Lift-off for British demo satellites

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SoyuzSeven satellites were loaded into the Soyuz rocket

Two British spacecraft, including the first satellite made in Scotland, have launched to orbit.

The pair were sent up on a Soyuz rocket from Baikonur in Kazakhstan.

TechDemoSat-1 was prepared in Guildford by Surrey Satellite Technology Limited, with the assembly of UKube-1 undertaken at Clyde Space in Glasgow.

Both platforms will trial innovative components, sensors and instruments that their producers hope can go on to win future business.

TDS-1 and UKube-1 have emerged from government-backed programmes designed to spur growth in the British space sector.

Ministers have identified satellites as one of their “eight great technologies” that can help rebalance the economy.

Lift-off for the Soyuz occurred on schedule at 21:58 local time (16:58 BST).

Confirmation that the UK missions are safely in orbit is not expected until about 19:30 BST.

They are actually secondary payloads on the flight; its main purpose is to launch a Russian meteorological satellite, Meteor-M2.

TechDemoSat-1 is the bigger of the British duo at 157kg.

Among its demonstration systems is a suite of instruments to study “space weather” – the storm of charged particles, mostly from our Sun, that envelop the Earth. These particles can prove problematic – and even limit the life of – spacecraft systems.

TDS-1 also carries an innovative approach to monitoring the state of the ocean surface. It works this out by looking at how GPS signals are scattered off the water.

UKube-1 is much smaller than its “English brother”. The Scottish platform weighs just 3.5kg. But, again, it holds some smart technologies that their developers want to prove in orbit.

UKube-1UKube-1 will be taking pictures of the Earth using a new imaging sensor

Among them is a new imaging sensor that will be used to take pictures of the planet, and a smart device that aims to generate random numbers by detecting impacts from space particles. Such a device might in the future form the basis of much more secure satellite communications.

Public funding for TDS-1 has come in large part from the government’s Technology Strategy Board.

The UKube-1 project has been administered by the UK Space Agency.

But both SSTL and Clyde Space have invested their own cash in the ventures as well.

For Clyde Space, this is already paying dividends.

“This has been important for the development of our company,” said sales manager Robin Sampson. “This has helped us mature into a complete satellite platform provider.

“Previously, we’ve tended to supply mainly spacecraft sub-systems, but this will be the first time we’ve put an entire satellite together to go into orbit. And already we’ve got more platform orders on our books,” he told BBC News.

The intention is that UKube becomes a repeat programme. There should soon be an announcement on a UKube-2.

SSTL hopes the same will be true for TechDemoSat.

“A lot of people want to see TDS-1 work first, but we will continue to push for an ongoing programme,” said the company’s Doug Liddle.

TDS-1TDS-1 will deploy a large sail at the end of its mission to help bring it out of orbit promptly

“If you could guarantee a series of launches, it would be an extremely powerful tool for RD and British industry.

“If it were like a timetable, like catching a bus, you could plan your developments much better. It’s been shown to work for academia, for research programmes, and for commercial operators.

“To have that for demonstration satellites as a national capability would be a fantastic thing.”

Among the seven missions on Tuesday’s Soyuz flight was SkySat-2 – the second Earth observer for California’s Skybox Imaging. The company, which is making snatches of video of the Earth’s surface, hit the headlines last month when it was purchased by Google for $500m.

One satellite not sent up was M3M. This Canadian platform was pulled from the manifest in April by the North American country’s government amid the row over Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

UKube-1UKube-1 is the first satellite to be fully assembled in Scotland

Jonathan.Amos-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk and follow me on Twitter: @BBCAmos

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-28200846#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

Memories ‘need space’ in brain

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human hippocampusThe study concerns a sub-region of the hippocampus (red), which itself is a small but crucial brain area

Similar memories overlap physically in the brain and this produces less confusion if the brain area responsible is larger, according to new research.

Scientists scanned the brains of 15 people recalling four similar scenes, in a study published in PNAS.

They spotted overlapping memory traces in a specific corner of the hippocampus called “CA3″, a known memory area.

If their CA3 was bigger, the subjects were less confused and there was less overlap in the traces.

Most of us store many similar memories, relating to the places we spend most time and the people we know best. Normally we can tell them apart, though some of us may be better at it than others.

