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John Birks • Author at Mirror Daily

The New Horizon has reached its destination.

As unlikely as it may sound, a Playstation CPU powers NASA’s probe headed to Pluto. Yesterday, the New Horizon Probe has reached Pluto’s orbit and the processor coordinated the taking and relaying of pictures back to Earth. Some may think the choice to use this technology is due to NASA’s recently tighter budget, but this is quite far from the truth.

The New Horizon craft has left Earth nine years ago, but even by then the original Playstation CPU was a decade old piece of hardware. NASA did alter it in order to make it resilient to the hardships of space travel (such as radiation), but the processor is still very much alike the MIPS R3000 that run many of our childhood video games.

The decision to use it had more considerations. Even though it was not conceived for space travel, the processor had been tried and tested since 1994. This gave it an advantage over newer, but unpredictable hardware. Considering the length and duration of the mission, NASA needed something highly reliable before anything else.

Though powered from a nuclear source, the spacecraft still has quite limited fuel reserves, which are mostly directed towards vital mechanical tasks, leaving little room for an energy demanding CPU. Money also probably factored into the choice.

The processor was used for tasks such as handling the thrusters and maintaining the sensors. It works on its one to guide the probe, with only a copy of itself as a backup system. NASA has a history of using slightly older technology in their space missions, especially those farther away from our planet.

The New Horizon has arrived on Pluto 3 minutes earlier than it was officially scheduled, a sounding success for NASA. It will continue to take pictures of Pluto for a while, afterwards moving to monitor its moons.

But we may not have seen the last of the MIPS R3000, as depending on the upcoming performance of the probe it may be assigned another mission. The New Horizon may leave the vicinity of Pluto in order to head for the Kipar Belt, a gigantic ring of asteroids found at the very border of our Solar system.

Pluto was first discovered 85 years ago by astronomer Clyde Tombaugh, whose ashes are now actually interred in the spacecraft itself. His remains may now reach even further than his discovery.

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A giant panda resting after a bamboo meal.

Last week, scientists finally revealed the Giant Panda’s secret to survival. The journal Science published a research finding based on the study of 8 pandas which revealed the reasons behind their ability to survive on an almost exclusively bamboo diet. Several aspects such as behavior and under-developed organs  factor into the matter.

Researchers used GPS trackers to monitor animals both in their natural habitat and in captivity. The results show that pandas have only 38% of the daily energy expenditure of other similarly sized mammals. Though generally bears are not regarded as the most active creatures, pandas are significantly more sluggish than their brown cousins.

Pandas spend close to half of the day just sleeping and resting. They do not hunt or even walk significant distances and therefore have a very low metabolism. This metabolism allows them to survive on bamboo alone, which is a very low nutrient plant and hard to digest (only 17% of the consumed bamboo is actually retained in their bodies).

The researchers also claim that the panda’s liver, kidneys and even brain are smaller than those found in other bears, which should aid them in burning less calories every day and maintaining a low daily energy demand. Their energy consumption levels are unusually low for such a large animal.

From this perspective, the panda is more akin to the sloth, another notoriously “lazy” mammal, while being significantly lazier than the koala, claims lead study author Fuwen Wei, zoology professor at the Beijing Academy of Sciences.

Another important focus of the study was the panda’s thyroid gland, which is now known to produce a very low amount of hormones, contributing to the animal’s limited daily use of energy. Strangely, the mammal’s stomach on the other hand has remained behind from an evolutionary standpoint, and is not adapted to the consumption of bamboo, but rather on digesting high-protein tissue such as meat.

These recent findings shed a lot of light on the animal’s habits and may very well aid in the preservation of one of the most high-profile endangered species on the planet. The behavior of pandas, especially their mating rituals, are notoriously hard to comprehend and reproduce in artificial environments. This breakthrough might just provide the answer we need to better understand their needs for survival.

There are less than 2,000 panda’s left on this planet, but this study could get us closer to saving them.

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One of the last big Holocaust trials that has been going on since April has finally been concluded on Wednesday. A German man who used to be one of Auschwitz’s book-keepers was charged and convicted of being an accessory to the murder of more than 300,000 people.

Oskar Groening, 94, was sentenced to four years in prison; even though he is not directly responsible for the death of no one during his time spent working at the death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland, prosecutors decided he helped and supported a regime responsible for genocide argued by keeping the records of the Jews arriving in trains.

An old man now, Groening has admitted moral guilt, but said it was the court’s call to decide whether he should be held legally responsible for his acts. In a statement earlier in July, he showed deep remorse by saying that he could only receive forgiveness from God, as he doesn’t deserve the victims of the Holocaust and their families to forgive him.

