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The Secret of Fibonacci Numbers

 

 

The Secret of Fibonacci Numbers

Have you ever heard of the Fibonacci number sequence? They are really spooky, or rather one of those natural mysteries.

OK, the Fibonacci sequences looks like this:  0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987, 1597, 2584, 4181, 6765, 10946, 17711, 28657, 46368, 75025, 121393, 196418, 317811, …

Can you figure out how they come about?

It’s quite simple really. You take the number 1 and add it to itself which gives you 2. You then add the 2 to the 1 which =3. then 3+2 = 5. 5+3= 8 and so on like this. 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987, 1597, 2584, 4181, 6765, 10946, 17711, 28657, 46368, 75025, 121393, 196418, 317811, …

A bit freaky.

But it gets freakier.

The Fibonacci numbers are Nature’s numbering system. They appear everywhere in Nature, from the leaf

Fibonacci in nature

arrangement in plants, to the pattern of the florets of a flower, the bracts of a pinecone, or the scales of a pineapple. The Fibonacci numbers are therefore applicable to the growth of every living thing, including a single cell, a grain of wheat, a hive of bees, and even all of mankind.

Plants do not know about this sequence – they just grow in the most efficient ways. Many plants show the Fibonacci numbers in the arrangement of the leaves around the stem. Some pine cones and fir cones also show the numbers, as do daisies and sunflowers. Sunflowers can contain the number 89, or even 144. Many other plants, such as succulents, also show the numbers. Some coniferous trees show these numbers in the bumps on their trunks. And palm trees show the numbers in the rings on their trunks.

Fibonacci in plants

Why do these arrangements occur? In the case of leaf arrangement, or phyllotaxis, some of the cases may be related to maximizing the space for each leaf, or the average amount of light falling on each one. Even a tiny advantage would come to dominate, over many generations. In the case of close-packed leaves in cabbages and succulents the correct arrangement may be crucial for availability of space.

In the seeming randomness of the natural world, we can find many instances of mathematical order involving the Fibonacci numbers themselves and the closely related “Golden” elements.

Fibonacci in Plants

Phyllotaxis is the study of the ordered position of leaves on a stem. The leaves on this plant are staggered in a spiral pattern to permit optimum exposure to sunlight. If we apply the Golden Ratio to a circle we can see how it is that this plant exhibits Fibonacci qualities. Click on the picture to see a more detailed illustration of leaf arrangements.

By dividing a circle into Golden proportions, where the ratio of the arc length are equal to the Golden Ratio, we find the angle of the arcs to be 137.5 degrees. In fact, this is the angle at which adjacent leaves are positioned around the stem. This phenomenon is observed in many types of plants.

Fibonacci in trees

The number of petals in a flower consistently follows the Fibonacci sequence. Famous examples include the lily, which has three petals, buttercups, which have five (pictured at left), the chicory’s 21, the daisy’s 34, and so on. Phi appears in petals on account of the ideal packing arrangement as selected by Darwinian processes; each petal is placed at 0.618034 per turn (out of a 360° circle) allowing for the best possible exposure to sunlight and other factors.

The head of a flower is also subject to Fibonaccian processes. Typically, seeds are produced at the center, and then migrate towards the outside to fill all the space. Sunflowers provide a great example of the

Sun flower seeds

Here are just a few plants that have their leaves and settles arranged according to Fibonacci numbers

Fibonacci Petals

3 petals lily, iris
5 petals buttercup, wild rose, larkspur, columbine
8 petals delphiniums
13 petals ragwort, corn marigold, cineraria
21 petals aster, black-eyed susan, chicory
34 petals plantain, pytethrum
55, 89 petals michelmas daisies, the asteraceae family

Fibonacci in the planets and outer space?

Fibonacci in space

Not surprisingly, spiral galaxies also follow the familiar Fibonacci pattern. The Milky Way has several spiral arms, each of them a logarithmic spiral of about 12 degrees. As an interesting aside, spiral galaxies appear to defy Newtonian physics. As early as 1925, astronomers realized that, since the angular speed of rotation of the galactic disk varies with distance from the center, the radial arms should become curved as galaxies rotate. Subsequently, after a few rotations, spiral arms should start to wind around a galaxy. But they don’t — hence the so-called winding problem. The stars on the outside, it would seem, move at a velocity higher than expected — a unique trait of the cosmos that helps preserve its shape.

 

US …..

Faces, both human and nonhuman, abound with examples of the Golden Ratio. The mouth and nose are each positioned at golden sections of the distance between the eyes and the bottom of the chin. Similar proportions can been seen from the side, and even the eye and ear itself (which follows along a spiral).

