January 26th, 2012
11:21 AM ET

Blue Marble

"A 'Blue Marble' image of the Earth taken from the VIIRS instrument aboard NASA's most recently launched Earth-observing satellite – Suomi NPP. This composite image uses a number of swaths of the Earth's surface taken on January 4, 2012. The NPP satellite was renamed 'Suomi NPP' on January 24, 2012 to honor the late Verner E. Suomi of the University of Wisconsin.

Suomi NPP is NASA's next Earth-observing research satellite. It is the first of a new generation of satellites that will observe many facets of our changing Earth.

Suomi NPP is carrying five instruments on board. The biggest and most important instrument is The Visible/Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite or VIIRS."

Source: NASA

Filed under: Light up the screen
Remote tribe has social networks like ours
The Hadza are one of few hunter-gatherer groups in Africa. Scientists hope they will give clues about why humans share.
January 25th, 2012
01:00 PM ET

Remote tribe has social networks like ours

It was 2006 when a man approached anthropologist Coren Apicella and asked, “Have you heard about this man, Osama bin Laden? I just heard about him, and I heard he sets fire to things. I heard he’s hiding and he’s a very dangerous man.”

The man is from a society called the Hadza, one of the last remaining hunter-gatherer populations in Africa and one of the closest remaining approximations to how the earliest humans lived. This community in Tanzania is so cut off from modernity that news of bin Laden’s existence hadn’t reached this man until five years after 9/11.

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Filed under: Human ancestors • On Earth
Opportunity's Eighth Anniversary View From 'Greeley Haven' (False Color)
January 25th, 2012
11:06 AM ET

Opportunity's Eighth Anniversary View From 'Greeley Haven' (False Color)

"This mosaic of images taken in mid-January 2012 shows the windswept vista northward (left) to northeastward (right) from the location where NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is spending its fifth Martian winter, an outcrop informally named "Greeley Haven."

Opportunity's Panoramic Camera (Pancam) took the component images as part of full-circle view being assembled from Greeley Haven.

The view includes sand ripples and other wind-sculpted features in the foreground and mid-field. The northern edge of the the "Cape York" segment of the rim of Endeavour Crater forms an arc across the upper half of the scene.

Opportunity landed on Mars on Jan. 25, 2004, Universal Time and EST (Jan. 24, PST). It has driven 21.4 miles (34.4 kilometers) as of its eighth anniversary on the planet. In late 2011, the rover team drove Opportunity up onto Greeley Haven to take advantage of the outcrop's sun-facing slope to boost output from the rover's dusty solar panels during the Martian winter.

Research activities while at Greeley Haven include a radio-science investigation of the interior of Mars, inspections of mineral compositions and textures on the outcrop, and monitoring of wind-caused changes on scales from dunes to individual soil particles.

The image combines exposures taken through Pancam filters centered on wavelengths of 753 nanometers (near infrared), 535 nanometers (green) and 432 nanometers (violet). The view is presented in false color to make some differences between materials easier to see."

Source: NASA

Filed under: Light up the screen
Earth hit with largest solar radiation storm since 2003
This January 23 image captured by the Solar Dynamics Observatory, shows an M9-class solar flare erupting on the Sun.
January 24th, 2012
08:56 PM ET

Earth hit with largest solar radiation storm since 2003

Material from a Sunday solar eruption hit the Earth on Tuesday, helping to create the planet's strongest solar radiation storm in more than eight years, NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center said.

The eruption also has caused a minor geomagnetic storm, expected to continue at least through Tuesday. Together, the storms could affect GPS systems, other satellite systems and radio communications near the poles, the SWPC and NASA said.

The storms prompted some airlines to divert planes from routes near the north pole, where radio communications may be affected and passengers at high altitudes may be at  "a higher than normal radiation risk," the SWPC said.

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Is this a clue to toenail evolution?
Paleontologist Jonathan Bloch holds the nail and skull of an ancient extinct primate, Notharctus tenebrosus.
January 24th, 2012
11:26 AM ET

Is this a clue to toenail evolution?

While sorting  through primate fossils at the American Museum of Natural History, Stephanie Maiolino and Douglas Boyer found an extraordinary specimen. Encased in a block of mud and rock was the fossilized foot of an extinct creature called a notharctus.

They sent the foot, still encased in mud, to their colleague Joe Groenke at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York, and he did a CT scan. The foot bones were in good shape, and one of the toes looked unusual.

"It had a flattened tip, as you see in nailed-anthropoids, but the base of the claw showed that it would [be] projected up like a grooming claw and that it had weak muscle attachments, meaning the toe wasn't used for grabbing objects and locomotion like the other toes," Boyer explained.

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Filed under: On Earth
Gingrich promises JFK-like space speech
GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich's space address comes nearly 50 years after President Kennedy's moon-shot speech.
January 24th, 2012
10:16 AM ET

Gingrich promises JFK-like space speech

Could it be a coincidence that GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich describes his upcoming speech on space policy Wednesday as a "visionary" address "in the John F. Kennedy tradition?"

Perhaps not. After all 2012 is the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's iconic "we choose to go to the moon in this decade" speech, where he performed a presidential Babe Ruth. Like the Sultan of Swat, Kennedy dared to point out a seemingly impossible goal and swing for it - hitting a home run.