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote

A larger CA3 may contain more neurons or more connections between neurons, which could allow greater physical separation of the different memory traces”

End Quote
Dr Martin Chadwick
Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, UCL

The CA3 region was thought to process each memory using distinct sets of brain cells. These findings suggest, however, that when two episodes incorporate similar content, they may in fact be “remembered” by physically overlapping networks – and more space could be beneficial.

“Our results may help to explain why we sometimes find it difficult to differentiate between similar past memories, and why some people are better at doing this than others,” said Prof Eleanor Maguire, the study’s senior author, from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London (UCL).

The 15 subjects watched four short movies, showing two different actions happening in each of two different places. They were then prompted to remember each one, 20 times over, inside a brain scanner.

Scans revealed distinguishable memory activity in the CA3 region, but not three other compartments of the hippocampus. Importantly, the four different memory traces showed significant overlap.

Furthermore, that overlap was more apparent in people who said they were more confused by the similarities between the four memories.

Greater capacity

The scans combined fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) with detailed structural measurements of each brain, so as well as getting a read-out of brain activity, the team could measure the exact size of each person’s CA3.

That was how they discovered that the size of this region, relative to the rest of the hippocampus, affected both the amount of overlap in the traces and the level of people’s confusion.

“A larger CA3 may contain more neurons or more connections between neurons, which could allow greater physical separation of the different memory traces,” Dr Martin Chadwick, who conducted the experiments, told BBC News.

Although overall brain size is not related to different individuals’ mental abilities (Einstein’s brain was smaller than average), the relative dimensions of different components have been linked to various characteristics.

hippocampus brain tissueThe populations of cells that process each memory in the hippocampus may overlap

An earlier study by Prof Maguire famously showed that as they hone their impressive mental street maps and navigational ability, London cab drivers develop a larger hippocampus, on average, than the rest of us.

Dr Hugo Spiers, a neuroscience lecturer at UCL who was not involved in the research, described the new paper as a “really useful” addition to that classic finding. “[The hippocampus] is quite a lot of brain,” he told the BBC. “What they’ve now found is that this particular bit within it, the CA3, which is a very exciting bit of the brain, is larger in some people.”

“The taxi driver study is about the overall size being related to navigating a big city, but that’s very different to remembering what each of you said in an argument you had with your partner the other day. Most of us are really bad at that – it ends up as ‘You said this’ ‘No I said that’ – it might be the size of CA3 that influences who’s going to win that argument!”

The CA3 region is remarkable because its widespread connections to other pockets of the brain are accompanied by a vast number of interconnections within the CA3 itself. This marked it out years ago, Dr Spiers explained, as a potentially useful component for memory storage and retrieval.

“You want something to reconnect with itself a lot, to allow you to retrieve rapidly stored memories – but it’s got a limit,” he said.

“We’ve got a better understanding, from this new work, about what this particularly important bit of the memory circuitry is doing.”

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-28209477#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

Giant bird’s fossil identified

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Artist impression of Pelagornis sandersiThe giant bird would have been an elegant flier, able to soar across the ancient ocean in search of food

The fossilised remains of the largest flying bird ever found have been identified by scientists.

This creature would have looked like a seagull on steroids – its wingspan was between 6.1 and 7.4m (20-24ft).

The find is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The 25m-year-old fossil was unearthed 30 years ago in South Carolina, but it has taken until now to identify that this is a new species.

Continue reading the main story

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It would have been fast and very efficient”

End Quote
Daniel Ksepka
Bruce Museum

Daniel Ksepka, curator of science at the Bruce Museum in Connecticut, said: “This fossil is remarkable both for the size, which we could only speculate on before the discovery, and for the preservation.

“The skull in particular is exquisite.

“And given the delicate nature of the bones… it is remarkable that the specimen made it to the bottom of the sea, became buried without being destroyed by scavengers, fossilised, and then was discovered before it was eroded or bulldozed away.”

The researchers believe this huge bird surpasses the previous recorder-holder, Argentavis magnificens – a condor-like bird from South America with an estimated wingspan of 5.7-6.1m (19-20ft) that lived about six million years ago.

Reconstruction of Pelagornis sandersi with a California Condor (lower left) and Royal Albatross (lower right) for scaleThe bird would have dwarfed our largest living birds – the California condor (left) and the albatross (right)

Scientists have called the new giant Pelagornis sandersi. They believe it would have been twice the size of the wandering albatross, the largest living bird.

Like the albatross, it was a seabird, spending most of its time swooping above the ocean, preying on fish and squid.

