Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Friday, 13 September 2013

Voyager leaves solar system 36 years after launch - first man-made object to leave the solar system -

Voyager leaves solar system 36 years after launch - first man-made object to leave the solar system - 

Measurements recorded by the probe suggest that it has left the Sun's sphere of influence and entered interstellar space, the vast cold and dark region between stars.
The probe, which was launched in 1977 to study the outer planets in our solar system, has now drifted almost 12 billion miles (19 billion km) from Earth.
It actually left the hot bubble of plasma from the Sun more than a year ago, but it has taken until now for scientists to compile enough evidence to prove it is no longer under the Sun's influence.
Ed Stone, the mission's chief scientists, said: "It's a milestone and the beginning of a new journey."
The team now hopes to use the spacecraft to study exotic particles in a region of space that has never before been explored, and beam its findings back to Earth.

Should it be intercepted by any intelligent alien civilisation, they will find a gold-plated disc containing a series of multicultural greetings, songs and photographs.
Voyager-1 was launched along with its twin, Voyager-2, 36 years ago to explore the solar system's gas giants.

Last year scientists noticed that the number of charged particles interacting with the craft's sensors suddenly dropped, suggesting it had broken through into interstellar space.
There was also a corresponding rise in galactic cosmic rays hitting the craft from the other side, but there was no noticeable change in the magnetism around the craft, suggesting it was still being influenced by the Sun.
But recently a chance solar eruption caused the space around the craft to echo like a bell, proving that the boundary had already been crossed.
Don Gurnett, of the University of Iowa, who published the data in the Science journal, said: "It took us 10 seconds to realise we were in interstellar space."
Other scientists were more sceptical, however.
Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist from Harvard University, said: "I'm actually not going to believe it for another year or two."


Frog pops up in NASA photo of LADEE rocket launch: Did it croak? -

Frog pops up in NASA photo of LADEE rocket launch: Did it croak?  - 

Image: Frog at launch

Oh my! We’re not sure to laugh or cry on this one (maybe both). This frog gives new meaning to “flying leap” (or giant leap). This little guy was obviously startled by the ignition of the Minotaur 5 rocket that launched the LADEE spacecraft last Friday.

We’ve confirmed this image is in fact an actual photo taken by one of NASA’s remote cameras set up for the launch from the Wallops/Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. Wallops spokesman Jeremy Eggers confirms the picture is legitimate and was not altered in any way.

However, we cannot say with any certainty that no frog was harmed in the making of this picture.

Why would a frog be hanging around a launchpad? The launch pad at the Wallops/Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport has a “pool” for the high-volume water deluge system that activates during launches to protect the pad from damage and for noise suppression. There was probably a (formerly) damp, cool place that was a nice spot for a frog to hang out.

This is not the first animal oddity to be included in a launch. There are several images of birds flying away from space shuttle launches, and in fact, during the STS-114 launch, a turkey vulture ran into the shuttle’s orange fuel tank (see video below). There was the famous space bat from the STS-119 shuttle launch in 2009, and recently the SpaceX Grasshopper test launch startled a herd of cows:

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Police Dept's Policy Of Taking Injured Animals To Shooting Range To Kill Them Stirs Controversy... -

Police Dept's Policy Of Taking Injured Animals To Shooting Range To Kill Them Stirs Controversy... - 

 Animal lovers are questioning a policy where Merced Police officers take injured animals out to the police shooting range to kill them.

The penal code has been on the books for decades. Some officers say it’s the most humane thing you can do, while others call it barbaric.

Officers use deadly force to save the lives of others, but what about shooting severely injured dogs or cats found on the street?

According to a California penal code, it’s an officer’s discretion, saying in part:

“…any officer… may, with the approval of his or her immediate superior, humanely destroy any abandoned animal in the field in any case where the animal is too severely injured to move or where a veterinarian is not available and it would be more humane to dispose of the animal.”

“No one wants to see an animal lose its life, but if death is inevitable, and it’s just being prolonged,” said Sacramento County Sgt. Jason Ramos.

He says the sheriff’s department doesn’t have a specific policy for shooting injured animals, but his agency understands why an officer may be forced to.

“Sometimes in the middle of the night you don’t have a vet available, you might be in an extremely rural area. Quite honestly, taking an animal’s life might be the most humane thing to do under those circumstances.”

Policies vary across the state. In Sacramento, officers aren’t allowed to shoot animals.

Oakland changed its policy after the controversial shooting of a deer in someone’s backyard.

And the Merced Bee reports Merced Police take injured animals to the range and kill them there.

“That sounds so archaic to me,” said veterinarian Dr. Jyl Rubin. “What a crazy way of thinking, especially with all these rescue organizations.”

She believes law enforcement agencies that still shoot injured animals should consider creating an alliance with rescue groups.

“All those organizations need to really come together. There needs to be something finite that way if an animal is injured you don’t take it out on a range and shoot it.”

Most vets we spoke to say if you find a severely injured animal on the street, it’s best to call animal control or law enforcement.

Many police agencies call animal control to evaluate severely injured animals.

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HIV BREAKTHROUGH Vaccine kills virus that causes AIDS in monkeys -

HIV BREAKTHROUGH  Vaccine kills virus that causes AIDS in monkeys - 

Researchers from the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) have reported a major breakthrough in the field of HIV research, claiming they have created a vaccine that completely eradicates the virus that causes AIDS in some monkeys, Discovery News reported.
And the next step? Testing the vaccine in humans.
Their research, which was published in the journal Nature, showed that half of the monkeys they tested responded to the vaccine.  The monkeys were infected with simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), which is similar to HIV in humans but 100 times more deadly.
“It’s always tough to claim eradication — there could always be a cell which we didn’t analyze that has the virus in it,” Louis Picker, of the Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute at OHSU, told the BBC News. “But for the most part, with very stringent criteria … there was no virus left in the body of these monkeys.”
According to Discovery News, Picker and his team created the vaccine by using a modified version of a common – though mostly harmless – virus called cytomegalovirus (CMV).  When the CMV was exposed to the SIV, it prompted the monkey’s white blood cells to respond and attack the SIV.  
Of the monkeys who responded to the vaccine, they were still SIV-free up to three years later.
“Through this method, we were able to teach the monkey’s body to better ‘prepare its defenses’ to combat the disease,” Picker said in a press release.
While the researchers are still trying to determine why some monkeys did not successfully respond to the vaccine, they are hopeful that this technique could work in humans.  They have licensed the CMV method to the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, and if it is approved by the proper regulatory authorities, Picker said they could potentially start clinical trials in humans in the next two years.
Scientists have come a long way in the field of HIV/AIDS research, and although there is still no cure for the virus, a diagnosis of HIV is no longer the death sentence it used to be.   Many anti-retroviral drug combinations are currently available to patients – such as non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs), protease inhibitors (PIs) and integrase inhibitors – which help to control the virus before it becomes too aggressive.  Researchers have also discovered ways to combine these drugs into a single pill that HIV/AIDS patients take each day.
There have also been many anecdotal reports of near HIV eradication in humans. In July, two HIV-positive patients in the United States who underwent bone marrow transplants for cancer stopped their anti-retroviral therapy and showed no detectable signs of the HIV virus.  And in March, doctors from Johns Hopkins Children’s Center and the University of Mississippi announced a case in which a Mississippi baby born with HIV was seemingly “cured” of the disease, after a pediatric specialist started the baby on a three-drug infusion within 30 hours of birth.


Friday 13th travellers take chance on flight 666 to HEL -

Friday 13th travellers take chance on flight 666 to HEL - 

Would you board flight 666 to HEL on Friday the 13th? For superstitious travellers, that might be tempting fate. But Finnair passengers on AY666 to Helsinki apparently were not too bothered. Friday's flight was almost full.

"It has been quite a joke among the pilots," said pilot Juha-Pekka Keidasto before flying the Airbus A320 from Copenhagen to Helsinki. "I'm not a superstitious man. It's only a coincidence for me."

The daily flight AY666 from Copenhagen to Helsinki falls on Friday the 13th twice in 2013. Friday the 13th is considered bad luck in many countries and the number 666 also has strong negative biblical associations.

Some airlines, such as Scandinavian Airlines, take such fears seriously and do not have a row 13 on board. However, the negative connotations are a relatively new phenomenon for northern Europeans, and Finnair and other regional carriers such as Norwegian and Estonian Air keep row 13.

"Less than 100 years ago the number 13 did not have this sinister meaning. It's quite recent in the north," said Ulo Valk, professor of comparative folklore at the University of Tartu in Estonia.

"There are 12 hours, 12 months and in Christianity 12 apostles and this is a divine number. Add one more and it brings in a certain element of chaos," he said.

Passengers on flight 666 to HEL should have a calm flight over the Baltic at this time of year. "It's hopefully smooth skies," said Keidasto. "And if there's some passenger who is anxious about this 666, our cabin crew is always happy to help them." The flight later landed safely.


Federal consumer 'protection' bureau to monitor 80% of all credit card transactions... -

Federal consumer 'protection' bureau to monitor 80% of all credit card transactions... - 

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau officials are seeking to monitor four out of every five U.S. consumer credit card transactions this year — up to 42 billion transactions – through a controversial data-mining program, according to documents obtained by the Washington Examiner.

