Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Daily Collegian

The Daily Collegian

Best (And Worst) Mars Landings Ever | Red Planet & Mars Exploration | Mars Missions, Mars Probes |

Best (And Worst) Mars Landings Ever | Red Planet & Mars Exploration | Mars Missions, Mars Probes |

Cosmic Log - Device may find Martians in us all

Cosmic Log - Device may find Martians in us all

Are We All Martians?

Are Earthlings From Mars? New Tool May Reveal Your Alien Ancestry

Date: 23 March 2011 Time: 03:31 PM ET
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Monday, March 28, 2011

NASA's Trip To Mars Is Mission Improbable As Per The FT Of London

Nasa’s trip to Mars is mission improbable

Edited by Clive Cookson
Published: March 18 2011 22:07 | Last updated: March 18 2011 22:07
Simulation of the proposed mission to Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa (foreground)
To boldly go – or not: simulation of the proposed mission to Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa 
Planetary scientists have issued their official wish list for unmanned space missions to explore the solar system over the next decade. Top priority of the report from the US National Academy of Sciences is robotic exploration of Mars. The second mission on the list is a visit to Jupiter’s icy moon Europa and its subsurface ocean – seen as one of the most promising environments in the solar system for supporting life. Third priority would be a mission to investigate the interior structure, atmosphere and composition of the outer planet Uranus, one of the least understood large bodies in the solar system.
The 400-page report is the result of a thorough review of the options by 17 senior planetary scientists. It will carry great weight with its sponsor, the US space agency Nasa. But whether it turns out to be a practical guide for Nasa to plan future missions – or a fantasy list – depends on how much money the agency receives from the US Congress for space science.
Latest signals from the Washington budgetary process are not encouraging. The report was prepared on the basis of Nasa’s 2011 budget, which has still not been enacted as a result of the Obama administration’s fiscal standoff with Congress. The proposed 2012 budget gives considerably less money to space science. “Our recommendations are science-driven, and they offer a balanced mix of missions – large, medium and small – that have the potential to greatly expand our knowledge of the solar system,” says Steven Squyres of Cornell University, who chaired the academy’s review panel. “However, in these tough economic times, some difficult choices may have to be made.”
The report says that if Nasa does not have enough money to support its three big favoured missions, then one or more of these should be delayed, scaled back or cancelled, so that the agency can continue to fund a steady stream of smaller, less expensive missions. Candidates for these include returning a sample from a comet to earth, probing Saturn’s atmosphere, landing on the surface of Venus, visiting more asteroids and putting a network of geophysical observatories on to the moon. The most expensive of the three top priorities is the Jupiter Europa Orbiter, for which an independent estimate put the price at $4.7bn. Its cost needs to come down substantially, by reducing the spacecraft’s capabilities and possibly getting the European Space Agency to contribute more, the review says.
But the Planetary Society, a leading lobby group for space science, fears that there will be no mission beyond Mars. “This is not just the loss of an American flagship mission, it is a loss to planet Earth,” says Louis Friedman, the society’s former director.
Making scents: how foxes mark territory
Thirty years of data about the movement of urban foxes has led to a new mathematical model of animal territories – which could have applications well beyond behavioural ecology.
The study at Bristol University models the complex system of individual-level interactions that determine animals’ transient territorial boundaries.
The size of a territory depends on how long the fox can exert its control before intruders cross the boundaries into its space. This involves a trade-off between two factors: the time required for a fox to move between its own boundaries and the period during which it can maintain its scent trail within the territory.
When a disease called sarcoptic mange killed most of Bristol’s foxes in the 1990s, Professor Stephen Harris noticed that as the animals in one territory died, their healthy neighbours moved in and took over within three or four days. He assumed that this was because the scent marks of the original owners were no longer fresh.
The study, published in PLoS Computational Biology, shows how important it is for a fox to renew its scent marks, further demonstrating the transient nature of territories, and contradicting the belief that scent marks serve as a longer-term indicator of boundaries.
Lead author Luca Giuggioli says the model may also “shed light on the processes responsible for the formation of territorial boundaries in early human hunter-gatherer societies, and eventually help predict how the size of modern-day countries will evolve.”
His colleague Jonathan Potts adds: “Our theoretical framework might also inspire designs in collective robotics. From very simple rules, the individuals divide space into territories, and if one individual should fail, its territory is taken over,” he says. “Building an army of territorial robots that move according to these rules could be an efficient and robust way to deal with dangerous tasks over a wide spatial area, such as clearing minefields.”
Were humanity’s first steps in the Kalahari?
The idea that modern humans originated in Africa and then migrated out to Asia and Europe more than 60,000 years ago has been conventional scientific wisdom for decades. It has been less clear where in Africa Homo sapiens first evolved from earlier hominid species.
Hens show a “clear physiological and behavioural response” when their chicks are mildly distressed by puffs of air, Bristol University researchers found. They interpreted this as the first evidence for “empathy” in birds.
Most palaeontologists have assumed that our ancestors originated in east Africa, on the basis of fossil and archaeological evidence, but the largest genomic analysis of the continent’s hunter-gatherer populations carried out so far strongly suggests the region of origin was actually southern Africa.
That conclusion emerges from a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of genetic variation in 27 African populations, including all the continent’s remaining hunter-gatherer groups.
The international team led by Marcus Feldman of Stanford University looked for changes in 650,000 chemical “letters”’ of the genetic code. They found that the “click-speaking” bushmen of the Kalahari desert in southern Africa had substantially more genetic variation than other groups including the “click-speaking” hunter-gatherer peoples of east Africa, the Hadza and Sandawe in Tanzania.
The genetic diversity of the bushmen – greater than any other group on earth in relation to their numbers – is a strong indicator that they are the closest representatives alive today of the source population from which all modern humans evolved.
Why your mother’s diet sets you up for life
Some people have long argued that you are what you eat – and a group of scientists has now provided a new twist that suggests you are also significantly what your mother ate, writes Andrew Jack. Researchers at Cambridge University showed that pregnant female rats which were malnourished by restricting their protein intake gave birth to offspring more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
The findings, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, demonstrated that the gene Hnf4a, already known to play an important role in the development of the pancreas and the production of insulin, was regulated by maternal diet, exacerbating modifications to DNA.
“It is remarkable that maternal diet can mark our genes so they remember events in very early life,” said Miguel Constancia, senior co-author on the paper. Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, which jointly funded the study, said: “A mother’s diet may sometimes alter the control of certain genes in her unborn child. It’s no reason for expectant mothers to be unduly worried. This research doesn’t change our advice that pregnant women should try to eat a healthy, balanced diet.”
Of course the study was conducted in rats, so there are questions about how far the same effect would be translated into humans. But if mother already knows best, she now knows a little bit more about precisely why eating sensibly makes sense.

