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Citizen Scientists Discover Yellow “Space Balls”

Citizen scientists scanning images from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, an orbiting infra-red observatory, recently stumbled upon a new class of curiosities that had gone largely unrecognized before: yellow balls.

“The volunteers started chatting about the yellow balls they kept seeing in the images of our galaxy, and this brought the features to our attention,” said Grace Wolf-Chase of the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.

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A new ScienceCast video examines “yellow balls” and their role in star formation. Play it

The Milky Way Project is one of many “citizen scientist” projects making up the Zooniverse website, which relies on crowdsourcing to help process scientific data.  For years, volunteers have been scanning Spitzer’s images of star-forming regions—places where clouds of gas and dust are collapsing to form clusters of young stars.  Professional astronomers don’t fully understand the process of star formation; much of the underlying physics remains a mystery. Citizen scientists have been helping by looking for clues.

Before the yellow balls popped up, volunteers had already noticed green bubbles with red centers, populating a landscape of swirling gas and dust. These bubbles are the result of massive newborn stars blowing out cavities in their surroundings. When the volunteers started reporting that they were finding objects in the shape of yellow balls, the Spitzer researchers took note.

Auroras Underfoot (signup)

The rounded features captured by the telescope, of course, are not actually yellow, red, or green—they just appear that way in the infrared, color-assigned images that the telescope sends to Earth. The false colors provide a way to humans to talk about infrared wavelengths of light their eyes cannot actually see.

“With prompting by the volunteers, we analyzed the yellow balls and figured out that they are a new way to detect the early stages of massive star formation,” said Charles Kerton of Iowa State University, Ames. “The simple question of ‘Hmm, what’s that?’ led us to this discovery.”

A thorough analysis by the team led to the conclusion that the yellow balls precede the green bubbles, representing a phase of star formation that takes place before the bubbles form.

“Basically, if you wind the clock backwards from the bubbles, you get the yellow balls,” said Kerton.

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An artist’s concept shows how “yellow balls” fit into the process of star formation.

Researchers think the green bubble rims are made largely of organic molecules called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). PAHs are abundant in the dense molecular clouds where stars coalesce. Blasts of radiation and winds from newborn stars push these PAHs into a spherical shells that look like green bubbles in Spitzer’s images. The red cores of the green bubbles are made of warm dust that has not yet been pushed away from the windy stars.

How do the yellow balls fit in?

“The yellow balls are a missing link,” says Wolf-Chase. They represent a transition “between very young embryonic stars buried in dense, dusty clouds and slightly older, newborn stars blowing the bubbles.”

Essentially, the yellow balls mark places where the PAHs (green) and the dust (red) have not yet separated. The superposition of green and red makes yellow.

So far, the volunteers have identified more than 900 of these compact, yellow features.  The multitude gives researchers plenty of chances to test their hypotheses and learn more about the way stars form.

Meanwhile, citizen scientists continue to scan Spitzer’s images for new finds. Green bubbles.  Red cores.  Yellow balls.  What’s next?  You could be the one who makes the next big discovery.  To get involved, go to zooniverse.org and click on “The Milky Way Project.”


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Killer seals develop a taste for shark guts

THAT shark’s fate is sealed. A seal has been spotted turning ecological roles upside-down by killing and eating blue sharks. If this turnabout proves common, ecologists might need to reassess the role of seals in marine ecosystems.

Chris Fallows, a dive-boat operator in Cape Town, South Africa, was photographing 10 blue sharks underwater when a young male Cape fur seal arrived and chased and killed five of them, eating their intestines (African Journal of Marine Science, doi.org/268).

Ordinarily, seals and blue sharks, which are roughly the same size, both prey on much smaller fish, squid and other marine life. Several species of seal also feed on smaller sharks, and blue sharks have been seen pursuing – though not catching – fur seals.

Fallows’s observations are the first time anyone has seen seals preying on such large sharks, says Hugues Benoit of the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Moncton, New Brunswick.