Despite its scale, it would have been an elegant flier.

While theoretical models suggest that it would be tricky for a bird of this size to stay airborne by flapping its wings, researchers believe it used air currents to soar above the ocean.

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote

It could likely glide at speeds over 10m per second – faster than the human world record for the 100m dash”

End Quote
Daniel Ksepka
Bruce Museum

Its long, slender wings and light, hollow bones would have made it a powerful glider.

“It would have been fast and very efficient,” said Dr Ksepka.

“Computer models suggest that it had high lift-to-drag ratios, which would allow it to glide for a very long distance for every unit of altitude it could attain.

“It could likely glide at speeds over 10m per second – faster than the human world record for the 100m dash.”

On land, though, the seabird was probably far less graceful.

“The long wings would have been cumbersome and it would have probably spent as little time as possible walking around,” Dr Ksepka explained.

Taking off would also have been an ungainly affair.

Computer models reveal that the bird could not have taken off by simply standing still and flapping its wings.

Instead, scientists think P. sandersi might have had to waddle downhill and hope to catch a gust of air.

Huge birds like this were once common, but they vanished about three million years ago.

Scientists do not yet understand why these giants of the skies died out.

Follow Rebecca on Twitter

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-28164063#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

UK demo satellites set for launch

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SoyuzSeven satellites will launch on the Soyuz rocket

Two British spacecraft, including the first satellite made in Scotland, are due to go into orbit on Tuesday.

The pair will launch on a Soyuz rocket from Baikonur in Kazakhstan.

TechDemoSat-1 was prepared in Guildford by Surrey Satellite Technology Limited, with the assembly of UKube-1 undertaken at Clyde Space in Glasgow.

Both platforms will trial innovative components, sensors and instruments that their producers hope can go on to win future business.

TDS-1 and UKube-1 have emerged from government-backed programmes designed to spur growth in the British space sector.

Ministers have identified satellites as one of their “eight great technologies” that can help rebalance the economy.

Lift-off for the Soyuz is timed for 21:58 local time (16:58 BST).

The UK missions are actually secondary payloads on the flight; its main purpose is to launch a Russian meteorological satellite, Meteor-M2.

TechDemoSat-1 is the bigger of the British duo at 157kg.

Among its demonstration systems is a suite of instruments to study “space weather” – the storm of charged particles, mostly from our Sun, that envelop the Earth. These particles can prove problematic – and even limit the life of – spacecraft systems.

TDS-1 also carries an innovative approach to monitoring the state of the ocean surface. It works this out by looking at how GPS signals are scattered off the water.

UKube-1 is much smaller than its “English brother”. The Scottish platform weighs just 3.5kg. But, again, it holds some smart technologies that their developers want to prove in orbit.

UKube-1UKube-1 will be taking pictures of the Earth using a new imaging sensor

Among them is a new imaging sensor that will be used to take pictures of the planet, and a smart device that aims to generate random numbers by detecting impacts from space particles. Such a device might in the future form the basis of much more secure satellite communications.

Public funding for TDS-1 has come in large part from the government’s Technology Strategy Board.

The UKube-1 project has been administered by the UK Space Agency.

But both SSTL and Clyde Space have invested their own cash in the ventures as well.

For Clyde Space, this is already paying dividends.

“This has been important for the development of our company,” said sales manager Robin Sampson. “This has helped us mature into a complete satellite platform provider.

“Previously, we’ve tended to supply mainly spacecraft sub-systems, but this will be the first time we’ve put an entire satellite together to go into orbit. And already we’ve got more platform orders on our books,” he told BBC News.

The intention is that UKube becomes a repeat programme. There should soon be an announcement on a UKube-2.

SSTL hopes the same will be true for TechDemoSat.

“A lot of people want to see TDS-1 work first, but we will continue to push for an ongoing programme,” said the company’s Doug Liddle.

TDS-1TDS-1 will deploy a large sail at the end of its mission to help bring it out of orbit promptly

“If you could guarantee a series of launches, it would be an extremely powerful tool for RD and British industry.

“If it were like a timetable, like catching a bus, you could plan your developments much better. It’s been shown to work for academia, for research programmes, and for commercial operators.

“To have that for demonstration satellites as a national capability would be a fantastic thing.”

