorrhagic fever kills many people in Central Africa each year. It can cause runaway internal and external bleeding in humans and also apes. What remains unidentified is the jungle-based organism serving as the virus’s host.

New Location of Deep Convection May Exist in North Atlantic

Deep convection, or mixing, of ocean waters in the North Atlantic, widely thought to occur in only the Labrador Sea and the Mediterranean, may occur in a third location first proposed nearly 100 years ago by the explorer and oceanographer Fridtjof Nansen. The findings, reported this week in the journal Nature, may alter thinking about the ocean’s overturning circulation that affects earth’s climate.

The bigger and brighter an object, the harder it is to perceive its motion

Bigger and brighter isn’t better, at least not when trying to view moving objects. That is the counter-intuitive result of a study performed by a team of Vanderbilt psychologists which sheds new light on one of the most sophisticated processes performed by the brain: identifying and tracking moving objects. “The bigger an object, the easier it is to see. But it is actually harder for people to determine the motion of objects larger than a tennis ball held at arms length than it is to gauge the motion of smaller objects,” says Duje Tadin, first author of the paper on the study appearing in the July 17 issue of the journal Nature.

Fewer Earthbound asteroids will hit home

Scientists report that significantly fewer asteroids could hit the Earth’s surface than previously reckoned. Researchers have built a computer simulation that predicts whether asteroids with a diameter up to one kilometre (km) will explode in the atmosphere or hit the surface. The results indicate that asteroids with a diameter greater than 200 metres (the length of two football pitches) will hit the surface approximately once every 160,000 years ? way down on previous estimates of impacts every 2,500 years.

Smoking supernovae belching dust

Astronomers from Cardiff University, in Wales, and the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh, Scotland, believe they have solved one of the long-standing mysteries of the Universe – the origins of cosmic dust. They explain how they have found that some supernovae, or exploding stars, belch out huge quantities of this dust – a discovery which suggests that supernovae were responsible for producing the first solid particles in the Universe.

African Dust Brings Drought, Rain across Atlantic

Dust from the Sahara Desert in Africa may modify clouds and rainfall both in Africa and across the tropical North Atlantic as far away as Barbados, according to a study that uses data from NASA satellites, ground measurements, and computer models. Natalie Mahowald, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and University of California, Santa Barbara, and Lisa Kiehl, a graduate student at UCSB, published their findings in a recent issue of Geophysical Research Letters.