Seal attack <i>(Image: Chris Fallows)</i>

Benoit suspects this behaviour is more common than anyone realises. By chowing down on their competitors, seals could alter ocean food webs in unexpected ways, he says. If seals help hold down shark populations, for example, it could boost populations of smaller fish.

If so, fisheries biologists may need to take that into account in managing fish populations.


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Future ruin: Can we design our way out of eco-crisis?

One Central Park in Sydney (Image: James D. Morgan/REX)

Event: Designs of the Year 2015, Design Museum, London

In friendly competition with Percy Bysshe Shelley, the poet Horace Smith once wrote a poem entitled Ozymandias. Shelley’s version is the one we remember, but Smith’s is compelling for another reason. He imagines a hunter traipsing through the ruins of a future London. Lighting upon a fragment of a monument, he “stops to guess/What powerful but unrecorded race/Once dwelt in that annihilated place”.

This year’s Designs of the Year competition has its monumental entries, but even the most grandiloquent of the 76 nominations at least tips its hat to the idea that the world will not sustain another great ruin, or may end up our next great ruin, unless we respond more cleverly to our environment.

Jean Nouvel’s One Central Park in Sydney, Australia, towers above its architectural competitors, literally. Clad in climbing plants by Patrick Blanc, the leading designer of vertical gardens, One Central’s overriding purpose seems to be to apologise for its very existence.

There is even a motorised heliostat mounted on a cantilever near the roof, to erase the building’s shadow. The arrangement looks terrifying in photographs, suggesting the 50-metre-high moon towers of the 19th century when towns experimented with civic lighting.

Giant pot plants

In Ho Chi Minh City, a project called House for Trees eschews apology for action, albeit of a most eccentric sort. Here, high-density living units double as gigantic containers for tropical trees. Come the rains, a sufficient number of these properties could reduce the risk of urban flooding. At least, so claim architects Vo Trong Nghia, although it sounds like special pleading to me – an alibi for the strange green dream they’re weaving, of wandering lost among giant plant pots.

(Image: PITCHAfrica)

Where rains are few, a more down to earth aesthetic holds sway.PITCHAfrica’s Waterbank Campus is a 10-acre school site in Laikipia, Kenya, where 4 acres of irrigated conservation agriculture are fed by 7 low-cost buildings, designed to collect and store what little precipitation there is.

PITCHAfrica’s vision extends beyond unassuming architecture to provide resources like clean water, food and sanitation on-site for its students, in the hope they will spread the word about how to manage scarce resources at home.

This vision, of an artificial “ecosystem capable of empowering and transforming communities”, is shared by a great many of the show’s “technical fix” entries. Take the Blue Diversion toilet. This project, led by the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is an all-in-one sanitation, fertiliser, drinking-water and biogas solution. In this cheap, ugly, blue plastic toilet, nothing is wasted &ndahs; not even sunlight; there’s a small solar panel on its roof.

Sticking-plaster solution

Other ideas plug in to the smog and mess of cities, and try to make daily life a little more bearable. At the University of Engineering and Technology, Lima, Peru, researchers have invented a billboard that purifies the air in a five-block radius, scrubbing it clean of construction dust and 99 per cent of airborne bacteria – it would take 1200 trees to do the equivalent work, says the team.

Another entry, The Ocean Cleanup, designed by Erwin Zwart with Boyan Slat and Jan de Sonneville, tackles the plastic garbage circulating the world’s oceans. Why not string barriers over the waves to catch the plastic as it moves around? Having raised over U$2 million through crowdfunding, the organisation plans to construct and test large-scale pilot projects.

This is technical fixery at its purest. It doesn’t prevent the oceans being littered: it is an environmental sticking plaster, permitting us to pursue business as usual. But why should designers have to carry the whole world on their shoulders? Designs like these could be part of a broader, political solution. The Ocean Cleanup’s barriers would be a fitting monument for our descendants to puzzle over.