Sex On Mars


NASA Must Study Space Sex, Scientist Says

By Loren Grush
Published January 12, 2011
Forget the mile-high club. Who's joined the million-mile high club?
NASA has always been silent on the subject of sex in space -- which makes people all the more curious. How would it work? Has anyone done it before? Can a child be conceived in zero-G? With few animal tests and (virtually no human testing), there’s been next to no scientific analysis of the issue. 
Until now.
The Journal of Cosmology has published a special issue detailing the mission to Mars, which touches all the bases. In a chapter titled “Sex on Mars,” Dr. Rhawn Joseph from the Brain Research Laboratory in California discusses everything from the social conditions that would push astronauts to have sex to the possibility of the first child being born on another planet.
Such an infant would be the first real Martian -- at least by nationality.
“Human beings are sexual,” Joseph told “They think about it a lot. So if you’re on a trip to Mars, it’s going to be dark out, you’ll be in a long period of isolation, and there’s not going to be a lot to do. There’s a definite possibility that it could happen.”
The Journal estimates that overall, a Mars expedition would take at least two years to complete: nine months to travel to the red planet, at least three months to remain for study, and then nine months to return, if a return trip were possible. Joseph says that given such a lengthy time period for the trip, emotional bonds between the astronauts are likely to form -- and it would be unwise not to anticipate them acting on those bonds.
Since no one has officially come forth to say that they’ve had sex in space just yet (Joseph says he’s heard rumors of a married couple “sealing the deal” on the International SpaceStation), Joseph based much of his research on Earthly scenarios with similar conditions.
“The Antarctic is comparable to space: It’s extremely cold down there and you spend a lot of time indoors. So NASA and lot of organizations think that’s a great analog to what it’ll be like on Mars,” Joseph told “And we see that researchers will go down there for extended periods of time in these extremely hostile conditions, and women will get pregnant. It’s just part of normal behavior.”
If astronauts are having sex, what are the chances of conceiving a child? The chapter details the possible effects of anti-gravity on menstruation and fertility, as well as the significance of a child born on Mars. Not unlike Stranger in a Strange Land, the landmark 1961 book about a human raised on Mars, Joseph believes that if it’s possible to give birth on the red planet, then we could see the development of the first “Martians” many years down the road.
“On Mars, the light’s going to be different, the gravity will be different, it’s a completely different atmosphere,” he told “So if you put an infant on Mars, they would adapt to varying degrees of the new environment." 
"And after several generations, you’d have a new species,” he said.
NASA does not take a position on sex in space. According to the “Astronaut Code of Professional Responsibility,” astronauts are expected to adhere to “a constant commitment to honorable behavior,” but NASA won’t go much further than that. Michael Finneran, a spokesman for NASA Langley Research Center, issued a simple statement about Joseph’s essay to
“Since it’s not a NASA publication, and NASA is not currently engaged in any initiatives to colonize Mars, and NASA’s not conducting any research on sex or reproduction in space or on Mars, we are unable to provide a comment on the matter,” Finneran told
Lana Tao, editor for the Journal of Cosmology, reiterated this sentiment and the controversy surrounding the topic, noting that Dr. Joseph’s chapter had to be revised three times due to the sensitivity of the subject matter.
“I participated in a conference at NASA headquarters in Langley that was supposed to last 30 minutes but went on for hours,” Tao told “Every chapter and every topic covered in the [special issue] was discussed, except one: sex. Instead, only those aspects of ‘colonizing Mars’ mentioned in the Sex on Mars chapter, were discussed."
"It's like TV shows from the 1970s where married couples sleep in separate twin beds, and women have babies but never show any signs of pregnancy,” she added.
So if NASA is looking to avoid any complications that would come with astronaut procreation, Dr. Joseph suggests sending two separate spacecrafts -- one containing only males and one containing only females -- or sending only married couples to Mars. 
But first and foremost, he believes in being prepared.
“Send husbands and wives into space to have sex and do studies on it. It’s got to be done if the long range goal is to go to other planets,” Joseph told “Science marches on.”

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