Among the seven missions on Tuesday’s Soyuz flight is SkySat-2 – the second Earth observer for California’s Skybox Imaging. The company, which is making snatches of video of the Earth’s surface, hit the headlines last month when it was purchased by Google for $500m.

One satellite not going up is M3M. This Canadian platform was pulled from the manifest in April by the North American country’s government amid the row over Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

UKube-1UKube-1 is the first satellite to be fully assembled in Scotland

Jonathan.Amos-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk and follow me on Twitter: @BBCAmos

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-28200846#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

Altitude gene ‘from extinct species’

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Tibetans

A gene that allows present-day people to cope with life at high altitude was inherited from an extinct species of human, Nature journal has reported.

The variant of the EPAS-1 gene, which affects blood oxygen, is common in Tibetans – many of whom live at altitudes of 4,000m all year round.

But the DNA sequence matches one found in the extinct Denisovan people.

Many of us carry DNA from extinct humans who interbred with our ancestors as the latter expanded out of Africa.

Both the Neanderthals – who emerged around 400,000 years ago and lived in Europe and western Asia until 35,000 years ago – and the enigmatic Denisovans contributed DNA to present-day people.

The Denisovans are known only from DNA extracted from the finger bone of a girl unearthed at a cave in central Siberia. This 40,000-50,000-year-old bone fragment, as well as a rather large tooth from another individual, are all that is known of this species.

The tiny “pinky” bone yielded an entire genome sequence, allowing scientists to compare it to the DNA of modern people in order to better understand the legacy of ancient interbreeding.

Now, researchers have linked an unusual variant of the EPAS1 gene, which is involved in regulating the body’s production of haemoglobin – the molecule that carries oxygen in the blood – to the Denisovans. When the body is exposed to the low oxygen levels encountered at high elevations, EPAS1 tells other genes in the body to become active, stimulating a response that includes the production of extra red blood cells.

The unusual variant common among Tibetans probably spread through natural selection after their ancestors moved onto the high-altitude plateau in Asia several thousand years ago.

“We have very clear evidence that this version of the gene came from Denisovans,” said principal author co-author Rasmus Nielsen, from the University of California, Berkeley.

Denisovan finger boneA tiny finger bone provided a high-quality DNA sequence for a new species – the Denisovans

He told BBC News: “If you and I go up to high altitude, we’ll immediately have various negative physiological effects. We’ll be out of breath, we might suffer from altitude sickness.

“After a little while, we’ll try to compensate for this by producing more red blood cells. But because we’re not adapted to the high altitude environment, our response would be maladaptive – we would produce too many red blood cells.

“The blood becomes too thick and raises our blood pressure, placing us at risk of stroke and pre-eclampsia (in pregnant women).”

But Tibetans are protected against these risks by producing fewer red blood cells at high altitude. This keeps their blood from thickening.

The Tibetan variant of EPAS1 was discovered by Prof Nielsen’s team in 2010. But the researchers couldn’t explain why it was so different from the DNA sequences found in all other humans today, so they looked to more ancient genome sequences for an answer.

“We compared it to Neanderthals, but we couldn’t find a match. Then we compared it to Denisovans and to our surprise there was an almost exact match,” he explained.

He says the interbreeding event with Denisovans probably happened very long ago.

“After the Denisovan DNA came into modern humans, it lingered in different Asian populations at low frequencies for a long time,” Prof Nielsen said.

“Then, when the ancestors of Tibetans moved to high altitudes, it favoured this genetic variant which then spread to the point where most Tibetans carry it today.”

He says it remains unclear whether the Denisovans were also adapted to life at high altitudes. Denisova Cave lies at an elevation of 760m – not particularly high. But it is close to the Altai Mountains which rise above 3,000m.

Prof Nielsen said it was a “clear and direct” example of humans adapting to new environments through genes acquired via interbreeding with other human species.

Previous research has shown that ancient humans introduced genes that may help us cope with viruses outside Africa.

And a study of Eurasian populations showed that Neanderthal DNA is over-represented in parts of the genome involved in making skin, hair and nails – hinting, perhaps, at something advantageous that allowed Homo sapiens to adapt to conditions in Eurasia.

Follow Paul on Twitter.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-28127785#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

Worries over ‘cruel’ elephant trade

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elephantYounger elephants are popular with tourists at trekking camps in Thailand

Wild elephants are being held in horrific conditions in Myanmar by smugglers looking to resume a lucrative trade, a report says.

It claims the animals, mainly calves, are being brutally treated as they are “tamed” for tourist camps in Thailand.

Campaigners Traffic fear a resurgence in smuggling could seriously threaten the elephant’s survival in Myanmar, also known as Burma.

They are calling on the Thai government to urgently tighten trafficking laws.

The study compiled by the wildlife monitoring network says that up to 81 live elephants were illegally captured for sale into the Thai tourist industry between 2011 and 2013.

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote

You take a wild elephant and beat it long enough and suddenly the switch goes off and you have a tame elephant”

End Quote
Dr Chris Shepherd
Traffic

The animals are mainly used to entertain foreign and domestic tourists at trekking camps.

As visitors prefer younger elephants, the value of calves has soared. The current market value is around $33,000 (£19,000) for a healthy specimen.

‘Porous’ borders

A clampdown by the Thai authorities in 2012 has succeeded in curbing much of the live trade from Myanmar.

However, according to Traffic, wild elephants continue to be trapped as smugglers believe the crackdown will end.

“We have information that dealers on the Myanmar side of the border are holding elephants, waiting for enforcement vigilance to be relaxed,” said Dr Chris Shepherd from Traffic.

“Wildlife in Myanmar is being completely hammered, by habitat loss but also by the trade. Borders are extremely porous, wildlife is being taken across all the time.”

The methods used to capture and train the elephants are particularly cruel.

Domesticated animals are used to herd wild ones into pit traps, where the older members are often shot. The younger elephants are then taken to the Thai-Myanmar border area where they are “broken in”.

elephantPit traps are used to capture young calves in Myanmar

“They are put in small log boxes and just beaten into submission,” said Dr Shepherd.

“They are a bit like a light switch – you take a wild elephant and beat it long enough and suddenly the switch goes off and you have a tame elephant.

“The welfare implications are horrendous – it is a cruel business.”

‘Laundered’ elephants

Traffic and other campaigners want to see a toughening of the laws in Thailand. If an animal is captured at the border it can be seized.

However, if the animal gets into the country there are significant loopholes. Elephants don’t have to be registered until they are eight years old, creating an opportunity for these smuggled calves to be “laundered” into the domestic population.

“Elephant populations are being depleted all over South East Asia,” said Dr Shepherd.

“By logging, being poached for their ivory and captured for trade – if you add up all these pressures, any off-take at all has a conservation impact.”

Political turmoil in Thailand over the past two years hasn’t helped the drive to strengthen the laws in the country.

Thailand made significant efforts to ban a legal trade in ivory ahead of a meeting of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) last year.

There are worries that while laws exist on the statute books, they are not always enforced.

elephantsElephants being held at a camp near the border between Myanmar and Thailand

“They clamped down and seized elephants but no-one was prosecuted,” said Joanna Cary-Elwes from the charity Elephant Family.

“Their heart is in the right place but there’s absolutely no deterrent to criminals – it is low risk and very high profit.”

She believes that tourists need greater awareness of the smuggling situation, especially at trekking facilities.

“This is a UK-relevant issue – we have a million people flocking to Thailand every year. Most don’t realise when they are posing next to a cute baby elephant what that animal has had to endure to be in a camp.”

The campaigners are hoping that a meeting of Cites in Switzerland next week will increase pressure on both Thailand and Myanmar to act.

Follow Matt on Twitter @mattmcgrathbbc.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-28161472#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

Rosetta edges towards Comet 67P

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Jonathan Amos, Science correspondent

Jonathan Amos

Science correspondent

Comet 67PAre we nearly there yet? Image taken from a distance of about 86,000km

Europe’s Rosetta spacecraft is edging ever closer to its quarry – the 4km-wide Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Thursday’s separation is just 43,000km, and the narrowing gap is evident in the probe’s latest photo release.

The new image shows the great mountain of ice now taking up several pixels, and 67P will just get bigger and bigger over the coming weeks.

Controllers at the European Space Agency are aiming to get Rosetta into orbit around the comet on 6 August.

On Wednesday, they completed successfully the latest burn on the satellite’s thrusters.

It was the fifth in a sequence of 10 that are needed to refine the final approach, bringing the probe to an eventual “miss distance” under 100km and a relative velocity that is pretty much walking pace.

The remaining burns will be done weekly, rather than fortnightly as has been the case so far.

In addition, Rosetta is now close enough that it can use its navigation cameras to plot the manoeuvres, instead of relying solely on its Osiris science camera system.

The navigation cameras will be particularly important once the probe arrives at the comet.

Rosetta will execute a pyramid-shaped orbit around the object, and it will employ the navcams to look for “landmarks” on the surface to understand where it is in space and how it is moving.

Already, the science is beginning to flow.

The probe’s Miro (Microwave Instrument for Rosetta Orbiter) spectrometer has reported the first detection of water vapour at 67P.

Miro got a view of the comet back in early June when the separation was much greater – some 360,000km. But it still managed to sense water vapour coming away from the object.

Miro detected on the order of 10 trillion, trillion molecules of water being lost every second – enough to fill a couple of those plastic cups at a water cooler.

The new image captured by Osiris covers about four pixels and was actually taken on 28 June from a distance of about 86,000 km.

I know it looks more like six or seven pixels, but that is really just the result of the physical effects of the way light is spread inside the imaging system. It is certainly not evidence of a coma. A gaseous shroud is sure to develop as the comet moves closer to the Sun and warms its ices – but it’s not there yet.

Esa has also released a little “movie” of Osiris images showing 67P rotating with a period of 12.4 hours.

Ground telescopes had previously calculated a rotation of 12.7 hours. However, it would be premature to suggest something has changed, perhaps because of activity on the comet. The different numbers may simply be a product of the different imaging systems and vantage points.

Graphic of mission

Throughout July, we’ll now get a picture a week from Osiris.

You may wonder why we won’t get them more frequently. This is tricky one.

Clearly, there is a public imperative to see more. After all, it is European taxpayers who’ve funded Rosetta: “We own it”.

That said, the scientists at the Max-Planck-Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) have invested a huge amount of time and effort in their camera system, and understandably claim intellectual primacy on its products.

If pictures were shoved out willy-nilly, so the argument goes, there’s a danger that independent researchers could spot something and publish discoveries “for free”. And this sort of thing does go on.

Within weeks of the first all-sky image from Esa’s Planck telescope being released, there were papers being published on what it purportedly contained by scientists outside the mission – and this was just with an image given to the media; its resolution and quality were far below what the Planck team had in-house.

Those papers are now long forgotten following the Planck team’s full and proper analysis, but they illustrate what can occur.

So, the limited Osiris release is the compromise that has been struck.

There is a counter-argument, of course, and you can see it every day by going to the raw image feed from the US space agency’s Curiosity rover.

Tens of pictures are downlinked every 24 hours from its cameras and put straight on the web.

You can – and I do – have a lot of fun putting these pictures into a panorama app on a smartphone to make big mosaics of Gale Crater.

This raw feed approach really started with the Spirit and Opportunity rovers a decade ago. Cassini at Saturn does something similar.

I remember in the days following Curiosity’s landing the project scientist John Grotzinger being asked if the dump of raw images risked his team being scooped on discoveries.

“So be it”, was his answer: this was how it was now done at Mars. And it is certainly true that an expectation has developed that there should be more frequent public access to space mission images.

Mars panoramaYou can have hours of fun making Mars panoramas on your smartphone

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-28146472#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

Glasgow 2014: ‘Green pledges broken’

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Hampden ParkRestrictions on polluting vehicles were originally planned around games venues such as Hampden Park

Environmentalists have accused Commonwealth Games organisers of reneging on promises to create low emission zones around venues.

Glasgow 2014 has been recognised for efforts to reduce carbon emissions, waste and promote healthy living.

But Friends of the Earth said pledges to ban the most polluting vehicles from venue areas had been broken.

Glasgow 2014 admitted vehicles fell short of low emission targets but said it was committed to sustainability.

Friends of the Earth Scotland said low emission zones – where the most polluting vehicles are restricted or discouraged – had been a key plank of environmental promises that underpinned Glasgow’s bid.

Air pollution campaigner Emilia Hanna said: “This promise has been broken.

“The zones were a key project and Glasgow won the bid for the Commonwealth Games in part because of its green promises.

“What we now know is that there will not be low emission zones during the Games.

Nextbike bikesGlasgow’s new bike hire scheme is available at six Games venues

“We were expecting restrictions covering a wide area of several streets out from each venue, but all we are getting is the existing security cordon immediately around the sites.

“Part of the legacy of the Games could have been to demonstrate for the first time in Scotland the difference that low emission zones could make to pollution.

“Any restrictions on vehicles covering such a limited area as effectively pointless.”

A Glasgow 2014 spokesman, speaking on behalf of Games partners, said it had proved challenging to procure the vehicles necessary to reach the standards required for low emission zones.

But he said that despite the “setback” they had achieved certification for sustainability on par with what was achieved at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Environmental measures include:

  • Brand new vehicles including some electric vehicles. All petrol and diesel vehicles to use low emissions fuels.
  • Active promotion of public transport. No spectator parking at venues.
  • Games tickets come with the provision of funded travel on Glasgow’s public transport network.
  • A modern fleet of low-emission temporary energy generators; and venues using mains electricity for energy provision where possible.
  • Improvement of transport links such as the Clyde Walkway and connecting the “Bridge to Nowhere”.
  • All competition venues will have bicycle parking facilities outside the venue perimeter fence

The spokesman added: “Sustainability remains at the core of our decisions and we continue to work collaboratively through the Glasgow 2014 Environment Forum, which comprises representatives from Scottish government, the Organising Committee, Glasgow City Council, and a wide range of environmental regulatory groups and non-governmental organisations.

“The forum has been satisfied that our approach across a range of key areas, including the reduction of emissions, is appropriate.”

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-28177743#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

Do people choose pain over boredom?

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empty roomHow would you cope with 15 minutes in an empty room?

People are unhappy in their own company and some prefer painful experiences to their own thoughts, a new study claims.

In one test, nearly half the subjects gave themselves mild electric shocks during 15 minutes of quiet time.

The findings, which came from shutting people away with no distractions and then quizzing them, have attracted criticism from some other researchers.

The contentious paper, in the journal Science, argues we are not very good at enjoyable, recreational thought.

Prof Timothy Wilson, who led the research at the University of Virginia, US, said: “Our study participants consistently demonstrated that they would rather have something to do than to have nothing other than their thoughts for even a fairly brief period of time.”

This might not be a surprise if you are easily bored, or have ever picked at a painful scab in a quiet moment.

In fact, other researchers in the field have said the findings are overstated.

But the authors write that the question of whether people enjoy “just thinking” has been overlooked in psychological research.

Voluntary shocks

Their work began with several trials involving university students, who were shut in a small room with blank walls and asked to sit at a table “entertaining themselves with their own thoughts”.

After six, 12 or 15 minutes, they were asked whether the time was enjoyable and whether it was difficult to concentrate. On average, their answers were near the middle of a nine-point scale or worse.

To show that this was not a problem arising from the poky laboratory room, or a character flaw unique to flighty students, other experiments required a wider pool of volunteers, aged up to 77, to complete a similar test at home, sitting at a computer. Unpoliced in their own homes, many of them “cheated” by checking their phones or listening to music.

A control group was asked to find an external distraction, alone, like watching TV or browsing the internet, and they had a much better time than those left to try to daydream.

Finally, Prof Wilson’s team did the electric shock experiment to try to find out if quiet, solo thinking was unpleasant enough that people would actually prefer something nasty to happen. Sure enough, 18 of 42 people, more of them men than women, chose to give themselves at least one mild shock on the ankle when left alone for 15 minutes.

“It was kind of like a severe static shock, it was not a huge jolt, but it was a little painful,” Prof Wilson told the BBC’s Naked Scientists programme. “They seem to want to shock themselves out of boredom, so to speak.”

boredomParticipants who did the task at home tended to “cheat” and look at their phones or listen to music

These were all people who had experienced the same shock already and declared that, if given $5, they would part with some of it in order not to be zapped again. People who didn’t think they’d pay to avoid the shock were excluded – as was one man who pushed the button 190 times.

“I’m not sure what was up with him,” Prof Wilson said.

Some UK researchers have questioned aspects of the study, including the level of shock delivered, which was higher for men than women (based on early results in which women rated shocks as more painful) but was not varied between individuals. They point to the fact that individual pain thresholds vary widely, and that hypothetical payments can exaggerate people’s answers.

Sense of purpose

Prof Wilson says he isn’t declaring humans incapable of contemplation. “I don’t want to exaggerate this. I do think that all of us, in our daily lives, do find our minds wandering to pleasant topics or thinking about something we’re looking forward to. I think what’s hard… is doing this on the spot.”

Prof Ivo Vlaev, a behavioural psychologist at Warwick University and Imperial College, London, thinks the findings are “very interesting” but the electric shocks could be over-emphasised.

“The bottom line is that they felt miserable,” he told BBC News. “Research has shown that happiness is not only about experiencing pleasure. You need a sense of meaning and purpose – which you lack in these conditions. And when you have a task to do, you do have that sense – even if it’s a simple task.”

Dr Chris Chambers, a senior research fellow at Cardiff University’s School of Psychology, was less impressed with the results.

“This is essentially a study showing that people don’t like to be bored,” he told BBC News. “How this could take up 11 experiments in a major scientific journal is a little mystifying.

“The most interesting aspect to the study is that their research subjects preferred to give themselves electric shocks rather than experience boredom. Perhaps the subjects simply did it to stay awake, and having now read the author’s paper from beginning to end I can understand their plight.”

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-28130690#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

Academics ‘Yes’ vote research fears

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Scientist with beakerThe academics claim Scotland does well under the existing system of research funding

Medical and scientific research across the UK would suffer if Scotland votes for independence, according to the heads of three academic institutions.

The claim was made by the presidents of the Royal Society, the British Academy and the Academy of Medical Sciences.

Sir Paul Nurse, Lord Stern and Sir John Tooke said scientific collaboration would be damaged by a “Yes” vote.

The Scottish government said links would continue under independence, with plans for a common research area.

Continue reading the main story

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We have a Scottish government committed to funding research, to free access to universities for residents and to attracting international students”

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Professor Bryan MacGregor
Academics for Yes spokesman

In a joint letter to The Times newspaper, the three academics also claimed that maintaining existing levels of research in Scotland would cost Scottish taxpayers more should the country leave the UK.

They wrote: “Scotland has long done particularly well through its access to UK research funding.

“If it turns out that an independent Scotland has to form its own science and research budget, maintaining these levels of research spending would cost the Scottish taxpayer significantly more.”

They went on to state that the strong links and collaborations which exist across the UK “would be put at risk”, with any new system aiming to restore these links “likely to be expensive and bureaucratic”.

The presidents wrote: “We believe that if separation were to occur, research not only in Scotland but also the rest of the UK would suffer.

“However, research in Scotland would be more vulnerable and there could be significant reductions in range, capacity and critical mass.”

International collaborations

However Academics for Yes, a pro-independence group which comprises 60 academics from Scottish universities, said a “Yes” vote would protect the country’s universities and allow research priorities to be determined.

Its spokesman, Professor Bryan MacGregor from the University of Aberdeen, said: “On the one hand, we have the UK and England contexts of cuts in research and science funding, high student fees with unsustainable loan funding, an immigration policy that is preventing and deterring international student recruitment and the possibility of an exit from the EU and its research funding.

“And, on the other, we have a Scottish government committed to funding research, to free access to universities for residents and to attracting international students.

“People may be unaware of the existing scope of international collaboration in the funding of research, not least between the UK and Ireland which have a number of agreements through the research councils, as does the UK and several other countries. And other countries do likewise.

“The European Research Council allocates billions of Euros according to quality of the research, and there are international collaborations such as CERN. Scottish independence would not make any difference to such activities.”

‘Grave concerns’

Earlier this year a group of 14 clinical academics and scientists put their names to an open letter raising “grave concerns that the country does not sleepwalk into a situation that jeopardises its present success in the highly-competitive arena of biomedical research”.

But the Scottish government, which currently provides about a third of research funds, has argued there is no reason why the current UK-wide structure for funding could not continue post-independence.

In a recent paper on the future of higher education research it argued that independence would give Scottish universities more opportunities for global collaboration and promotion.

Responding to The Times letter, a Scottish government spokesman said: “The Scottish government has already shown our commitment to research through increased investment since 2007 and we will continue to support research in an independent Scotland providing levels of public investment in university research which enable our universities to remain internationally competitive.

“With independence it will continue to be in the interest of both Scotland and the UK to collaborate as part of a single research area.

“Scotland currently contributes substantially to UK Research Councils’ funding through its share of UK tax receipts and, with independence, we will negotiate with the UK government a fair funding formula for Scotland’s contribution.

“We will also ensure there is no adverse funding impact from Scotland’s transition to independence and, indeed, believe that independence will bring opportunities for increased research funding through wider collaborations with partners in Europe and beyond, facilitated by our greater presence and profile on the world stage.”

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-28174633#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

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