This trial helped answer the question of whether people who did not actively participate in the mass murder of 6 million Jews that happened during the Holocaust – but were still small parts oiling the great genocide’s machine – should be considered guilty of war crimes. The German justice system believed, until recently, that the answer is no.

Groening’s terrible jog at Auschwitz was to gather the belongings the deportees brought with them as they arrived at the camp by train. After being asked to leave all their luggage behind, the Jews were put through a selection process that sent most of them directly to the gas chambers.

According to his own description, the 21-year-old Groening was a passionate Nazi when he arrived at Auschwitz in 1942. He was assigned to inspect people’s luggage, search for and count any bank notes left inside and then send them to Berlin, where the SS offices directed them to various needs in the Nazi war effort.

The indictment charged Groening for his activity between May and July 1944, when more than 300,000 deportees out of the total 425,000 Hungarian Jews that came into Auschwitz were sent straight to of the gas chambers.

While many Germans are eager to see the Holocaust trials over and want to draw a line between that dark period and the post-war democratic nation, some disagree with the conviction of old men, who are often in poor health, for crimes that happened almost 70 years ago.
Image Source: Stars and Stripes

The High Definition Space Telescope will shed light on planet formation and gather evidence about alien populations.

Based on recent findings, scientists plan to introduce the telescope of the 2030s, a much advanced version of the Hubble Telescope that will look for extraterrestrial life. Scientists want the new space telescope to be five times bigger and 100 times more sensitive than the current telescopes that NASA is using, but detailed descriptions of the new prototype have not been yet provided.

NASA is arming itself with new means of investigation to find the remotest forms of life in space. The Hubble Telescope has done a remarkable job, so far, but the time has come for scientists to upgrade their systems, so they would meet scientists’ demands.

The space lens that has been designed by scientists for future space explorations has to overcome the technical abilities of the Hubble Telescope. For that matter, the telescope of the 2030s will be five times bigger and 100 times more accurate than Hubble.

Scientists will embed a 40-feet wide mirror on the mechanism and will program it to orbit the Sun at a much closer distance. The telescope of the 2030s will orbit at million miles away from the Earth, taking high definition images of the surrounding space regions.

So far, researchers have been unable to study the structure and the evolution of smaller galaxies, but the telescope of the future will shed light on many of these mysteries. It may be too early to make assumptions, but NASA experts hope they will get pictures of celestial objects that have a diameter of 300-light years.

The new program was developed by professors at the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, which is responsible for many of the studies that the Hubble Telescope is conducting. According to Matt Mountain, the president of the association, the future initiatives that the administration will carry out are meant to establish whether alien populations really exist or not.

Mountain believes the project must begin now as NASA has all the resources to carry it through. Moreover, the production of a new telescope requires a lot of time; therefore, the sooner scientists begin manufacturing works, the better it will be.

Production costs will most likely amount to $9 billion, but the High Definition Space Telescope is definitely a worthy investment considering the numerous benefits it could bring to the entire science community.

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Keeping boat utensils clean is the only way to prevent Zebra mussel infestations.

Based on the recent official reports, Morisson County is infected by Zebra mussels, DNR warns. The official authority is now asking fishermen and local inhabitants to clean their fishing gear to prevent the Zebra mussel population from spreading.

The Department of Natural Resources has agreed that the recent invasion of the Zebra mussel population could pose lots of threats to other fish species existing in the lake, as well as to the local population.

The Zebra mussel, scientifically named Dreissena polymorpha is a species of mussel that usually lives in fresh water, whose origin was established in Russia. These D-shaped stripped species of mussels are not bigger than a fingernail in the beginning, but they can grow up to 2 inches during their adult stages of life.

In spite of their attractive form and looks, Zebra mussels can be highly dangerous for other water species. They usually infest water causing other species to go extinct, which, in turn affects the human population.

There is little that can be done to prevent this species from spreading, once it has started infecting waters, as in the case of the Fish Trap Lake in the Morisson County. The Department of Natural Resources acknowledged that the lake has been infested and they are now implementing various measures to put an end to the Zebra mussel infestation.

Until now, authorities used to perform 1,500 hours of boat inspections per year, whereas now their number has been increased to 3,100 hours of annual boat inspections. This measure has been imposed because the only solution to block the Zebra mussel infestation is to keep fishing and boat gear as clean as possible.

Zebra mussels infect most waters, especially standing water; therefore biologists ask people to avoid leaving water in a container for too long. This measure is highly recommended, especially in the nearby areas of inhabitants’ homes because Zebra species can cause problems to humans, as well. They can infest drinking water and lead to sever health problems, the Department of Natural Resources has concluded.

