First-ever asteroid tracked from space to Earth impact


Students from Khartoum lined up to begin the hunt

For the first time, scientists were able to track an asteroid from space to the ground and recover pieces of it. The bits are unlike anything ever found on Earth.

The asteroid was spotted entering Earth’s atmosphere over Sudan in October and was believed to have fully disintegrated, but an international team found almost 280 pieces of meteorite in a 11-square-mile section of Sudan’s Nubian Desert. The largest was the size of an egg. Lab analysis showed that the rocks belong to a rare class of asteroid that has never been sampled in such a pristine state, so it could fill some gaps in our understanding of the solar system’s early history…

Finding the meteorites was a long shot, but because the rocks would be so important, meteor astronomer Peter Jenniskens of SETI, lead author of the study, took a bus loaded with 45 students and staff from the University of Khartoum deep into the desert to hunt for them. A 10-hour bus ride and an 18-mile trek through the sand took them to the remote area where scientists thought the rocks, if they existed,
would be. The group began sweeping the desert in a line and two hours later the first meteorite was found by a student.

“It was very, very exciting. Everybody was celebrating,” Jenniskens said. “You have to remember how important it is to find a piece linked to an asteroid we have seen in space.”

These fragments are pristine, virtually as they were through an eternity in space. Little time for any contamination by Earth minerals or oxidizers. Read the whole article.

What a fantastic experience, especially for those students.

Test-driving the Tata Nano – the world’s cheapest car


Click on the photo for the road test video
Daylife/Reuters Pictures

Taking the world’s cheapest car out for its first public test drive by a journalist makes for a surprisingly smooth ride. Thrifty transport is not meant to be this comfortable. Tata’s Nano purrs from zero to 40mph in eight seconds and its gearbox changes with ease. The brakes are solid, bringing the car to halt smartly.

True, its 623cc engine whines a little like a blender when pushed to its top speed of 65mph and the body leans like the Tower of Pisa when cornering at speed. But the wheels will give out before you can tip the car over, the Guardian was assured by Tata engineers.

Built for functional frugality, the Nano is a striking if not a beautiful car. Flashing through the dusty streets outside the Tata plant in Pune, southern India, the Nano’s distinctive look turns heads. Many people, especially those who are riding motorbikes, break into smiles and thrust thumbs into the air when its jellybean shape appears.

Continue reading

Bad timing: Man survived both atomic bombings


Daylife/AP Photo

Japan has certified a man aged 93 as the only known survivor of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, both hit by atomic bombs towards the end of World War II.

Tsutomu Yamaguchi was in Hiroshima on a business trip on 6 August 1945 when a US plane dropped the first atomic bomb. He suffered serious burns and spent a night there before returning to his home city of Nagasaki just before it was bombed on 9 August…

It was already recorded that Mr Yamaguchi had survived the Nagasaki bomb but officials just recognised that he had been in Hiroshima as well.

More than 200,000 people were killed in the two atomic bombings.

Certification as a hibakusha or radiation survivor qualifies Japanese citizens for government compensation, including medical check-ups, and funeral costs. His double dose of atomic bombs, however, does not mean Mr Yamaguchi’s compensation will increase, a Nagasaki city official said.

“My double radiation exposure is now an official government record,” Mr Yamaguchi told reporters. “It can tell the younger generation the horrifying history of the atomic bombings even after I die.”

If you have a chance, read John Hersey’s book, “Hiroshima“. Based on the experiences of survivors, it was an award-winner immediately after the war even though our political hacks tried like hell to suppress it.

First Wilderness Bill in a generation passes

After a long and twisted path through Congress, the House finally has passed and sent to President Obama a massive package of 170 public lands bills…that would create 2 million acres of wilderness nationwide.

The package had been blocked in the Senate for months by a filibuster before it finally passed there; it was defeated previously in the House by two votes under a procedure that required a two-thirds majority; the Senate passed it a second time under a new title; and that allowed House to pass it Wednesday with a simple majority on a 285-140 vote.

But Republicans, led in part by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, howled about the process Wednesday that brought up the massive bill without allowing any possible amendments.