Better, of course, to avoid collapse entirely, but it won’t be simple. It is easier for designers to ameliorate or even disguise problems, rather than to address them head on. Two projects built around the food supply demonstrate this neatly.

Failed lemons

Disclosed (Image: Alexander Gowers)

Disclosed, by Marion Ferrec at the Royal College of Art, in collaboration with Kate Wakely, is a web-based consumer service that allows you to choose products according to your health needs and ethical preferences. Lacking vast wealth, leisure and self-absorption, I won’t be using it.

But neither am I entirely persuaded by Marcel’s humorous campaign for the French supermarket giant Intermarché – a series of beautifully photographed imperfect fruits and vegetables. The idea is to shift ridiculous-looking potatoes, hideous oranges and failed lemons onto the consumer, and thereby reduce food waste. But the campaign preserves and reinforces (by price offers) the very distinction between perfect and imperfect produce that caused the problem in the first place.

It is, frankly, next to impossible to imagine how we get from a wasteful here to a sustainable there – and for that reason alone, I think Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg’s design fiction Designing for the Sixth Extinction is the poster-child of this year’s competition. Ginsberg has anatomised the ultimate disruptive enterprise, in which “nature is totally industrialized for the benefit of society”.

Although her fictional synthetic creatures are deliciously creepy (especially the “biologically-powered mobile soil bioremediation device”) it is her business model of saving our civilisation at the expense of the natural world, while replacing it with something better, that fascinates.

If Ginsberg’s vision comes to pass, our descendants won’t be able to puzzle at our monuments. Our monuments will be everywhere, all around them, and inside them.


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The 400 million year old hammer

This curious artifact was discovered in the city of London, Texas, USA, in 1934, the hammer appeared embedded inside a rock, and since its discovery, there have been many theories about its origin, and most importantly its incredible age. So how did the hammer end up embedded inside the rock? Well, for the hammer to finish inside the rock, it had to have been built before the rock was formed and that would be several of million years ago. After its discovery and due to all the questions the hammer raised, researchers decided to abandon the incredible discovery in the Somerwell Museum, in Texas.

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According to studies of the Metallurgical Institute of Columbia the inside handle underwent the process of carbonization, the head of the hammer was built with an iron purity only achievable with modern-day technology. According to analysis, the head of the hammer consists of 97 pure iron, 2 percent chlorine and 1 percent sulfur. Surprisingly researchers also found that the iron had undergone a process of purification and hardening, typical of metallurgy of the twentieth century. According to analysis, the rock encasing of the hammer was dated to the Ordovician era, more than 400 million years ago.

The portion of stone surrounding the hammer-head also presented abnormalities, seeming to have merged with some type of sheath covering the hammer. According to geologists, the slow process of petrification dates back hundreds of millions of years. This has led several ufologists and ancient astronaut theorists to a quick deduction of the context of the incredible discovery leading them to assume not only that there was a human civilization before the historical process of petrification in Texas, but that this ancient civilization already possessed the necessary technology for the fabrication of a hammer with modern features.

Evidence suggesting that the iron from the hammer might have originated from a meteorite is not a possibility according to researchers. The chemical analysis of the artifact also detected certain amounts of potassium, silicon, chlorine, calcium and sulfur. Thus, this composition contradicts the hypothesis postulated that the hammer-head belonged to the fragment of a meteorite, since the bodies of our solar system do not have that type of chemical composition.

Researchers also believe, that since the head of the hammer was found embedded into the rock, it suggest that the embedding process was performed under different atmospheric conditions to the current, different atmospheric pressure, more similar to those in the remote past.

Against the remote possibility that a meteorite with an extremely rare and bizarre chemical composition and exceptional morphology, got caught, in prehistoric times, onto a piece of wood just as the head of the discovered hammer imprisons its handle, some researchers and ancient astronaut theorists point toward the fact that our planet was inhabited in ancient times, by civilizations with advanced technical and technological capacity, of which today we only have legends, and items like this one who were trapped in rock. Unfortunately, some scientists do not agree with the theory that an ancient civilization created the hammer, and claim that it was only a metallurgical technique that had been eventually abandoned.

This extraordinary artifact belongs to the list of many other mysterious object that have been discovered across the globe, and just like the Russian “microchip” or the 300 million year old screw, this item has caused debate among researchers and historians who are divided in groups, supporting and denying the possibility that the human race is much older than previously thought.

Whether this artifact is indeed a hammer dating back hundreds of millions of years, is something that will fuel debate among supporters of the ancient astronaut theory and conventional archaeologists, who both have provided arguments explaining the origin and age of the hammer.


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290 million year old human footprint has researchers scratching their heads

Is it possible that we have history all wrong? That the dates that conventional history is giving us regarding mankind are all incorrect? That humans lived on Earth much sooner that science originally thought so? With all of the recent discoveries that are being made, it certainly seems like a possibility. A Possibility that mainstream scholars seem to have a problem with, since that would mean our history book would need to be rewritten? The origin of man and the fundamentals of religions would change a lot, and that is something that mainstream scholars cannot possibly deal with.

290 million year old footprint Ancient Code

At first this footprint might not seem like much, as you can probably come across it anywhere on Earth, but this is no ordinary footprint. You can obviously see the anatomy of it, it resembles a modern-day human foot, but the thing is, this footprint is fossilized and embedded into a stone that researchers believe is at around 290 million years old. That is a gigantic missing period of time that if proven to be accurate will change a lot of things in society as we know it today.

The discovery of the 290 million year old footprint was made in New Mexico by paleontologist Jerry MacDonald in 1987. In the vicinity of this mysterious footprint there are fossilized impressions of birds and other animals. The discovery of the human impression has left MacDonald particularly puzzled and not he or anyone who has seen and studied the impression has not been able to explain how this modern footprint could have been located in the Permian strata, which according to scholars dates from 290 to 248 million years, a time period which occurred long before man or even birds and dinosaurs existed on this planet, of course, that is according to modern science and scientific thinking.

ancient-footprint

Should we change the way we think and look at things? Or should we accept modern-day scientific thinking which suggests, there is no way that is a human footprint dating back 290 millions of years. It seems to be an ongoing debate between people who firmly believe that history is wrong, and those who point out that all of these mysterious findings are actually a hoax and have nothing to do with reality.

Is it possible that we have history all wrong? That the dates that conventional history is giving us regarding mankind are all incorrect? That humans lived on Earth much sooner that science originally thought so? With all of the recent discoveries that are being made, it certainly seems like a possibility. A Possibility that mainstream scholars seem to have a problem with, since that would mean our history book would need to be rewritten? The origin of man and the fundamentals of religions would change a lot, and that is something that mainstream scholars cannot possibly deal with.

290 million year old footprint Ancient Code

At first this footprint might not seem like much, as you can probably come across it anywhere on Earth, but this is no ordinary footprint. You can obviously see the anatomy of it, it resembles a modern-day human foot, but the thing is, this footprint is fossilized and embedded into a stone that researchers believe is at around 290 million years old. That is a gigantic missing period of time that if proven to be accurate will change a lot of things in society as we know it today.

The discovery of the 290 million year old footprint was made in New Mexico by paleontologist Jerry MacDonald in 1987. In the vicinity of this mysterious footprint there are fossilized impressions of birds and other animals. The discovery of the human impression has left MacDonald particularly puzzled and not he or anyone who has seen and studied the impression has not been able to explain how this modern footprint could have been located in the Permian strata, which according to scholars dates from 290 to 248 million years, a time period which occurred long before man or even birds and dinosaurs existed on this planet, of course, that is according to modern science and scientific thinking.

ancient-footprint

Should we change the way we think and look at things? Or should we accept modern-day scientific thinking which suggests, there is no way that is a human footprint dating back 290 millions of years. It seems to be an ongoing debate between people who firmly believe that history is wrong, and those who point out that all of these mysterious findings are actually a hoax and have nothing to do with reality.