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Even though more and more people surf and swim in the waters off California’s coast, a new study showed their risk of being attacked by sharks has dropped with 90 percent since the 1950s.

This study comes in apparent contrast with recent news headlines which reported this year to have a record number of incidents with sharks attacking people in the water – eight shark attacks just in the past three weeks.

Francesco Ferretti from the Hopkins Marine Station operating under the Stanford University said the disparity between the study and the recent shark attack reports needs more research before it can be explained.

Fiorenza Micheli, a fellow researcher of Ferretti, explained that the study proved that in spite of the slight increase in number of attacks that’s been registered in the past six decades, the risk of being attacked has actually dropped dramatically.

This risk was calculated in relation with the great number of people swimming and surfing on the Californian coast; shark attack incidents should be a lot more often if the risk hadn’t plummeted.

The reason behind the decline is actually rather satisfying for environmentalists: sharks have turned their attention from human prey to animals in their environment, like elephant seals and sea lions – which have significantly increased in number thanks to conservation initiatives.

Another possible theory that explains the sheer drop in shark-attack risk is the fact that fewer of these great hunters are roaming in the waters. But this hypothesis is tough to test as shark populations are inconsistently tracked in the past decades.

During the 1950s, California saw an annual average of less than one attack on humans; in the past decade, that number has reached one or two attacks a year. But when compared to the population boom, the risk drops considerably.

Coastal California experienced a tripling in human population during the same period, from 7 million to 21 million. Moreover, beachgoers and fans of scuba diving and surfing have also significantly increased in number.

This year’s eight shark attacks off North Carolina’s coast reported in the past three weeks broke the record for the most shark incidents that the state has seen in the past 80 years or records.

The spike has yet to be explained, and more research is required for that. Some scientists believe that the unseasonably hot temperatures June has brought pushed the sharks up north earlier than usual.

Bottom line is that, in California, your odds of swimming in the ocean and getting bit by a shark are about “one in every 738 million beach visits;” surfers have it a bit worse, but chances were still in the range of 17 million.
Image Source: The Project Avalon Forum

Scientists have recently developed a robot with a 3D printed body that has a rigid core and a soft exterior which is capable of jumping over 30 times without being powered from the outside. The researchers said that the robot gets its power from a mix of oxygen and butane.

Michael Tolley which is an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of California – San Diego said that they believe that putting together both rigid and soft materials they will be capable of creating a new generation of agile and fast robots that are more a lot more adaptable and robust than the ones before them and which can safely work together with humans. Tolley also said that the idea of combining these two types of materials came right from nature. For instance, some mussels have feet that begin as soft and become rigid where they contact rocks.

The work took place at the Wyss Institute at Harvard and Nicholas Bartlett and Michael Tolley supervised the entire project. They said that complexity comes at a very low cost in nature and by using new technologies, such as 3D printing, they are trying to translate this to robotics as well.

Tolley said that soft robots are usually slow, particularly when completing tasks without being connected to any power sources and electronics. The researchers hope that they will be able to integrate rigid components in soft robots a lot better, which will allow those robots to move a lot faster without endangering any humans working alongside them.

The rigid layers on the robot are better for protecting the brain and power source while the soft parts make the machine a lot less vulnerable to any damage when landing from jumps. The new robot is constructed out of two hemispheres. The upper one is similar to half of a shell and it is 3D printed with nine different layers with various levels of stiffness, which creates a structure that is flexible similar to rubber on the exterior and very rigid near the core of the robot.

The scientists tried numerous design versions and came to the conclusion that a top that is completely rigid would allow the robot to jump higher. However, a flexible top was capable of surviving impacts, so the researchers decided to stick to the flexible design.

The half of the robot at the bottom is more flexible and also includes a chamber where butane and oxygen are being pushed in before the robot makes the jump. After ignition of the two gases, the half behaves pretty much like a ball that inflates instantaneously and propels the robot into the air. This makes it look like the 3D printed soft robot jumps like humans.

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Google recently revealed its latest developer preview of the new Android M operating system, which is the company’s next mobile OS and it is expected to launch somewhere in the third 2015 quarter.

The new OS is referred to as Macademia Nut Cookie, but it’s uncertain whether Google will change the name or not at the time. The company claims that this is the most powerful release and the update will bring numerous improvements. However, most of these improvements are incremental so most users won’t really see them at all.

The Android M operating system will feature support for the USB-C connector which the company claims it is able to charge devices up to five times faster. And like the Lightning connector used by Apple, the USB-C can be plugged on both sides, so people won’t have to check which side is which.