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Filed under: In Space • Mars • News
Magic mushrooms may be therapeutic
January 23rd, 2012
04:13 PM ET

Magic mushrooms may be therapeutic

Rave-goers and visitors to Amsterdam before December 2008 may be intimately familiar with magic mushrooms, but there's little scientific knowledge on what happens to the brain while tripping.

Now it appears that more research is warranted. A growing number of studies suggested that perhaps the mushrooms' key ingredient could work magic for certain mental disorders.

New research in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences sheds light on why one of the mushrooms' hallucinogenic chemical compounds, psilocybin, may hold promise for the treatment of depression. Scientists explored the effect of psilocybin on the brain, documenting the neural basis behind the altered state of consciousness that people have reported after using magic mushrooms.

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Filed under: On Earth
With Dragon delayed again, ISS crew reflects
Space Station Commander Dan Burbank and Flight Engineer Don Pettit spoke with CNN's John Zarrella on Friday.
January 20th, 2012
04:13 PM ET

With Dragon delayed again, ISS crew reflects

When I spoke with international space station commander Dan Burbank and flight engineer Don Pettit on Friday, they should have been talking a lot about the upcoming arrival of the first ever commercial space craft called Dragon. But the date of that arrival is now uncertain. “I suppose on a personal level it’s maybe a little bit disappointing,” Burbank told me during our interview.

The Dragon vehicle built by SpaceX was to launch in early February. That won’t happen. The unmanned craft would have rendezvoused with the space station very much like the Japanese HTV cargo vessel does. “One of the unique things about SpaceX,” says Pettit, “is it flies up like HTV and just gets close to the space station and we kind of lasso it with the robotic arm and bring it in.”

But the launch of Dragon has run into problems. CNN has learned the launch will be in late March at the earliest. SpaceX spokeswoman Kirsten Grantham says, “we need more time to check out and test the systems.” Grantham added, “Its an incredibly challenging mission.”

“Space flight is tough,” Burbank told me. “It’s really, really hard, and to think that anybody could just roll into this and very quickly field a system that’s gonna be ready to go on the first day planned, and be absolutely reliable, is a little bit unrealistic,” he said.

Space flight can be tough on the body as well as machinery. Ten astronauts have come back from Space Station missions with changes to their eyesight, which are sometimes permanent. Burbank says, “The kinds of problems that have happened in a fairly small subsection of people that have flown here before seem to isolated. Some people have it, many people don’t have any at all.”

After a couple months into flight, some astronauts start getting far-sighted. The problem only shows up in male astronauts. NASA flight doctors say it is right now their top priority. There’s little chance that a two- or three-year Mars mission could take place without resolving the issue.

The six-member crew of the station is participating in studies to help doctors and researchers on the ground figure out the problem. They have imaged the backs of their eyes and the optic nerve. They are taking high-resolution images of the retina and measuring the pressure in their eyes. All the data is sent back to doctors on the ground. “I think we came through, and our eyes look very good,” Burbank said.

During the 10-minute interview, Burbank and Pettit discussed all the space junk flying around up there. They view it as a major concern. Burbank said the number of avoidance maneuvers they have to perform is a measure of two things: the amount of debris up there and the increased technological ability to see it.

But the commander said more needs to be done. “I think it’s really, really critical that we get the capability to monitor as best we can debris in orbit.”

While Burbank and Pettit are in space, an important anniversary will take place. February 20 will mark the 50th anniversary of John Glenn’s historic flight, when he became the first American to orbit the earth. “Amazing,” said Pettit, “a short flight in a capsule he couldn’t even unstrap from. You look at what we’re doing now and it’s just amazing in terms of the orbital operations with station and the number of people flying.”

A ceremony marking the anniversary is planned for the Kennedy Space Center. It’s hoped Glenn and Scott Carpenter, the last two surviving Mercury astronauts, will attend.

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Filed under: In Space
Monkey some thought extinct found in Borneo forest
The Miller's grizzled langur as photographed by Simon Frasier University researchers.
January 20th, 2012
02:05 PM ET

Monkey some thought extinct found in Borneo forest

A primate thought to be extinct or near-extinction has been spotted in the rainforest on the Indonesian island of Borneo, researchers report.

Images of Miller's grizzled langur, a subspecies of Asian monkey, were captured on a time-lapse camera last summer and confirmed by researchers at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia and the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

"When we found those first images, we were all pretty ecstatic," because many scientists had thought the creature was extinct, said Brent Loken, a doctoral student at Simon Fraser.

The Miller's grizzled langur is so rare that the researchers had trouble finding something to compare to their new pictures.

"There were no photographs that anybody else had taken of this monkey," Loken said.

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Filed under: Discoveries • News • On Earth
January 19th, 2012
02:03 PM ET

Comet death may hint at birth of Earth

It may be the closest thing to hell ever observed by science.

Researchers revealed breathtaking images on Thursday of a kamikaze comet called C/2011 N3 (SOHO) taking a swan-dive into the sun.

Images and research published in the journal Science show a house-sized rock plummeting at more than 1 million miles per hour through million-degree temperatures to within a relative hair's breadth of the sun's surface.

Observations like this have never been seen before, says Karel Schrijver, who led the research at Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory in Palo Alto, California. "It's never been observed anywhere near this close to the sun."

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Filed under: Discoveries • In Space
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