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Sun's Constant Size Surprises Scientists

Dj, 13/05/2010 - 10:10
Greenbelt MD (SPX) May 13, 2010 - A group of astronomers led by the University of Hawaii's Dr. Jeff Kuhn has found that in recent times the Sun's size has been remarkably constant. Its diameter has changed by less than one part in a million over the last 12 years.

"This constancy is baffling, given the violence of the changes we see every day on the Sun's surface and the fluctuations that take place over an 11-year solar cycle," commented Kuhn, the associate director of the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy (IfA) who is responsible for Haleakala Observatories.

Kuhn's work is part of worldwide efforts to understand the influence of the Sun on Earth's climate. "We can't predict the climate on Earth until we understand these changes on the Sun," he said.

Kuhn and his colleagues (Dr. Rock Bush from Stanford, Dr. Marcelo Emilio from Brazil, and Dr. Isabelle Scholl at IfA) used NASA's long-lived Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) satellite to monitor the Sun's diameter, and they will soon repeat the experiment with much greater accuracy using NASA's new Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), which was launched on February 11.

According to Kuhn, the ultimate solution to this puzzle will depend on probing the smallest observable scales of the solar surface using the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope (ATST), which is scheduled for completion on Haleakala in 2017.

"To be able to predict what the Sun will do, we need both the big picture and the details," said Kuhn. "Just as powerful hurricanes on Earth start as a gentle breeze, the analogs of terrestrial storms on the Sun start as small kinks in the Sun's magnetic field."

Bonds And Beads Of Courage Fly On Atlantis

Dj, 13/05/2010 - 10:10
Washington DC (SPX) May 11, 2010 - Soldiers, policemen and firemen risk their lives every day serving their country or community. Each day people stumble upon accidents or jump into frozen rivers to save survivors of plane crashes. We recognize these heroes for their acts of courage; medals, decorations and other rewards are bestowed upon them by an appreciative public official or superior officer.

How do you recognize and encourage a young child fighting a battle against a life-threatening disease? A battle that is no less dangerous and harrowing? A battle where the outcome is as uncertain as the dangers faced by more well-known heroes?

You present that child with a Bead of Courage.

Jamie Newton, an employee of CIBER Inc., a support contractor at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., knows about Beads of Courage. His six-year-old daughter, Sydney, has been battling cancer for more than a year. During that time, Sydney has received more than 450 beads - each representing an entirely separate event in the process of her treatments.

"There really is no way to fully explain how the past year has affected us all; affected our family," said Newton. "It's been a really tough year. Sydney has done everything she's been asked to do and more."

Early this year, Newton developed the idea of asking NASA about the possibility of flying some very special beads for Beads of Courage Inc., of Tucson, Ariz., on one of the final space shuttle missions.

Space Beads of Courage
Beads of Courage is the organization that provides the Beads of Courage Program and other innovative, arts-in-medicine supportive care programs for children coping with serious illness, their families and the health care providers who care for them.

Together, Beads of Courage and Newton developed the idea of sponsoring a contest for the best designs of a new bead of courage. These special beads of courage would highlight the role of the space program as space beads of courage.

Newton thought "nothing could be more encouraging to a child fighting cancer than to see a symbol of courage - a bead - actually flown to space by the very people who ride into orbit on the space shuttle. That act represents one of the most courageous things other human beings do for all of us."

The contest to design the space beads of courage ran from mid-March to mid-April and concluded with the selection of 17 bead designs. Realizing that only a handful of shuttle launches remained before the end of the shuttle program, Newton and Beads of Courage submitted a request to fly the beads to NASA.

The Space Shuttle Program Office at Johnson Space Center in Houston approved the request to fly the beads as part of NASA's Official Flight Kit.

The space beads, designed by talented bead artists, will fly aboard space shuttle Atlantis with Commander Ken Ham, Pilot Tony Antonelli, and Mission Specialists Garrett Reisman, Michael Good, Steve Bowen, and Piers Sellers. The shuttle and its crew are scheduled to lift off on Friday, May 14 from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

After Atlantis returns from its mission, NASA will present the string of beads to Beads of Courage Inc. as a symbol of courage to sick children everywhere.

"It is a great honor to be a part of and support a wonderful organization like NASA," said Newton. "This opportunity to fly the Space Beads of Courage onboard space shuttle Atlantis will help children battling cancer and hopefully inspire them to be among the next generations of astronauts and engineers; making it possible for all of us to see what lies beyond our Earth."

"Since 2005, we have been working to transform the treatment experience for children coping with chronic, life threatening illness through our arts-in-medicine programs," explained Jean Baruch, founder of the Beads of Courage program. "We are honored to work with the NASA family on this worthy effort."

Nuclear fusion: North Korea claims Holy Grail of energy

Dj, 13/05/2010 - 10:10
Paris (AFP) May 12, 2010 - North Korea's claim on Wednesday to have carried out nuclear fusion touches on a vision of cheap, green, endless energy that is mustering billions of research dollars among advanced economies and, say experts, may take decades to achieve.

Instead of splitting the atom -- the principle behind the atomic bomb and present-day nuclear reactors -- fusion entails ramming the nuclei of light atomic elements together to make heavier elements and in the process release huge amounts of energy.

In essence, it is the same principle that powers the stars. In the Sun, mighty gravitational forces crush hydrogen atoms together to produce helium, with solar energy the byproduct.

Replicating stellar power on Earth, though, means overcoming a daunting array of technical and financial hurdles and drawing on expertise from many fields and different countries.

So the sketchy claims by the impoverished, enclosed Communist state are bound to be eyed with scepticism.

Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of Pyongyang's ruling communist party, said the North's experts had developed nuclear fusion using a "Korean-style" thermonuclear device.

"The successful nuclear fusion marks a great event that demonstrated the rapidly developing cutting-edge science and technology of the DPRK (North Korea)," it said.

Under fusion, a huge jolt of heat, to nearly 100 million degrees Celsius (180 million degrees Fahrenheit) would kickstart the process, fusing atomic nuclei and containing them in a charged gas called a plasma.

Getting the process started is only one problem. Another is how to how to sustain it and contain the plasma so that the cloud of particles do not escape.

Then there is the big energy equation -- the cost in energy it takes to pump up the plasma to such high temperatures in comparison with the yield this brings.

So far, despite steady improvements, no one has achieved a self-sustaining fusion event longer than a few minutes and input/yield ratios remain low.

Current projects in nuclear fusion are only at the early experimental stage and have each required commitments of billions of dollars just to be initiated.

A European-led initiative is the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), located Cadarache, southern France, scheduled to start plasma experiments in 2018 and if successful lead to a commercial reactor in the 2030s.

The backers in the 10-billion-euro scheme are the European Union (EU), which has a 45-percent share, China, India, South Korea, Japan and Russia as well as the United States.

The idea is to have fusion in a reactor fuelled by two isotopes of hydrogen -- deuterium and tritium -- with helium as the waste product in addition to the energy.

The plasma would be contained in a magnetic field in a doughnut-shaped vessel called a tokamak.

Looking at the key issue of fusion ignition, the United States has built the world's largest laser, a 3.5-billion-dollar behemoth covering the size of two football pitches, at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

The idea is for 192 laser beams to zap fuel tiny pellets of beryllium, plastic or high-density carton, so compressing the fuel that temperatures of 111 million C (200 million F) are briefly reached.

Tested for the first time in January, the lasers fire 40 times more power than the average consumption of the entire planet, albeit for only a few nanoseconds.

Fusion's supporters say the abundance of raw materials is almost infinite and the energy itself and its waste products are far safer than with fission, for there is no critical mass. Critics say the research billions would be better spent on improving current clean renewable sources, such as wind, solar and wave energy.

Making light work: The 50-year odyssey of the laser

Dj, 13/05/2010 - 10:10
Paris (AFP) May 12, 2010 - Fifty years ago next Sunday, a 32-year-old engineer called Theodore Maiman switched on a gadget at Hughes Research Laboratories in California, and watched as pulses of light sprang from a pink ruby crystal.

It was a geek eureka: the moment when the laser was born. And the world would change forever. But not just yet.

When Maiman's great invention was announced, the response was essentially "Doh?" as people tried to figure out what it was and what use could be made of it.

That was swiftly followed by an "Eek!" when the press came up with some scary headlines.

"LA Man Discovers Science-Fiction Death Ray," said one, reflecting the zeitgeist of 1960, when the Cold War mixed promiscuously with B-movies about aliens.

Since then, the laser has revolutionised life. It brings, sends and stores data in vast batches at light speed, measures material and cuts it with sub-millimetric precision.

It can be found in things as everyday as supermarket bar-code scanners -- the first scanned object was a packet of Wrigley's chewing gum in 1974 -- just as it can be found in hi-tech self-targeting bombs, sniper's sights, adaptive optics in astronomical telescopes and research into nuclear fusion, the ultimate in clean energy.

Lasers drive your CD and DVD player. They make holograms and light shows. They probably marked, cut and welded the frame of your car. They will smooth your wrinkles, zap your cancer, correct your short-sightedness.

And if you are reading this story online, think of the lasers that got it to you -- more than million lasers power the Internet, shuttling terabytes of data through optical fibre.

"The story of the laser is incredible," Tim Holt, head of the Institute of Photonics at the University of Strathclyde, Scotland, said in an interview.

"Along with the integrated circuit, the laser has been the most revolutionary technology of the last 50 years."

The conceptual pathway that leads to the bog-standard laser pointer starts with the brain of Albert Einstein.

In 1917, Einstein put forward the theory of stimulated emission, in which a photon, or light particle, causes an excited atom to emit an identical photon.

It was 1953 before the US physicist Charles Townes put the phenomenon to the test, with a "maser" -- Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation -- in which microwaves were used as the atom-exciter.

Townes and a colleague, Arthur Schawlow, then had the idea of using visible light rather than microwave, although it was Maiman who made the concept work. "Light" replaced "Microwave" in the acronym, and the word Laser entered the vocabulary.

The first laser beam was light amplified by a solid ruby rod, but within months this was followed by a helium neon laser, devised at the rival Bell Laboratories, also in 1960.

In 1962 came the first big practical breakthrough, a laser made of a diode of gallium arsenide, whose principle provides the backbone of small commercial laser devices today.

More than 10 Nobel prizes have been awarded for laser research, both in conceptual work but also in the practicalities of using laser pulses for storing and moving data.

Today, the top end of research is "femtosecond" lasers, in which ultra-fast lasers alter the "spin" of electrons in individual atoms to provide a more compact, denser storage on hard drives.

A prototype femtosecond laser tested by French physicists last year is able to retrieve data with a burst of just a millionth of a billionth of a second, a performance that notionally could accelerate the performance of present hard discs by up to 100,000 times.

"Lasers have given us a step in capability that is truly mind-boggling," said David Hanna, a professor in opto-electronics at the University of Southampton, England.

"Their possibilities will not be fully digested or exhausted for a very long time to come."

NASA Ames Stimulates Economy With Jobs And Innovation

Dj, 13/05/2010 - 10:10
Moffett Field CA (SPX) May 11, 2010 - NASA's Ames Research Center generated 5,300 jobs and $877 million in total annual economic activity in the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area in 2009, according to a new economic benefits study.

The study found that nationally, NASA Ames supports more than 8,400 jobs and generates $1.3 billion in annual economic activity. Coordinated by the NASA Research Park Office and prepared by Emeryville-based Bay Area Economics (BAE) in association with Architecture, Engineering, Consulting, Operations and Management's San Francisco office, the study also reported that NASA Ames produced 5,900 jobs and contributed $932 million to California's economy in 2009.

The study also forecast that NASA Ames' total economic impacts will grow significantly as its NASA Research Park (NRP) is completed.

"As Ames explores space and our planet, it stimulates economic growth by employing scientists and engineering professionals, promoting technology innovation, and preparing the workforce of the future - all to enhance the health, growth, and long-term competitiveness of the Bay Area and the nation," said Ames Director S. Pete Worden.

Currently host to more than 70 on-site industry, university and non-profit partners, NRP will ultimately comprise 5.7 million square feet of new construction for research and development offices, university classrooms and laboratories, rental housing, museums, and a conference and education center.

New construction at NRP is expected to total approximately $2.8 billion, generating an average of 1,700 construction jobs annually over the next 15 years in the Bay Area, 1,900 in California, and more than 2,800 nationally.

"With the unemployment rate in the Bay Area for construction workers at 30 per cent, the development of the NASA Research Park may create thousands of jobs that will help put people to work and stimulate the local economy. It is these types of projects that create a triple bottom line: higher education, economic development and good jobs," said Neil Struthers, chief executive officer of the Santa Clara and San Benito Building and Construction Trades Council.

Upon full occupancy, NRP partners may further stimulate the local, state, and national economy with new jobs and economic activity. Bay Area Economics estimated that NRP would trigger $4 billion in new annual economic activity resulting in an additional 21,400 jobs in the Bay Area region. The study also predicted that nationally, NRP will contribute $5.8 billion in new annual economic activity and 33,800 new permanent jobs.

The NRP was developed in partnership with the neighboring cities of Mountain View and Sunnyvale. "For many years the City of Mountain View and NASA Ames have enjoyed a close partnership. This Economic Benefits Study quantifies Ames', and particularly the Research Park's, employment and economic output contribution to our region, and the city looks forward to continuing this partnership to enhance these benefits for our community," said Mountain View City Manager Kevin C. Duggan.

The study concluded that NASA Ames also plays a critical role in supporting the nation's drive to promoting future economic growth. NASA Ames has forged numerous partnerships with private industry, educational institutions, and nonprofit organizations that have contributed to breakthroughs in climate change research, disaster response capacity, commercialization of space, robotics, supercomputing, nanotechnology, small satellites, and green/clean technology.

"NASA Ames fuels innovation through exploration that creates jobs and helps power the Silicon Valley economy," said Silicon Valley Leadership Group Chief Executive Officer Carl Guardino. "This is but one more stellar example of NASA Ames' contributions to our region, state and nation."

NASA is working to educate the next generation of scientists, engineers, and technical professionals, and operates a comprehensive set of educational programs that teach students and train teachers in science, technology, engineering and math.

The NRP's educational partners include the University of California Santa Cruz, Carnegie Mellon University, Santa Clara University, Foothill / De Anza Community College, United Negro College Fund Special Programs Corporation, and Singularity University.

"In addition to the NRP research and development collaborations, we are developing more formal multi-party relationships, including science, technology, engineering and math education and regional disaster assistance, with the fundamental premise of leveraging all parties' expertise, facilities and resources to accomplish more than we can as individual organizations," said NRP Director Michael Marlaire.

NASA Ames Research Center is one of 10 NASA centers with an annual budget of approximately $750 million and more than 2,500 onsite civil servant and contractor employees. NASA Ames is located on approximately 2,000 acres adjacent to the cities of Mountain View and Sunnyvale in California's Silicon Valley.

NASA Ames conducts scientific research and research and development in the fields of astrobiology; Earth and life sciences; artificial intelligence; information technology; supercomputing; airspace systems; entry, descent, and landing systems; and small satellites and related technologies.

HTC strikes back at Apple with patent complaint

Dj, 13/05/2010 - 10:10
Washington (AFP) May 12, 2010 - Taiwan-based mobile phone maker HTC Corp. filed a patent infringement complaint against Apple on Wednesday seeking a ban on imports of Asian-manufactured iPhones, iPods and iPads into the United States.

HTC, the target of a patent suit by Apple in March alleging infringement of 20 iPhone patents, said it had filed its complaint with the Washington-based US International Trade Commission.

The HTC action alleges that Apple products infringed five HTC patents and seeks to have them barred from being imported into the United States from their manufacturing facilities in Asia.

"We are taking this action against Apple to protect our intellectual property, our industry partners, and most importantly our customers that use HTC phones," HTC vice president of North America Jason Mackenzie said.

"HTC believes the industry should be driven by healthy competition and innovation that offer consumers the best, most accessible mobile experiences possible," Mackenzie said in a statement.

HTC, which stands for High Tech Computer Corp., is Taiwan's leading smartphone maker.

The company makes handsets for a number of leading US companies and is the manufacturer of the Nexus One unveiled by Apple rival Google in January.

Apple in March accused HTC of infringing on 20 Apple patents related to the "user interface, underlying architecture and hardware" of the iPhone.

Apple, which is based in Cupertino, California, filed the lawsuit in a US District Court in the state of Delaware and with the US International Trade Commission.

In the suit, Apple, which has sold more than 50 million iPhones worldwide, asked for unspecified damages and an injunction to prevent HTC from making or selling products using the patents in dispute.

Patent lawsuits are a regular occurrence among technology giants and Apple is currently being sued by Nokia for patent infringement. Apple has fired back a countersuit against the Finnish mobile phone giant.

Canada's Research in Motion, maker of the Blackberry, has also had its share of patent woes and was accused of patent infringement by US mobile phone maker Motorola in a suit filed in January.

NASA And JPL Assets Aiding In Oil Spill Response

Dj, 13/05/2010 - 10:10
Pasadena CA (JPL) May 13, 2010 - An advanced JPL-built optical sensor flying aboard a NASA research aircraft is among several NASA remote-sensing assets being mobilized to help assess the spread and impact of the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico at the request of U.S. disaster response agencies.

As part of the national response to the spill and at the request of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA deployed its instrumented research aircraft, the Earth Resources-2 (ER-2) to the Gulf on May 6. The ER-2, outfitted with JPL's Airborne Visible/Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (AVIRIS) and the Cirrus Digital Camera System, supplied by NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., was sent to collect detailed images of the Gulf of Mexico and its threatened coastal wetlands.

NASA is also making extra satellite observations and conducting additional data processing to assist NOAA, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Department of Homeland Security in monitoring the spill.

"NASA has been asked to help with the first response to the spill, providing imagery and data that can detect the presence, extent and concentration of oil," said Michael Goodman, program manager for natural disasters in the Earth Science Division of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

"We also have longer-term work we have started in the basic research of oil in the ocean and its impacts on sensitive coastal ecosystems."

NASA pilots flew the ER-2 from NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in California to a temporary base of operations at Johnson Space Center's Ellington Field in Houston. Along the way, the plane collected data over the Gulf coast and the oil slick to support spill mapping and document the condition of coastal wetlands before oil landfall. The ER-2 made a second flight on May 10, and more flights are planned.

The AVIRIS team, led by JPL's Robert Green, is measuring how the water absorbs and reflects light in order to map the location and concentration of oil, which separates into a thin, widespread sheen and smaller, thick patches. Satellites can document the overall extent of the oil but cannot distinguish between the sheen and thick patches. '

While the sheen represents most of the area of the slick, the majority of the oil is concentrated in the thicker part. AVIRIS should be able to identify the thicker parts, helping oil spill responders know where to deploy oil-skimming boats and absorbent booms.

Researchers also plan to measure changes in vegetation along the coastline and assess where and how oil may be affecting marshes, swamps, bayous, and beaches that are difficult to survey on the ground. The combination of satellite and airborne imagery will assist NOAA in forecasting the trajectory of the oil and in documenting changes in the ecosystem.

From the outset of the spill on April 20, 2010, NASA has provided satellite images to federal agencies from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instruments on NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites; the Japanese Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on Terra; and the Advanced Land Imager (ALI) and Hyperion instruments on NASA's Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite. All of these observations have been funneled to the Hazards Data Distribution System operated by the USGS. The ASTER U.S. science team is located at JPL.

With its very wide field of view, MODIS provides a big picture of the oil spill and its evolution roughly twice a day. The Hyperion, ALI, and ASTER instruments observe over much smaller areas in finer detail, but less often (every two to five days).

Other NASA satellite and airborne instruments are collecting observations of the spill to advance basic research and to explore future remote-sensing capabilities. From space, the JPL-built and managed Multi-angle Imaging Spectroradiometer (MISR) instrument on Terra, JPL's Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument on Aqua, and the Cloud-Aerosol Lidar with Orthogonal Polarization (CALIOP) on the joint NASA-France CALIPSO satellite are collecting data.

Another NASA research aircraft, the King Air B-200 from Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., was previously scheduled to fly to California this week but changed its flight plan to collect data over the area of the oil spill. It completed its first flight over the spill on May 10.

The High Spectral Resolution Lidar onboard the plane uses pulses of laser light to locate and identify particles in the environment. Led by Chris Hostetler of Langley, the lidar provides measurements similar to those from the CALIOP instrument on CALIPSO. Data from these space-based and airborne lidars will be used to investigate the thickness of the oil spill below the surface of the water and evaluate the impacts of dispersants used to break up the oil.

"Although NASA's primary expertise is in using remote-sensing instruments to conduct basic research on the entire Earth system, our observations can be used for societal benefit in response to natural and technological disasters like this oil spill," said Goodman.