Even though two Bishop bills were in the package, he and others complained it contained many wasteful bills or locked up too much public land to such things as oil exploration — and contended it won approval only by forcing members to vote for a bad overall package if they wanted their home-state bills that it contained…

Don’t you wonder how long this nation which prides itself on democracy will continue with archaic and limiting legislative procedures which are always dragged out by reactionaries to try to prevent something which supports the common good, which might retain some of our nation’s beauty for future generations?

I have conservative kin who still pride themselves in being conservationists. Too bad they’re not wanted in the Republican Party any longer.

Network Turns Soldiers’ Helmets Into Sniper Location System

Imagine a platoon of soldiers fighting in a hazardous urban environment who carry personal digital assistants that can display the location of enemy shooters in three dimensions and accurately identify the caliber and type of weapons they are firing.

Engineers at Vanderbilt University’s Institute for Software Integrated Systems (ISIS) have developed a system that can give soldiers just such an edge by turning their combat helmets into “smart nodes” in a wireless sensor network…

Like several other shooter location systems developed in recent years, the ISIS system relies on the sound waves produced when a high-powered rifle is fired. These acoustic signals have distinctive characteristics that allow the systems to pick them out from other loud noises and track them back to their source. Current systems, however, rely on centralized or stand-alone sensor arrays. This limits their accuracy and restricts them to identifying shooters at line-of-sight locations…

Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Albert Sciarretta, who assesses new military technologies in urban environments for DARPA, is one of the experts who is impressed by the ISIS system: “It’s strong points are that it isn’t limited to locating shots fired in direct line-of-sight, it can pick up multiple shooters at the same time, and it can identify the caliber and type of weapon that is being fired…”

Current commercial shooter location systems are extremely expensive, with prices ranging from $10,000 to $50,000 per unit. By contrast, an entire node for the ISIS system weighs only slightly more than the four AA batteries that power it and costs about $1,000 to construct using currently available commercial hardware.

Sounds good to me. DARPA continues to support really interesting research, don’t they?

Scalia a homophobe? Well, duh – what a surprise!

US Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) is taking heat today for calling US Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia a homophobe during an interview with 365gay.com. When discussing gay marriage, Frank said he believed the issue would eventually make its way to the US Supreme Court, but said he wouldn’t want it to go there now because “that homophobe Antonin Scalia has got too many votes on this current court.”

Now, some of you may disagree and follow the reasoning that Scalia isn’t anti-gay, just anti-progressive. He’s a firm believer that the US Constitution is not a living document and it should be strictly construed as written in 1781 because, well, things just haven’t really changed that much since then, have they? And of course, everyone knows there were no gay people until the mid-20th century, around the same time those pesky blacks wanted their right to eat at the same table as whites.

If you really want proof that Scalia is a homophobe, all you have to do is read his scathing dissent in Lawrence v. Texas, the seminal 2003 case that struck down sodomy laws and affirmed gay citizens’ right to privacy denied to us by the hateful 1986 case Bowers v. Hardwick. In Lawrence, Scalia compared homosexuality to bigamy, incest, prostitution, and bestiality. He also said homosexuality was contagious and that teachers could induce their students to become gay. He accused the Court of “signing on to the so-called homosexual agenda”. Scalia has said publicly that he considers being gay an “immoral lifestyle choice”.

I guess it’s a measure of progress that American bigots get upset nowadays if they’re identified as bigots. The United States has no more racism, no misogyny, no homophobes, no xenophobia.

In your dreams.

Vaccine to prevent colon cancer starting human tests

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have begun testing a vaccine that might be able to prevent colon cancer in people at high risk for developing the disease. If shown to be effective, it might spare patients the risk and inconvenience of repeated invasive surveillance tests, such as colonoscopy, that are now necessary to spot and remove precancerous polyps…

In a novel approach for cancer prevention, the Pitt vaccine is directed against an abnormal variant of a self-made cell protein called MUC1, which is altered and produced in excess in advanced adenomas and cancer. Vaccines currently in use to prevent cancer work via a different mechanism, specifically by blocking infection with viruses that are linked with cancer. For example, Gardasil protects against human papilloma virus associated with cervical cancer and hepatitis B vaccine protects against liver cancer.