A CFPB strategic planning document for fiscal years 2013-17 describes the “markets monitoring” program through which officials aim to monitor 80 percent of all credit card transactions in 2013.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 1.16 billion consumer credit cards were in use in 2012 for an estimated 52.6 billion transactions. If CFPB officials reach their stated "performance goal," they would collect data on 42 billion transactions made with 933 million credit cards used by American consumers.

In addition, CFPB officials hope to monitor up to 95 percent of all mortgage transactions, according to the planning document.

“This is one step closer to a Big Brother form of government where they know everything about us,” said Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis.

At a Wednesday hearing before the House Financial Services Committee chaired by Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, CFPB Director Richard Cordray defended the data-mining practice and said his agency is monitoring credit card usage at 110 banks, including Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Capital One, Discover and American Express.

In a related development, Rep. Spencer Bachus, Hensarling’s predecessor on the House Financial Services Committee, told the Examiner he believes CFPB violated at least two federal laws by using the impartial U.S. Trustee Program to gather bankruptcy data as part of the data-mining campaign.

The Examiner reported Monday that bankruptcy experts are concerned that CFPB is undermining the trustee program's independence and impartiality. The trustee program is the federal government’s main administrative agency for handling bankruptcy cases.

Bachus also told the Examiner after Wednesday’s hearing that a key House subcommittee is planning hearings on possible CFPB abuse of the bankruptcy trustee.

“The bankruptcy and anti-trust subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee is investigating this as we speak, and we anticipate a notice of a hearing on this in the near future,” Bachus said.

The Dodd-Frank Act, which established CFPB, bars the bureau from collecting personally identifiable financial information on consumers and prohibits it from regulating practicing attorneys.

Bachus said Cordray “exceeded his authority” and violated both provisions if he tried to use the trustee program to obtain files from a company that maintains a document archive for thousands of bankruptcy case attorneys.

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Lobsters may be the answer to immortality -

Lobsters may be the answer to immortality - 

Scientists say they may have found the key to eternal life in an unexpected creature – lobsters.
Research shows the crustaceans possess an enzyme called telomerase, which makes them ‘biologically immortal.’ Growing older doesn’t raise their chance of death, The Sun reported.
In other living creatures, strands of DNA get shorter as cells replicate and die, and they eventually become too badly damaged to copy new cells.
But in lobsters, telomerase prevents DNA strands from shortening, allowing perfect cells to replicate again and again, according to biologist Simon Watts, founder of ReadySteadyScience.com.
The average lobster weighs under 2 pounds, but near the coast of Maine in 2009, fishermen caught a lobster that weighed 19 pounds, meaning the creature was approximately 140 years old.
Medical experts hope further studies about telomerase will help discover new ways to increase lifespan and prevent cancer.


NSA disguised itself as Google to spy, say reports -

NSA disguised itself as Google to spy, say reports - 

Here's one of the latest tidbits on the NSA surveillance scandal (which seems to be generating nearly as many blog items as there are phone numbers in the spy agency's data banks).
Earlier this week, Techdirt picked up on a passing mention in a Brazilian news story and a Slate article to point out that the US National Security Agency had apparently impersonated Google on at least one occasion to gather data on people. (Mother Jones subsequently pointed out Techdirt's point-out.)
Brazilian site Fantastico obtained and published a document leaked by Edward Snowden, which diagrams how a "man in the middle attack" involving Google was apparently carried out.
A technique commonly used by hackers, a MITM attack involves using a fake security certificate to pose as a legitimate Web service, bypass browser security settings, and then intercept data that an unsuspecting person is sending to that service. Hackers could, for example, pose as a banking Web site and steal passwords.

The technique is particularly sly because the hackers then use the password to log in to the real banking site and then serve as a "man in the middle," receiving requests from the banking customer, passing them on to the bank site, and then returning requested info to the customer -- all the while collecting data for themselves, with neither the customer nor the bank realizing what's happening. Such attacks can be used against e-mail providers too.
It's not clear if the supposed attack in the Fantastico document was handled by the NSA or by its UK counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). The article by the Brazilian news agency says, "In this case, data is rerouted to the NSA central, and then relayed to its destination, without either end noticing."
"There have been rumors of the NSA and others using those kinds of MITM attacks," Mike Masnick writes on Techdirt, "but to have it confirmed that they're doing them against the likes of Google... is a big deal -- and something I would imagine does not make [Google] particularly happy."
Google provided a short statement to Mother Jones reporter Josh Harkinson in response to his questions on the matter: "As for recent reports that the US government has found ways to circumvent our security systems, we have no evidence of any such thing ever occurring. We provide our user data to governments only in accordance with the law." (The company is also trying to win the right to provide more transparency regarding government requests for data on Google users.)
CNET got a "no comment" from the NSA in response to our request for more information.
As TechDirt suggests, an MITM attack on the part of the NSA or GCHQ would hardly be a complete shock. The New York Times reported last week that the NSA has sidestepped common Net encryption methods in a number of ways, including hacking into the servers of private companies to steal encryption keys, collaborating with tech companies to build in back doors, and covertly introducing weaknesses into encryption standards.
It wouldn't be much of a stretch to obtain a fake security certificate to foil the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) cryptographic protocol that's designed to verify the authenticity of Web sites and ensure secure Net communications.
Indeed, such attacks have been aimed at Google before, including in 2011, when a hacker broke into the systems of DigiNotar -- a Dutch company that issued Web security certificates -- and created more than 500 SSL certificates used to authenticate Web sites.
In any case, the purported NSA/GCHG impersonation of Google inspired a rather clever graphic by Mother Jones, one that might even impress the rather clever Doodlers at Google:

NASA identifies three asteroids for potential capture - 

The US space agency has narrowed its hunt for an asteroid to capture to three, NASA said.

The asteroids fit the requirements of being between seven to 10 meters (yards) in size, and further study should be able to narrow the choice even more, scientists said at a conference in San Diego, California.

"We have two to three which we will characterize in the next year and if all goes well... those will be valid candidates that could be certified targets," said Paul Chodas, senior scientist at the NASA Near-Earth Object Program Office.

The plan is to send a robotic spacecraft to capture the asteroid and drag it into orbit around the Moon.

Once there, astronauts could visit the asteroid and take samples of it back to Earth for study.

The spacecraft used for travel there and back would be the Orion multi-purpose vehicle, which is being built but has not yet been used, as well as a new deep space rocket launcher.

The program aims to break new ground by increasing NASA capabilities beyond low Earth orbit, where the International Space Station circles the globe.

NASA has touted the planetary defense capabilities the project would build toward protecting the Earth from a potential hazardous asteroid collision, as well as the technology it would boost for future human missions to deep space.

President Barack Obama has proclaimed the project would be a key step on the way to sending humans to Mars by the 2030s.

Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator of NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Directorate, described the asteroid mission as "pretty compelling."

"If you think about grabbing an object in space and then manipulating it for our use and putting it into a destination where we could go back and routinely visit and let commercial companies go visit, I think that is a pretty compelling activity."

Obama's 2014 budget for NASA asked for $100 million for the asteroid project, but the overall costs may be as high as $2 billion.

"It's a little different way than just a date and a destination. We are really good at just picking dates and destinations. But that's really hard in this budget environment where things are constrained and we have flat budgets, et cetera et cetera, to pull that off," said Gerstenmaier.

"It is not just a one-time thing. It actually feeds forward into the broader context of what we want to do with humans in space."

The launch could happen as early as 2017 or as late as 2019.

After launch of the robotic mission, the journey to the asteroid would take a year and a half, and the act of towing it toward the moon could take another three and a half years, NASA said.

The project would use a new fuel technology called solar electric propulsion.

"We are talking about engineering the solar system, in a way. We are talking about taking an asteroid which was once here, and then putting it into a useful orbit for our purposes," said Chodas.

"This is a very large idea here that we are talking about and I think it will reinvigorate interest in the space program," he said.

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Herpes-infected monkeys terrorize Florida... -

Herpes-infected monkeys terrorize Florida... - 

Beware of the monkeys!
Hundreds of rare wild monkeys — some carrying herpes — are on the loose in Florida after a tour guide brought the spunky critters to the state long ago.
Wildlife officials said that three pairs of Rhesus monkeys were transported to a park near Ocala in the 1930s by tour operator Colonel Tooey after a “Tarzan” flick sparked a fascination with the creature.
But the breed has since boomed and more than 1,000 of the monkeys now live in the state, wildlife officials say.
State officials have caught more than 700 of the monkeys in the past decade — most of which tested positive for the herpes-B virus.
Wildlife officials now consider the monkeys a public health hazard.
Current Silver River tour operator Captain Tom O’Lenick, 65, defended transporting the animals, claiming people love them.
“Everybody who comes on the river for a tour wants to see the monkeys,” O’Lenick said.
“From my point of view, as a naturalist, I think the planet changes naturally and species do move around, whether that is by man or other means,” he said.
The monkeys were first marooned on a small island near the Silver River. But the creatures learned to swim.
They have since been spotted hundreds of miles away, near Jacksonville, officials said.
“Just like any other wild animal you need to give them space,” said British wildlife photographer Graham McGeorge, 42.
The monkeys eat dirt and spiders and live near rivers.

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