It’s worth noting that every person’s body is different, but that averages across populations tend towards phi. It has also been said that the more closely our proportions adhere to phi, the more “attractive” those traits are perceived. As an example, the most “beautiful” smiles are those in which central incisors are 1.618 wider than the lateral incisors, which are 1.618 wider than canines, and so on. It’s quite possible that, from an evo-psych perspective, that we are primed to like physical forms that adhere to the golden ratio — a potential indicator of reproductive fitness and health.

Looking at the length of our fingers, each section — from the tip of the base to the wrist — is larger than the preceding one by roughly the ratio of phi.

Even our bodies exhibit proportions that are consistent with Fibonacci numbers. For example, the measurement from the navel to the floor and the top of the head to the navel is the golden ratio. Animals

Animals

Animal bodies exhibit similar tendencies, including dolphins (the eye, fins and tail all fall at Golden Sections), starfish, sand dollars, sea urchins, ants, and honey bees.

Honey Bee

Honey bees follow Fibonacci in other interesting ways. The most profound example is by dividing the number of females in a colony by the number of males (females always outnumber males). The answer is typically something very close to 1.618. In addition, the family tree of honey bees also follows the familiar pattern. Males have one parent (a female), whereas females have two (a female and male). Thus, when it comes to the family tree, males have 2, 3, 5, and 8 grandparents, great-grandparents, gr-gr-grandparents, and gr-gr-gr-grandparents respectively. Following the same pattern, females have 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, and so on. And as noted, bee physiology also follows along the Golden Curve rather nicely.

 

The Golden Rectangle

The Golden rectangle has been known since antiquity as one having a pleasing shape, and is frequently found in art and architecture as a rectangular shape that seems ‘right’ to the eye. It is mentioned in Euclid’s Elements and was known to artists and philosophers such as Leonardo da Vinci.

One of the interesting properties of the golden rectangle is that if you cut off a square section whose side is equal to the shortest side, the piece that remains is also a golden rectangle.

In the figure below, the yellow rectangle is in the same proportion as the original larger rectangle after the gray square is cut off.Both the rectangles ABCD and PBCQ are golden rectangles.

Golden Rectangle

 

 

 



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Genomes document ancient mass migration to Europe

Genomes document ancient mass migration to Europe
From the BBC

Nomadic herders moved en masse into Europe from the steppe around 4,500 years ago

DNA analysis has revealed evidence for a massive migration into the heartland of Europe 4,500 years ago.

Data from the genomes of 69 ancient individuals suggest that herders moved en masse from the continent’s eastern periphery into Central Europe.

These migrants may be responsible for the expansion of Indo-European languages, which make up the majority of spoken tongues in Europe today.

An international team has published the research in the journal Nature.

Prof David Reich and colleagues extracted DNA from remains found at archaeological sites around the continent. They used a new DNA-enrichment technique that greatly reduces the amount of sequencing needed to obtain genome-wide data.

Their analyses show that 7,000-8,000 years ago, a closely related group of early farmers moved into Europe from the Near East, confirming the findings of previous studies.

The farmers were distinct from the indigenous hunter-gatherers they encountered as they spread around the continent. Eventually, the two groups mixed, so that by 5,000-6,000 years ago, the farmers’ genetic signature had become melded with that of the indigenous Europeans.

But previous studies show that a two-way amalgam of farmers and hunters is not sufficient to capture the genetic complexity of modern Europeans. A third ancestral group must have been added to the melting pot more recently.

Prof Reich and colleagues have now identified a likely source area for this later diaspora. The Bronze Age Yamnaya pastoralists of southern Russia are a good fit for the missing third genetic component in Europeans.

The team analysed nine genomes from individuals belonging to this nomadic group, which buried their dead in mounds known as kurgans.

The scientists contend that a group similar to the Yamnaya moved into the European heartland after the invention of wheeled vehicles, contributing up to 50% of ancestry in some modern north Europeans. Southern Europeans on the whole appear to have been less affected by the expansion.

By 5,000-6,000 years ago, Europeans were a two-way mix of indigenous hunters and Near Eastern farmers

Even more intriguing is the possible link between this steppe expansion and the origins of Indo-European languages.

Most indigenous European tongues, from English to Russian and Spanish to Greek, belong to the Indo-European group. The classification is based on shared features of vocabulary and grammar.

Basque, spoken in south-west France and northern Spain, does not fit in this group, and may be the only surviving relic of an earlier group of languages once spoken more widely.

Two principal hypotheses have been put forward to explain the preponderance of Indo-European tongues in Europe today.

According to the “Anatolian hypothesis”, Indo-European languages were spread by the first farmers from the Near East 7,000-8,000 years ago.

But the latest paper supports the “Steppe hypothesis”, which proposes that early Indo-European speakers were Bronze Age farmers on the grasslands north of the Black and Caspian Seas.

