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Mount St. Helens Erupted 36 Years Ago, May 18th, 1980
Mount St. Helens' northern flank collapsed in a massive landslide, causing an eruption that spewed ash almost 80,000 feet into the air. The eruption dropped the volcano's elevation by 1,300 feet, killed 57 people and destroyed 27 bridges and more than 200 homes. -

What Causes Some Volcanic Eruptions to be Extremely Violent?
Eruptions begin with an upwelling of magma from earth’s hot interior. Some volcanoes simply ooze lava, which seldom moves fast enough to catch people by surprise. But others explode with more energy than a nuclear bomb! The underlying factors include the composition and viscosity of the molten material that feeds the volcano and the amount of gases and superheated water dissolved in that material. As the magma nears the surface, captured water and gas rapidly expand. With the right magma composition, the effect is much like soda that blasts from an opened beverage can.

Image Explanation and Credits: "This sequence was not shot by a video camera. Instead, it was created by USGS scientists and graphic artists based on a series of extraordinary still photographs taken by an amateur photographer named Gary Rosenquist."
- Photographing a Catastrophic Explosion at Mt. St. Helens

This animation was based on this video (1:16-1:25; 1:36-1:47 marks):
Mount St. Helens Disintegrates in Enormous Landslide
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A Simulated Flight Through the Universe 
Astronomers estimate that there are over 100 billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy alone. But how many galaxies are there? Some astronomers have calculated that there may be as many as 125 billion!

Animation Explanation: What would it be like to fly through the universe? Possibly the best simulated video of this yet has been composed from released galaxy data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Every spot in the GIF and video is a galaxy containing billions of stars. Many galaxies are part of huge clusters, long filaments, or small groups, while expansive voids nearly absent of galaxies also exist. (APOD)

Watch the Movie:

Video Credit: M. A. Aragón (JHU), M. SubbaRao (Adler), A. Szalay (JHU), Y. Yao (LBN, NERSC), and the SDSS-III Collaboration
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Breakthrough Starshot Aims to Send Tiny Robots to Alpha Centauri in a Generation

$100 million research and engineering program will seek proof of concept for using light beam to propel gram-scale ‘nanocraft’ to 20 percent of light speed. A possible fly-by mission could reach Alpha Centauri within about 20 years of its launch.

On April 12,  Internet investor and science philanthropist Yuri Milner was joined at One World Observatory by renowned cosmologist Stephen Hawking to announce a new Breakthrough Initiative focusing on space exploration and the search for life in the Universe.

Breakthrough Starshot is a research and engineering program aiming to demonstrate proof of concept for light-propelled nanocrafts. These could fly at 20 percent of light speed and capture images of possible planets and other scientific data in our nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, just over 20 years after their launch.

The program will be led by Pete Worden, the former director of NASA AMES Research Center, and advised by a committee of world-class scientists and engineers. The board will consist of Stephen Hawking, Yuri Milner, and Mark Zuckerberg.

Ann Druyan, Freeman Dyson, Mae Jemison, Avi Loeb and Pete Worden also participated in the announcement.

On the 55th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s pioneering space flight, and nearly half a century after the original ‘moonshot’, Breakthrough Starshot is launching preparations for the next great leap: to the stars.

The Alpha Centauri star system is 25 trillion miles (4.37 light years) away. With today’s fastest spacecraft, it would take about 30,000 years to get there. Breakthrough Starshot aims to establish whether a gram-scale nanocraft, on a sail pushed by a light beam, can fly over a thousand times faster. It brings the Silicon Valley approach to space travel, capitalizing on exponential advances in certain areas of technology since the beginning of the 21st century.

Read more>>

Further reading

► $100-Million Plan Will Send Probes to the Nearest Star>>

► 'Starshot' wants to launch tiny robots to a star 25 trillion miles away>>

Watch these videos

► Animation source>>

#universe, #space_exploration, #AlphaCentaury, #BreakthroughStarshot, #searchforlife, #StephenHawking
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Can Sperm Whales Really Use Their Heads to Bash Seagoing Vessels?
A multinational team of researchers set out to settle what has oddly been a longstanding dispute in scientific circles: whether, in Moby Dick-esque fashion, sperm whales could use their heads to bash seagoing vessels.

And it seems that Herman Melville got it right. Writing in the journal PeerJ, researchers concluded that a part of a sperm whale's head "evolved to function as a massive battering ram during male-male competition." The idea has been "highly controversial" because skeptics say such collisions would damage sensitive organs inside the whale's head, but in a press release, the researchers say connective tissue "may function as a shock absorber." The researchers, who hail from Australia, the US, England, and Japan, didn't determine whether the whales actually butt heads or ram boats, the Washington Post notes, only that they could—and live to fight another day.

Four incidents occurred between 1820 and 1902 in which sperm whales reportedly rammed whaling ships, according to Tech Times, and one of them inspired Melville to write Moby Dick.

The sperm whale's forehead—"one of the strangest structures in the animal kingdom," per the study's lead author—is home to what is called the spermaceti organ (which is filled with oil) and something called the junk sac.

It has been established that the junk sac helps with echolocation. This new research, based on simulated whale crash tests, concludes that it can also be used as a weapon.

The idea is further supported by the fact that the exterior of the junk is often scarred, per the study. "So there you have it, aspiring whalers," the Post writes.

"The Moby Dicks out there are well-prepared to take you on."

For More About Whales, See:
The Blue Whale - The Largest Animal to Live on Earth

Information About Whales

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Graphic View of Our Milky Way Galaxy
The Milky Way Galaxy is organized into spiral arms of giant stars that illuminate interstellar gas and dust. The Sun is in a finger called the Orion Spur. Overlaid is a graphic of galactic longitude in relation to our Sun.

If the sun were located elsewhere in our galaxy, we would not have such a good view of the stars. “Our Solar System,” explains the book The Privileged Planet, “is located . . . far from dusty, light-polluted regions, permitting an excellent overall view of both nearby stars and the distant universe.” 

Image Credit: NASA/Adler/U. Chicago/Wesleyan/JPL-Caltech

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The Not-Planets
The solar system contains dozens of objects that are large enough for self-gravity to make them round, and yet are not considered planets. They include the major moons of the planets, one asteroid, and many worlds in the Kuiper belt. The ones that we have visited with spacecraft are shown here ( to scale with each other. A couple of items on here are not quite round, illustrating the transition to smaller, lumpier objects.

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Newly Found Extrasolar Planet Boasts Rare Triple Suns
While scientists know of many planets with two suns, a planet with three bright stars in its sky is much rarer. The newly found distant world, known as KELT-4Ab, orbits one star. That star in turn is orbited by a nearby pair of stars. The twin stars are close enough to the planet to appear about as bright as the full moon in the sky, new research has revealed. - See more at:

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Feb. 4, 2016 /  Pluto’s Mysterious, Floating Hills
The nitrogen ice glaciers on Pluto appear to carry an intriguing cargo: numerous, isolated hills that may be fragments of water ice from Pluto’s surrounding uplands. These hills individually measure one to several miles or kilometers across, according to images and data from NASA’s New Horizons mission.

The hills, which are in the vast ice plain informally named Sputnik Planum within Pluto’s ‘heart,’ are likely miniature versions of the larger, jumbled mountains on Sputnik Planum’s western border. They are yet another example of Pluto’s fascinating and abundant geological activity.

Because water ice is less dense than nitrogen-dominated ice, scientists believe these water ice hills are floating in a sea of frozen nitrogen and move over time like icebergs in Earth’s Arctic Ocean. The hills are likely fragments of the rugged uplands that have broken away and are being carried by the nitrogen glaciers into Sputnik Planum. ‘Chains’ of the drifting hills are formed along the flow paths of the glaciers. When the hills enter the cellular terrain of central Sputnik Planum, they become subject to the convective motions of the nitrogen ice, and are pushed to the edges of the cells, where the hills cluster in groups reaching up to 12 miles (20 kilometers) across.

At the northern end of the image, the feature informally named Challenger Colles – honoring the crew of the lost space shuttle Challenger – appears to be an especially large accumulation of these hills, measuring 37 by 22 miles (60 by 35 kilometers). This feature is located near the boundary with the uplands, away from the cellular terrain, and may represent a location where hills have been ‘beached’ due to the nitrogen ice being especially shallow.

The image above shows the inset in context next to a larger view that covers most of Pluto’s encounter hemisphere. The inset was obtained by New Horizons’ Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) instrument. North is up; illumination is from the top-left of the image. The image resolution is about 1050 feet (320 meters) per pixel. The image measures a little over 300 miles (almost 500 kilometers) long and about 210 miles (340 kilometers) wide. It was obtained at a range of approximately 9,950 miles (16,000 kilometers) from Pluto, about 12 minutes before New Horizons’ closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015.


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Our Brain's Memory Capacity is 10 times Larger Than We Thought
21 JAN 2016 It turns out that our brains can store a petabyte of information – basically the whole Internet. The human brain's memory capacity may be as much as 10 times larger than previously thought, according to a new study by scientists in California that looked at how hippocampal neurons in the brain function with low energy but high computational power.

"This is a real bombshell in the field of neuroscience," said Terry Sejnowski from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. "Our new measurements of the brain's memory capacity increase conservative estimates by a factor of 10 to at least a petabyte, in the same ballpark as the World Wide Web."


The revelation that synapses can vary in size by increments as subtle as 8 percent suggests that there may be as many as 26 categories of sizes of synapses, rather than just a few, as scientists previously believed. According to the researchers, this extra complexity in synaptic dimensions translates to a huge boost in the brain's potential memory capacity.

"This is roughly an order of magnitude of precision more than anyone has ever imagined," said Sejnowski. "The implications of what we found are far-reaching. Hidden under the apparent chaos and messiness of the brain is an underlying precision to the size and shapes of synapses that was hidden from us."

The researchers' calculations suggest that synapses also change their size and ability depending on neural transmissions. About 1,500 transmissions provoke a change in small synapses (taking about 20 minutes), while a couple hundred (1 to 2 minutes) will change large synapses.

"This means that every 2 or 20 minutes, your synapses are going up or down to the next size," said Bartol. "The synapses are adjusting themselves according to the signals they receive."

The findings, reported in eLIFE, could lead to advancements in computing, with ultra-precise and energy-efficient machines employing deep learning and neural networking techniques.

"This trick of the brain absolutely points to a way to design better computers," said Sejnowski. "Using probabilistic transmission turns out to be as accurate and require much less energy for both computers and brains."

View the Entire Article and Accompanying Video:

Our Incredible Brain

Source of Animation:
Glass brain flythrough - Gazzaleylab / Neuroscapelab
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JAN. 20, 2016 The New York Times
"In a paper published Wednesday in The Astronomical Journal, Dr. