By Irene Klotz CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - An unmanned Falcon 9 rocket developed by Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, blasted off on Tuesday to put its first commercial satellite into orbit, staking a potentially game-changing claim in a global industry worth nearly $190 billion a year. The 22-story rocket lifted off from its seaside launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 5:41 p.m. EST/2241 GMT. Perched on top of the rocket was a 7,000-pound (3,175 kg) communications satellite owned by Luxembourg-based SES S.A., which operates a 54-satellite fleet, the world's second-largest. "I'd like to thank SES for taking a chance on SpaceX," company founder and chief executive Elon Musk posted on Twitter an hour before the launch.
China launched its first ever extraterrestrial landing craft into orbit en route for the moon in the small hours of Monday, in a major milestone for its space program. The Chang'e-3 lunar probe, which includes the Yutu or Jade Rabbit buggy, blasted off on board an enhanced Long March-3B carrier rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in China's southwestern Sichuan province at 1:30 a.m. (12.30 p.m. EDT). President Xi Jinping has said he wants China to establish itself as a space superpower, and the mission has inspired pride in China's growing technological prowess. If all goes smoothly, the rover will conduct geological surveys and search for natural resources after the probe touches down on the moon in mid-December as China's first spacecraft to make a soft landing beyond Earth.
By Shyamantha Asokan NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's first mission to Mars left Earth's orbit early on Sunday, clearing a critical hurdle in its journey to the red planet and overtaking the efforts in space of rival Asian giant China. The success of the spacecraft, scheduled to orbit Mars by next September, would carry India into a small club, which includes the United States, Europe and Russia, whose probes have orbited or landed on Mars. India's venture, called Mangalyaan, faces more hurdles on its journey to Mars. "While Mangalyaan takes 1.2 billion dreams to Mars, we wish you sweet dreams!" India's space agency said in a tweet soon after the event, referring to the citizens of the world's second-most populous country.
By Irene Klotz CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - The last vestiges of Comet ISON are fading from view after a sizzlingly close encounter with the sun, scientists said on Monday. "Comet ISON is now just a cloud of dust," astronomer Tony Phillips wrote on SpaceWeather.com, a NASA-backed website. "Experienced astrophotographers might be able to capture the comet's fading ?ghost' in the pre-dawn sky of early December, but a naked-eye spectacle is out of the question," he wrote. Scientists believe the comet broke apart as it passed through the sun's corona on Thursday.
Reed Elsevier's Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT)journal, which published the study by the French researcher Gilles-Eric Seralini in September 2012, said the retraction was because the study's small sample size meant no definitive conclusions could be reached. "Ultimately, the results presented - while not incorrect - are inconclusive, and therefore do not reach the threshold of publication for Food and Chemical Toxicology." At the time of its original publication, hundreds of scientists across the world questioned Seralini's research, which said rats fed Monsanto's GM corn had suffered tumors and multiple organ failure. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) issued a statement in November 2012 saying the study by Seralini, who was based at France's University of Caen, had serious defects in design and methodology and did not meet acceptable scientific standards. In its retraction statement, the FCT said that, in light of these concerns, it too had asked to view the raw data.
"We found that newborn sharks captured in the mid-1990s left the safety of the islands when they were between five and eight years old," biologist Kevin Feldheim, of The Field Museum in Chicago, explained in a statement. In 1995, the researchers captured, tagged and released more than 2,000 baby sharks in the lagoon in Bimini, a set of islands located 53 miles (81 kilometers) east of Miami. Samuel Gruber, president and director of the Bimini Biological Field Station Foundation, who started the project, explained that lagoon is "almost like a lake." Their slow growth rate is one of the reasons why overfishing can seriously damage shark populations.
2,500 mph: the speed attained this year by the six-passenger Virgin Galactic/Scaled Composites Spaceship Two, the first commercial spacecraft to exceed Mach 1
99 percent: the portion of American exterminators that have encountered bed bug infestations in the past year, up from only 11 percent more than 10 years ago
2015: the year Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota plan to offer a small number of hydrogen fuel-cell cars to consumers
15 gigawatt-hours: the amount of electric energy?nearly a day's output for a mid-size nuclear power plant?that has been lost since 2012 to the Tesla Model S's "vampire" power drain problem
$71 million: the amount Michelin is investing in plant-based tires
90 percent: the portion of drugs that pass animal testing, then fail in human trials (scientists are developing alternatives that equal or surpass animal-based methods)
1 foot: the length of a plug of whale earwax
4.6 feet: the height of the Samsung Roboray, an agile, bipedal robot that can 3-D-map its surroundings in real time, and thus navigate an environment without GPS
5 pounds: the weight of the MiniMAX, a portable x-ray machine that can be whisked to accidents, crime scenes, battlefields, airports, sidelines, and any other place that could benefit from on-the-spot x-ray vision
1944: the year the United States built its last battleship (check out this "How A Battleship Works" infographic from the October 1943 issue of Popular Science)
$225: the price of a tennis racquet made from the world's strongest material
70 percent: the portion of America's silent films that have been lost since the arrival of "talkies," according to a recent Library of Congress study
"You can ban drugs, but you can't ban chemistry," Mike Power, author of Drugs 2.0, explains in this talk at the HIT Hot Topics Conference. And he gives a personal, investigative story to prove it.
Governments can legislate chemicals--ban a drug, say, a stimulant or a psychedelic--but what happens when chemists make a slightly different version by mixing in a new molecule? The drug becomes, legally, something different, and for as long as it takes the government to catch up on the new substance, the drug can be sold. Power went on a quest to discover just how easy that process was, out-sourcing a version of the stimulant phenmetrazine to a Chinese lab, and in a few weeks, getting the legal version delivered to his door in the United Kingdom. The lab never even learned his name.
What's the answer to that loophole? Power offers one, but it's a slow build to how he gets there, and the video is worth watching in its entirety.
Last summer, the National Institutes of Health announced that it?s phasing out experiments on chimpanzees. All but 50 of its 451 chimps will go to sanctuaries, and it won?t breed the remainder. The change is based on its 2011 study that determined that advancements have rendered human trials, computer-based research, and genetically modified mice more scientifically useful than chimps. The U.S. is late to this. Australia, Japan, and the E.U. have already banned or limited experiments on great apes in medical research. But the science community should take it further. We should work to end all animal testing for good.
It?s not just a moral question. Ethics aside, there are plenty of scientific reasons to push away from animal testing. The most important is that animal-based methods are being equaled or surpassed by other means. And the result is better science overall. Over the last 10 years, we?ve started replacing rodents with human cells in drug toxicity tests. But the biggest hurdle is probably testing efficacy: how well a drug treats a medical condition. A common tack is to genetically manipulate mice to imitate human diseases, but human and mouse genes still behave differently. In part because of this, 90 percent of drugs that pass animal testing then fail in human trials.
Organs on a chip are one alternative. The thumb- size devices combine a thin layer of human cells with microchips that pump bloodlike fluid through them. At Harvard?s Wyss Institute, researchers have built a human gut-on-a-chip that replicates intestinal muscular contractions and a lung-on-a-chip with air-sac and capillary cells that exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide. The pseudo-lung can get infected and mimic complicated diseases such as chemotherapy-induced pulmonary edema. The institute is also working on chips for bone marrow, heart, and even brain tissue.
Computer models can help replace animals too. In the relatively new field of systems biology, scientists are making digital maps that simulate entire systems of the human body, down to the molecule. The Center for Systems Biology at the University of Iceland recently finished modeling all the chemical interactions of human metabolism and is starting on the blood. Last year, researchers at the University of California at San Francisco used a computer to predict negative side effects in on-market drugs with about 50 percent accuracy. That accuracy will only get better.
Human studies are also getting stronger. Lab animals are usually genetically identical clones, but people have lots of DNA differences that can affect how a drug works. For example, in 2010 it was discovered that the popular heart-attack-prevention drug Plavix is less effective for nearly one in three patients because of variances in their metabolisms. Now, gene tests can help doctors choose whether or not to prescribe it, and similar tests could do the same for other drugs. By relying on cloned animals and cells, we?ve probably been screening out helpful medicines before they even get to human trials.
Some animal testing will remain scientifically necessary for a long time. Studying visual perception, for example, requires a working eyeball connected to a brain (until a computer perfectly mimics it). But the more research options we create, the better science we?ll have.
This article originally appeared in the December 2013 issue of Popular Science.
Between this penguin and this eagle, it has been a good week for incidental animal selfies. Travel company G Adventures set up a GoPro camera on a visit to Antarctica, when a penguin apparently decided to examine the equipment more closely.
Yes, yes. Cute. But did you know, as I just learned, that penguins have spiny tongues for trapping wiggly fish and devouring them? That is evil, penguins, and makes this photo 80 percent more diabolical.
Brown cows may not actually make chocolate milk, but pink silkworms do produce pink skeins of silk, a team of scientists has discovered. To see if they could produce pre-dyed silk?silk that comes colored, straight from the source?the team fed ordinary silkworms mulberry leaves that had been sprayed with fabric dyes. Out of seven tested dyes, only one worked, producing a thread that reminded me of pink-dyed hair.
And yes, the worms themselves take on some color before they weave their silk cocoons. Their colorful diets did not affect their growth, the team, which included engineers and biologists from the CSIR-National Chemical Laboratory in India, reports in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering. (The researchers didn't look too deeply into how the dyes affected the silkworms' health. After all, silkworms die when people harvest their silk.)
The team investigated dyeing silk this way because coloring fabric normally uses enormous amounts of fresh water. The water gets contaminated with dangerous chemicals in the process, requiring costly treatment before factories can dump it back into waterways?or wreaking havoc when factory owners dodge cleanup rules.
Dyeing silk directly by feeding silkworms would eliminate those water-washing steps. Scientists are just starting to study this idea, however, it remains to be seen if it's commercially viable. In this experiment, the Indian team tested seven azo dyes, which are cheap and popular in the industry.
The scientists found different dyes moved through silkworms' bodies differently. Some never made it into the worms' silk at all. Others colored the worms and their cocoons, but the color molecules settled mostly in the sticky protein the worms add to their cocoons. That sticky stuff gets washed away before the silk is turned into fabric. Only one dye, named "direct acid fast red," showed up in the final, washed silk threads. By the time it made it there, it was a pleasant, light pink.