“An open question for us is whether the languages spoken by these steppe migrants were just ancestral to a sub-set of Indo-European languages in Europe today – for example, Balti-Slavic and maybe Germanic – or the great majority of Indo-European languages spoken in Europe today,” Prof Reich told BBC News.

But he added that Indo-European languages spoken in Iran and India had probably already diverged from those spoken by the Yamnaya before the nomads blazed a trail into Europe.


Leonard Nimoy, Star Trek’s Mr Spock, dies at 83

 

 

Leonard Nimoy, Star Trek’s Mr Spock, dies at 83

Spock. Live Long and Prosper

US actor Leonard Nimoy, who played Mr Spock in the cult sci-fi series Star Trek, has died at the age of 83 in Los Angeles, his family has said.

His son, Adam, said he died of end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease on Friday morning.

Nimoy had a long career as both an actor and director.

However he was best known for his portrayal of the half-human, half-Vulcan character in both the TV franchise and series of films.

Last year, the actor revealed he was suffering chronic lung disease COPD, despite stopping smoking 30 years ago.

It was reported earlier this week he had been taken to hospital on 19 February after suffering from chest pains.

He later tweeted: “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.”

He signed off what was to be his final tweet with “LLAP” – a reference to his character’s famous catchphrase, “Live long and prosper”.

Spock’s Twitter

The same Twitter account was used by his granddaughter to confirm that he died at home on Friday in Bel-Air, California.

Dani Nimoy said her grandfather was an “extraordinary man, husband, grandfather, brother, actor, author – the list goes on – and friend.”

She added that special merchandise was being added to Nimoy’s website, with all proceeds going to the COPD foundation.

George Takei, who played Hikaru Sulu on Star Trek and was a friend of Nimoy’s, paid tribute to the actor.

“The word extraordinary is often overused but I think it’s really appropriate for Leonard”, Mr Takei told US broadcaster MSNBC.

“He was an extraordinarily talented man but he was also a very decent human being.”

Among the torrent of tributes on Twitter was a message from Nasa crediting Nimoy and Star Trek as an inspiration.

NASA Tweet

Thousands took to Twitter to pay tribute after Nimoy’s death was announced, including Star Trek actors past and present.

William Shatner, who as Captain Kirk acted alongside Nimoy for years in Star Trek, said he loved the actor “like a brother”.

“We will all miss his humor, his talent, and his capacity to love,” Mr Shatner said on Twitter.

Leonard Nimoy often gave Spock’s famous salute

Wil Wheaton, who played Wesley Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation, said: “We stood on your shoulders, and wouldn’t have had a galaxy to explore if you hadn’t been there, first. Thank you, Leonard, Rest in peace.”

More than a Vulcan
It was Nimoy’s casting as Spock in 1966 that made him in a star and, in many ways, defined his acting career.

He played the character in all three of the original series of the programme and later in several big-screen spin offs.

Nimoy had an ambivalent relationship with Spock, seeming to both cherish and resent his close association with the role.

His two volumes of autobiography – “I Am Not Spock” in 1975 and “I Am Spock” two decades later – seemed to epitomise his mixed feelings.

Leonard Nimoy 1931-2015 83 when he died
1965 appeared in rejected Star Trek pilot The Cage
1966-69 played Spock in original Star Trek series
4 Emmy award nominations, 3 for his character Spock
2013 appeared in Star Trek Into Darkness – his last film

Nimoy did have success outside of his Spock costume, in both acting and directing, and he pursued music, painting, and photography.

After the end of Star Trek’s initial run, he played master of disguise Paris in the hit adventure series Mission Impossible.

Later he directed two of the Star Trek films, The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home, and in 1987 helmed the hit comedy Three Men and a Baby, one of the highest-grossing films of that year.

Nimoy announced that he was suffering from COPD last year, writing: “I quit smoking 30 years ago. Not soon enough. Grandpa says, quit now!!”

COPD is an umbrella term for several lung diseases including chronic bronchitis, emphysema and some forms of bronchiectasis.

Sufferers experience increasing breathlessness during the advanced stages of the disease but it can be symptomless for a long time as it develops.

Shocking or intriguing NASA challenges physics to build faster than light spaceship warp drive

 

Shocking or intriguing NASA challenges physics to build faster than light spaceship warp drive

by Vandita from We Are Anonymous anahq.com

Starship

NASA scientist Harold White has stunned the world with his announcement that he and his team has begun work on the development of a faster-than-light Warp Drive spaceship that can move faster than the speed of light defying Albert Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity. Warp Drive, which is all set to challenge the light speed barrier, could result in speeds that could take a spacecraft to Alpha Centauri in a only two weeks even though the system is 4.3 light-years away! The idea sounds fascinating but disobeys the laws of physics.

In his 1994 paper titled The Warp Drive: Hyper-Fast Travel Within General Relativity physicist Miguel Alcubierre had suggested a mechanism by which space-time could be “warped” both in front of and behind a spacecraft. The idea immediately caught White’s attention.

“Remember, nothing locally exceeds the speed of light, but space can expand and contract at any speed. However, space-time is really stiff, so to create the expansion and contraction effect in a useful manner in order for us to reach interstellar destinations in reasonable time periods would require a lot of energy,” White told io9.

Alcubierre Warp Drive

The Theory of Special Relativity does not allow objects to move faster than the speed of light within space-time. To increase the speed of moving objects to match the speed of light, it would need infinite amount of energy. White in a way suggested horrific amounts of energy —equal to the mass-energy of planet Jupiter (which is 1.9 × 1027 kilograms or 317 Earth masses). As a result, the idea was brushed aside as being far too impractical.

White later collaborated with Mark Rademaker, an artist, to create a new, more realistic design of what such a ship might actually look like. The updated model is more compact and chunkier and includes a sleek ship nestled at the center of two massive rings of negative energy which will create the warp bubble.

Mark Rademaker’s design of what such a ship might actually look like.

At the 100 Year Starship Conference in Atlanta, he said that the Warp Drive could be powered by a mass that’s even less than that of the Voyager 1 spacecraft. The reduction in mass from a Jupiter-sized planet to an object that weighs a mere 1,600 pounds completely reset White’s sense of plausibility — and NASA’s.

Warp Drive for FTL travel is at the level of speculation since NASA also considers that FTL travel is impossible. FTL results in time travel and time travel is considered far more impossible than light travel. Dr White too admits his research is still small-scale and is light years away from any type of engine that could be constructed into a spaceship like the USS Enterprise.

The story so far. Here are a number of clips from the BBC Explorations series that looks at what we have achieved so far in space travel.


Sources:

http://fossbytes.com/nasa-working-warp-drive-faster-than-light-spaceship/

http://io9.com/5963263/how-nasa-will-build-its-very-first-warp-drive

http://anonhq.com/shocking-or-intriguing-nasa-challenges-physics-to-build-faster-than-light-spaceship-warp-drive/

Alien star system buzzed the Sun

 

 

Alien star system buzzed the Sun
By Paul Rincon
Science editor, BBC News website

Scholz’s star – shown in this artist’s impression – is currently 20 light-years away. But it once came much closer

An alien star passed through our Solar System just 70,000 years ago, astronomers have discovered.

No other star is known to have approached this close to us.

An international team of researchers says it came five times closer than our current nearest neighbour – Proxima Centauri.

The object, a red dwarf known as Scholz’s star, cruised through the outer reaches of the Solar System – a region known as the Oort Cloud.

Scholz’s star was not alone; it was accompanied on its travels by an object known as a brown dwarf. These are essentially failed stars that lacked the necessary mass to get fusion going in their cores.

The findings are published in Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Observations of the dim star’s trajectory suggest that 70,000 years ago this cosmic infiltrator passed within 0.8 light years of the Sun. By comparison, Proxima Centauri is 4.2 light years away.

Close encounter
In the paper, astronomers led by Eric Mamajek at the University of Rochester, New York, say they are 98% certain that Scholz’s star travelled through what is known as the “outer Oort Cloud” – a region at the edge of the Solar System filled with trillions of comets a mile or more across.

This region is like a spherical shell around the Solar System and may extend out to as much as 100,000 Astronomical Units, or AU (one AU is the distance between the Earth and the Sun).

The Oort Cloud is thought to give rise to long-period comets that can swing past the Sun when their orbits are disturbed.

The Oort Cloud in perspective: 1 Astronomical Unit (AU) represents the distance from the Earth to the Sun

To determine the trajectory of the star, the researchers needed two pieces of information: the change in distance from the Sun to the star (its radial velocity) and the star’s motion across the sky (its tangential velocity).

Scholz’s star currently lies 20 light years away – making it a fairly nearby system. But it showed very slow tangential motion for a star this close. This indicated that it was either moving away from us or towards a future close encounter with the Solar System.

The radial velocity measurements confirmed that the binary star system was actually speeding away from us. By tracing its movements back in time, they found its close shave with the Sun occurred some 70,000 years ago.

Grand theft Oort-o?
A star passing through the Oort Cloud could potentially play gravitational havoc with the orbits of comets there, sending them on trajectories into the inner Solar System. But Dr Mamajek believes the effects of Scholz’s star on our cosmic neighbourhood were “negligible”.

“There are trillions of comets in the Oort cloud and likely some of them were perturbed by this object,” he told BBC News.

“But so far it seems unlikely that this star actually triggered a significant ‘comet shower’.”

The effect of a passing star on the Oort Cloud is a function of the star’s mass, speed and proximity. The worst case scenario for stirring up comets would be a slow-moving, massive star that came close to the Sun.

Scholz’s star came relatively close, but the binary system (the red dwarf and its brown dwarf companion) has a low mass and it was speeding by. These factors conspired to make its effect on the Oort Cloud very small.

While this is the closest flyby detected so far, Dr Mamajek thinks it’s not uncommon for alien stars to buzz the Sun. He says a star probably passes through the Oort Cloud every 100,000 years, or so.

But he suggests an approach as close – or closer – than that made by Scholz’s star is somewhat rarer. Dr Mamajek said mathematical simulations show such an event occurs on average about once every nine million years.

“So it is a bit of a strange coincidence that we happen to have caught one that passed so close within the past 100,000 years or so,” he said.


Project Blue Book: US Air Force UFO documents revealed

 

Project Blue Book: US Air Force UFO documents revealed
By Debbie Siegelbaum
BBC News, Chicago

Evidence of Martian attacks is not a part of the Air Force UFO documents

Amateur historian John Greenewald has spent nearly two decades requesting declassified information from the US government regarding UFOs.

Recently, he posted more than 100,000 pages of documents on the US Air Force’s internal UFO investigations to the internet. Here are the top five things to know from the open files of Project Blue Book.

1. Project Blue Book had a sizeable mission
The origins of the ambitious project can be traced to June 1947, UFO researcher Alejandro Rojas tells the BBC.

The editor of Open Minds magazine says a well-respected businessman and pilot, Kenneth Arnold, was flying over Washington state when he witnessed several unidentified flying objects.

Arnold later described the crafts as “skipping like saucers”, which the media adopted and took to calling flying saucers.

This high-profile incident – along with several others, including a rumoured UFO landing in Roswell, New Mexico, the same year – led the Air Force to launch an investigative body.

The Air Force says this wreckage, recovered near Roswell, New Mexico, came from a radar target

Named Project Blue Book and headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, the programme was reportedly comprising only a handful of staff.

Nonetheless the group investigated 12,618 UFO sightings in a two-decade period.

2. Project Blue Book was created in a time of public unease
Formed in the years immediately following World War Two, Project Blue Book was intended to stop the spread of public unease about a growing number of reported UFO sightings, including over such landmarks as the White House and US Capitol.

“There was a lot of hysteria with the public, and that to the military and government at the time was a big threat in itself,” Greenewald says. “It didn’t matter if UFOs were alien or not, they were causing a panic, so [the government] had to settle everybody’s nerves.”

Though frequently met with derision today, UFO sightings are said to have been discussed at the top levels of government in the 1940s and 1950s.

“It was taken very seriously back then,” Rojas says, with Central Intelligence Agency chiefs publicly claiming it was a real phenomenon and even then-Congressman Gerald Ford warning it needed to be investigated.

In 1966 a separate Air Force committee was set up to further delve into some of the cases within Project Blue Book. That group later released a report finding no evidence of UFO activity.

Project Blue Book was officially shuttered in 1969.

3. Many of the Project Blue Book cases appear open-and-shut
Though many credible sources, from Navy admirals to military and civilian pilots, reported seeing UFOs, most of the cases investigated by Project Blue Book were deemed caused by weather balloons, swamp gases, meteorological events or even temperature inversions.

In Seattle, Washington, in April 1956, a witness described seeing a “round, white object, one-half the size of the moon … [and] going round and round”, according to documents.

Investigators later concluded it was a meteor and closed the case.

Amateur UFO investigators believe the truth is still out there

In January 1961 in Newark, New Jersey, a witness reported viewing a dark grey object “about the size of a jet with no wings”.

That object was later deemed a jet aircraft flying in the area.

4. Some Project Blue Book cases aren’t so easily explained
According to Greenewald and Rojas, more than 700 Project Blue Book entries could not ultimately be explained by investigators. Many such cases cited insufficient data or evidence.

But even some of the closed cases raise more questions than answers for UFO researchers.

In one such example, a police officer in 1964 in Socorro, New Mexico, halted vehicular pursuit of a suspect after he saw a strange aircraft overhead.

The officer followed the craft – which he described as bearing a strange red insignia – and saw it land and two child-sized beings exit.

It later took off, leaving scorch marks and trace evidence on the ground.

“[Project] Blue Book labelled it unexplained; even after all these decades they still can’t explain it,” Greenewald says.

5. There is still information to be uncovered about UFO activity
Though Greenewald has amassed a stockpile of government documents, he says there are still many he – and the public – has not yet accessed.

One request to the National Security Agency yielded hundreds of pages, but they were so redacted only a few words were readable on each page, he says.

Other US government entities – including the Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency – also conducted UFO investigations that have not been publicly released, Greenewald notes.

“I think Project Bluebook … is simply the tip of the iceberg,” he says, adding he will continue to request more information from the US government.

“There are secrets after conspiracies after scandals that continue to come out,” Greenewald concludes. “There’s always something to go after.”

Here’s a series of clips of interviews with people who claim to have been abducted by aliens.


New Horizons probe eyes Pluto for historic encounter

By Jonathan Amos

Science correspondent, BBC News

When it gets to Pluto, the New Horizons probe will have a packed schedule of observations

A Nasa probe is to start photographing the icy world of Pluto, to prepare itself for a historic encounter in July.

The New Horizons spacecraft has travelled 5bn km (3bn miles) over nine years to get near the dwarf planet.

And with 200m km still to go, its images of Pluto will show only a speck of light against the stars.

But the data will be critical in helping to align the probe properly for what will be just a fleeting fly-by.

Pluto will be photographed repeatedly during the approach, to determine the probe’s position relative to the dwarf planet, explained Mark Holdridge, from the Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL) in Baltimore.

“We then perform a number of correction manoeuvres to realign our trajectory with the reference trajectory, thus ensuring we hit our aim point to travel through the Pluto system,” he said.

Any initial correction is likely to be made in March.

The Pluto system has five known moons. Others may be discovered in the coming months

When New Horizons arrives at Pluto it will be moving so fast – at almost 14km/s – that going into orbit around the distant world is impossible; it must barrel straight through instead.

One complication is that the seven different instruments aboard the spacecraft need to work at different distances to get their data, and so the team has constructed a very elaborate observation schedule for them all.

But what this means is that very precise timing will be required to make sure the flyby runs smoothly.

The closest approach to Pluto is set for around 11:50 GMT on 14 July – at a miss distance of roughly 13,695km from the surface.

Mission planners want the exact timings nailed to within 100 seconds. New Horizons will know then where and when to point the instruments.


Dwarf Planet Pluto – Demoted but undiminished

Synthetic view Hubble’s best is a synthetic composite of multiple views. What are those shapes?

  • Discovered by Clyde Tombaugh on 18 February 1930
  • It is named after the Roman god of the underworld
  • An average of 5.9bn km from Sun and orbits every 248 years
  • Measuring its diameter is difficult but roughly 2,300km
  • It has a thin nitrogen atmosphere that comes and goes

 


The Pluto mission is being billed as the last great encounter in planetary exploration.

For people who grew up with the idea that there were “nine planets”, this is the moment they get to complete the set.

Robotic probes have been to all the others, even the distant Uranus and Neptune. Pluto is the last of the “classical nine” to receive a visit.

Of course, this 2,300km-wide ice-covered rock was demoted in 2006 to the status of mere “dwarf planet”, but scientists say that should not dull our enthusiasm.

The dwarfs are the most numerous planetary class in the Solar System, and Nasa’s New Horizons probe is one of the first opportunities to study an example up close.

The first set of navigation pictures may not be anything special, but by May, the probe will be returning views of Pluto that are better than anything from Hubble. Come July, the view should be spectacular, said Andy Cheng, the principal investigator on the probe’s main camera, which is called LORRI.

As Rebecca Morelle reports, even the Hubble Space Telescope could only capture blurry images of Pluto
“The most recent surprise we had was with the Rosetta mission. Hubble had made a ‘shape model’ of Comet 67P but no-one expected it to look like a rubber duckie,” he told BBC News. “I am more than hopeful that we will get similar surprises with New Horizons – it’s what we should expect.”

Those surprises could include yet more moons (five are currently known) and possibly even rings like those seen around some of the bigger planets.

Pluto is currently 5bn km from Earth. It has taken New Horizons more than nine years to get to the dwarf’s doorstep.

Once the flyby is complete, the probe will be targeted at an even more distant object in the Kuiper Belt – the name given to the icy domain beyond the main planets. Scientists think this region of space, and beyond, may contain many thousands of Pluto-like objects. Some even speculate there are far-flung worlds that rival Mars and Earth in size.

The first optical navigation images should be back on Earth by Tuesday at the latest. They will show Pluto with its largest moon, Charon.

The clip below is an interesting look at humanities probing of the stars. From the BBC series Explorations

 

Mystery Mars haze baffles scientists

 

 

Mystery Mars haze baffles scientists

By Rebecca Morelle
Science Correspondent, BBC News

The plume appeared twice in 2012, and stretched for 1,000km

A mysterious haze high above Mars has left scientists scratching their heads.

The vast plume was initially spotted by amateur astronomers in 2012, and appeared twice before vanishing.

Scientists have now analysed the images and say that say the formation, stretching for more than 1,000km, is larger than any seen before.

Writing in the journal Nature, the researchers believe the plume could be a large cloud or an exceptionally bright aurora.

However, they are unsure how these could have formed in the thin upper reaches of the Martian atmosphere.

“It raises more questions than answers,” said Antonio Garcia Munoz, a planetary scientist from the European Space Agency.

Around the world, a network of amateur astronomers keep their telescopes trained on the Red Planet.

They first spotted the strange plume in March 2012 above Mars’ southern hemisphere.

Damian Peach was one of the first stargazers to capture images of the phenomenon.

He told BBC News: “I noticed this projection sticking out of the side of the planet. To begin with, I thought there was a problem with the telescope or camera.

“But as I checked more of the images, I realised it was a real feature – and it was quite a surprise.”

Damian Peach was one of the first astronomers to image the plume

The vast, bright haze lasted for about 10 days. A month later, it reappeared for the same length of time. But it has not been seen since.

An international team of scientists has now confirmed the finding, but they are struggling to find an explanation.

One theory is that the plume is a cloud of carbon dioxide or water particles.

“We know there are clouds on Mars, but clouds, up to this point, have been observed up to an altitude of 100km,” Dr Garcia Munoz said.

“And we are reporting a plume at 200km, so it is significantly different. At 200km, we shouldn’t see any clouds, the atmosphere is too thin – so the fact we see it for 20 days in total is quite surprising.”

Another explanation is that this is a Martian version of the northern or southern lights.

Dr Garcia Munoz explained: “We know in this region on Mars, there have been auroras reported before. But the intensities we are reporting are much much higher than any auroras seen before on Mars or on Earth.

“It would be 1,000 times stronger than the strongest aurora, and it is difficult to come to terms that Mars has such an intense aurora.”

If either of these theories are right, he said, it would mean our understanding of Mars’ upper atmosphere is wrong.

He hopes that by publishing the paper, other scientists might also come up with explanations.

If they cannot, astronomers will have to wait for the plumes to return.

Close-up observations from telescopes or the spacecraft that are currently in orbit around the Red Planet could help to solve this Martian mystery.

Earth’s biodiversity is helping scientist to design vehicles that will travel through space and land on Mars and other planets. It’s called ‘bio-inspiration’ as this video clip shows.


Brazil Amazon: Drone to scan for ancient Amazonia

Brazil Amazon: Drone to scan for ancient Amazonia
By Jonathan Amos
BBC Science Correspondent, San Jose

The drone to be used in the project has a wingspan of about 3m

Scientists are to scan the Amazon forest in Brazil to look for evidence of occupation by ancient civilisations.

A drone will be sent up with a laser instrument to peer through the canopy for earthworks that were constructed thousands of years ago.

The UK-led project is trying to determine how big these communities were, and to what degree they altered the landscape.

The data is likely to inform policies on sustainable forest use today.

Researchers announced the initiative at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Jose.

It has just won a 1.7m-euro (£1.25m; $1.9m) grant from the European Research Council.

The key quest is to try to understand the scale and activities of populations living in the late pre-Columbian period (the last 3,000 years before the Europeans arrived in the 1490s).

‘Cultural parkland’
The international team will endeavour to find more geoglyphs, which are large geometric patterns left in the ground.

More than 450 of these are known in places where the forest has been cleared.

No-one is really quite sure what these earthen circles, squares and lines represent. Perhaps, they were ceremonial centres. But what is certain is that they are evidence of collective behaviour.

“It’s a hot debate right now in New World archaeology,” said Dr Jose Iriarte from Exeter University, UK.

“While some researchers think that Amazonia was inhabited by small bands of hunter-gatherers and shifting cultivators who had a minimal impact on the environment, and that the forest we see today is pristine and untouched for thousands of years – mounting evidence is showing this may not be the case.

“This evidence suggests that Amazonia may have been inhabited by large, numerous, complex and hierarchical societies that had a major impact on the environment; what we call the ‘cultural parkland hypothesis’,” he told BBC News.

The Mysterious Amazon © SMG

The drone to be used in the project has a wingspan of about 3m
Dr Iriarte’s project will fly its robotic plane across sample areas of forest.

This vehicle’s lidar instrument should reveal how many more geoglyphs remain hidden beneath still-canopied regions of Amazonia.

While some of the light from the lidar scatters back off the leaves, some is able to penetrate to the ground.

A smart algorithm can then be used to separate the two signals, digitally removing the trees to expose anything unusual beneath.

If candidate geoglyphs are confirmed in follow-up inspections, scientists would then move in to characterise signature changes that have been left in the soils and vegetation by the ancient inhabitants.

These “fingerprints” could then be searched for in satellite images, enabling a much broader swathe of Amazonia to be probed than is possible with just a small unmanned aerial vehicle. The arguments over the scale of occupation and its impacts should then be settled.

In normal airborne imagery only the tops of the trees are visible

The lidar makes a map of the canopy in digital form…

…which can then be removed to leave only that signal of the laser that made it through to the ground

The project is a partnership between agencies and institutions in Europe and, of course, in Brazil.

Mysterious geoglyphs

The expectation is that lessons learned will feed into policies for the management and sustainable use of the Amazon and its resources.

Dr Iriarte said it was not possible to gauge properly what future changes would be acceptable unless there was a fuller understanding of how the forest had been altered in the past.

“We want to see what is the human footprint in the forest and then inform policy, because it may be the case that the very biodiversity that we want to preserve is the result of the past historical manipulation of this forest,” he explained.

Video clip of the amazing amazon.

 

France has a team of official UFO hunters

 

France has a team of official UFO hunters

By BBC Reporter Chris Bockman
Toulouse, France

France has a team of UFO hunters.

Thousands of UFO sightings are reported every year but not many countries are willing to spend money investigating them – there is just one dedicated state-run team left in Europe. Is France onto something?

You don’t need a time machine when you visit the French Space Centre headquarters in Toulouse – it’s already a throwback to the 1970s. Green lawns sweep on to wide boulevards with stout long rectangular office blocks on either side.

It’s almost Soviet-style in the heart of southern France. There are few signs of life even though 1,500 people, most of them civil servants, work in boxy offices along narrow unappealing corridors.

France has the biggest space agency in Europe – the result of the 1960s space race and President Charles de Gaulle’s grand determination to keep France independent of the US by building its own satellites, rocket launchers and providing elite space research.

An offshoot of all that – France is the only country in Europe to maintain a full-time state-run UFO (unidentified flying objects) department. There used to be one in the UK and another in Denmark but they closed down years ago due to budget cuts.

France’s UFO unit consists of four staff, and about a dozen volunteers who get their expenses paid to go on site and look into reports of strange sightings in the skies.

A drawing from the files at the French UFO department

The team is called Geipan. That’s a French acronym for Study Group and Information on Non-Identified Aerospace Phenomenon.

Its boss is Xavier Passot. Surrounded by dozens of books on UFOs, and stacks of documents, he tells me his mission is to be as transparent as possible about strange sightings and to follow up on each one that his team receives.

They publish their results on their website which gets 30,000 hits a month. The team receives, on average, two UFO sightings a day. The department insists an 11-page form is filled out for each one. The idea is to provide details including photographs where possible but also weed out jokers and time-wasters.

If someone claims to have seen strange lights in the skies, the UFO team might go online to see whether the observation took place on a flight path – it can trace commercial air traffic going back more than a week.

The team also has access to military flight paths and is in touch with the air force and air traffic controllers.

Sometimes if its staff are really intrigued by photos they have seen or if there have been several witnesses to the same sighting, they will call the local police to ask whether they can be considered credible.

They might even check with neighbours to see whether they were out drinking that night or perhaps smoking something other than cigarettes.

Passot says many of the people who get in touch are smokers, puffing away outside bars or their own homes at night, gazing at the stars.

One of the boxy offices houses yellowing archives going back to the 1950s. The papers I look at contain eerie accounts of strange things encountered in the skies by fighter pilots on routine reconnaissance missions.

For what it’s worth and for those who suspect there’s conspiracy afoot, Passot tells me he has never covered up a UFO sighting.

I take a look at some amazing photos of strange lights and circular forms caught on camera. One, taken by a motorist, of a white ring shape above Marseille is particularly grabbing (the image at the top of this page). But the team figured that one out – it wasn’t invaders from Mars, just the reflection of a small interior overhead light in the car.

In fact, the department can explain away nearly all these phenomena and, believe it or not, the most common culprits are Chinese lanterns sent up at night during parties. The investigators often telephone the local town hall to ask if, perhaps, there had been a wedding going on at the time.

Balloons and kites floating in the skies also get mistaken for alien craft, and space debris and falling meteorites giving off strange lights are more common than one might think.

But there are around 400 UFO sightings going back to the 1970s that the French team cannot explain. One, an alleged flying saucer landing near Aix-en-Provence in 1981, they take very seriously – there were landing marks and multiple witnesses.

So are there really little green men? Well, the jury’s out on the colour but there are many working here, as well as others around the world, who are convinced there is some life out there.

And does the use of French taxpayers’ money on UFO research make sense, particularly in these times of budgetary constraint?

That probably depends on whether you just saw an alien and, in the words of those Ghostbusters, who you gonna call?

Do you believe in UFO’s and Aliens?

Here’s a clip that interviews 2 people who claim to have been abducted by Alines.

Here’s some more people who believe aliens exist.


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