The new operating system will also feature some new permissions that will make things a lot easier for people to decide what information can be used by apps, by giving them the option to restrict the data used. For instance, if you download WhatsApp on your Android device right now, you have to grant the app permission to access your microphone, camera, photos, location, calendar, contacts and many more. But with the new Android M, people won’t be asked to give permissions when downloading the app. Users will have to grant access only when trying to send a memo, for instance, case in which they will be asked to give permission to access the microphone on their device.

People will also be able to revoke any permission through the help of a special segment in the settings section of the operating system. Other Android M improvements will be incremental but will help the users have a better experience with their device altogether. There will be a new feature named Android Auto Backup and Restore which will be used together with Google Drive in order to backup settings files and data automatically to the cloud.

The Android M developer preview is already available to download for the Google Nexus 6 and the Google Nexus 5, as well as the Nexus Player and Nexus 9 tablet. The official release date to the public is set to come in the third 2015 quarter but there is no information more specific than this at the current time. However, a lot of people are anticipating a September release.

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A recent study shows that breast cancer patients could benefit from having the very common and cheap progesterone hormone added in their treatment.

The breast tumors that are fuelled by estrogen, another female hormone, are currently being treated with the help of drugs such as tamoxifen in order to block the receptors of estrogen, which cause the cancer cells to increase. Tamoxifen is one of the best drugs used in the treatment of breast cancer. The tumors of breast cancer patients who also have receptors for progesterone have a better overall outlook, but for decades scientists couldn’t figure out why this is the case, claims the new study regarding breast cancer treatment.

A team of scientists has revealed at the time how the progesterone receptor communicates to the estrogen one inside the cells containing cancer to make them change how they behave. This ultimately leads to the slowing of the cancer growth.

Jason Carroll of the Cancer Research UK’s Cambridge Research Institute said that they used new technology in order to find out the role of the progesterone receptors in breast cancer tumors, which is something that confused scientists for a very long time. He added that the new research assists in understanding why some women with breast cancer have a better outlook than others.

The team of scientists revealed that cancer cells grown in a laboratory ended up growing half in size when being treated with tamoxifen and progesterone. Carlos Caldas, one of the researchers in the study said that this treatment tends to control the breast cancer tumors a lot better. However, he also added that further trials are necessary to prove that this new treatment is indeed better for women who suffer of breast cancer.

Dr. Emma Smith who is the senior science communication officer at the Cancer Research UK said that this brilliant new study shows exactly how a widely available, safe and cheap drug can possibly improve the treatment for about half of the patients who suffer from this terrible disease.

According to the scientists, there are about 50,000 cases of breast cancer every year in the United Kingdom and about half of these new cases could benefit from this crucial discovery. The new study that claims progesterone can treat breast cancer has been published in the Nature journal.

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Two astronomers recently said that there is strong evidence of alien life on Philae Comet. The scientists claim that the 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet that carries the Philae probe throughout space possesses a lot of features that support the idea there is life on it, beneath its icy surface, as it has a very rich and organic black crust.

The spacecraft from Europe that is currently orbiting the comet, Rosetta, has also gathered some odd organic material samples that look to be viral particles. However, neither Philae nor Rosetta have the necessary equipment to look for evidence of alien life, seeing how the proposition to include such equipment in the mission was dismissed.

Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe, an astrobiologist and astronomer involved in the planning of this mission said that he wanted to include affordable life-detection equipment in the mission but his proposition was dismissed as it was considered to be very bizarre.

Chandra and Dr. Max Wallis of the University of Cardiff and his colleague both believe that the 67P and other such comets may be homes to living microbes that are very similar to the extremophiles inhabiting the most rigid places on Earth. The scientists claim that comets such as this may have helped the beginning of life on our planet and on others, like Mars, in the very early existence of our solar system.

After it was dropped by Rosetta in November, Philae had a hard time attaching itself to the surface of the comet and eventually bounced off the land and made a stop in the shade. Philae was then forced into hibernation because sunlight couldn’t reach its solar panels but eventually began waking up as the 67P comet traveled towards the sun, which had the scientists responsible for the mission excited. The Philae probe is now about 177 million miles away from Earth and it is traveling at a speed of over 73,000 miles per hour.

Some simulations have indicated that microbes could be living in the watery areas of the comet. The rock has a layer of ice on which a hydrocarbon black crust is present as well as craters containing lakes of frozen water and icy seas filled with organic debris.

Rosetta also discovered some organic particles in the gases that surround the comet, which are similar to the viral particles in our planet’s upper atmosphere. Professor Wickramasinghe said that those particles found by Rosetta could be viral as well.

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