“By stimulating an immune response against the MUC1 protein in these precancerous growths, we may be able to draw the immune system’s fire to attack and destroy the abnormal cells,” Dr. Schoen said. “That might not only prevent progression to cancer, but even polyp recurrence.”

According to co-investigator Olivera Finn, Ph.D., MUC1 vaccines have been tested for safety and immunogenicity in patients with late-stage colon cancer and pancreatic cancer.

Patients were able to generate an immune response despite their cancer-weakened immune systems,” she noted. “Patients with advanced adenomas are otherwise healthy and so they would be expected to generate a stronger immune response. That may be able to stop precancerous lesions from transforming into malignant tumors.”

About a dozen people have received the experimental vaccine so far, and the researchers intend to enroll another 50 or so into the study.

If it’s going to help some of us live longer and better, I’m all for it. Let the spookier ethicists talk to themselves over in the corner. I think if and when treatments like this become common, individuals can make up their own minds about opting in.

Morgan Stanley executive guilty of fraud and conspiracy

A former executive director and head of domestic securities lending for Morgan Stanley has been convicted of securities fraud conspiracy.

Darin Demizio, who also was convicted of wire fraud and making a false statement to the FBI after a weeklong trial, faces up to 25 years on the fraud counts and five years on the false statement count.

The conviction is the 29th stemming from an ongoing industry-wide investigation into allegations of bribery and kickbacks in the securities lending industry, also called the “stock-loan” industry, the U.S. Justice Department said.

The department said 28 defendants previously pleaded guilty in Brooklyn, including former lending traders at A.G. Edwards and Sons Inc.; Janney Montgomery Scott LLC; JP Morgan Chase; Kellner Dileo & Co. Inc.; Oppenheimer & Co. Inc.; Morgan Stanley; National Investors Services, also known as TD Waterhouse; Nomura Securities International Inc.; Pax Clearing Corp.; PFPC Worldwide; Schonfeld Securities and Van der Moolen Specialists.

What was that about “birds of a feather”?

Teacher charged with making boy eat banana

Authorities say a Fairfield, Conn., teacher has been charged with making a 5-year-old eat a banana from a garbage can.

Anne O’Donnell, 67, is charged with risk of injury to a minor, a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison, The (Bridgeport) Connecticut Post reported Tuesday.

O’Donnell, who appeared in court with her lawyer Monday, allegedly retrieved a unpeeled banana discarded by the boy, peeled it and told him to eat it, which he did, said a police report on the March 12 incident at the Park City Magnet School.

O’Donnell has been placed on medical leave pending the outcome of the case, said her lawyer, Robert Berke, noting his client had been “well respected in the classroom for years and is now being portrayed as a monster.”

The boy was so traumatized he now becomes physically ill when it is time to go to school, said his mother, Latoya McLean.

The boy is an idiot. His mother is an idiot. The coppers in Fairfield have always been idiots. The school system in Fairfield stopped trying to teach anything approximately in 1960.

Mind your pees and queues

Daylife/Reuters Pictures

A world record in the length of a queue to a toilet was set on Sunday when 756 people lined up to a latrine in central Brussels to raise awareness for the need for clean water on World Water Day.

The event was organized by the United Nations’ children’s agency UNICEF which gave each participant a wristband with his or her number in the line and T-shirt certifying participation in the event.

“The latrine was of the same design as we use in third world countries — a dry latrine — and we formed the longest queue this morning,” UNICEF spokesman Benoit Melebeck said.

“The Guinness Book of Records told us we needed to get at least 500 people in the queue to get the record,” he said.

Melebeck said the event was to raise public awareness and eventually funds for the need for more pumps, wells, latrines hygiene education for children in third world countries.

Come to think of it, I did a post about this a while back. The toilet, that is.

Here’s the post about Bindeshwar Pathak, the advocate of toilets for all – in India.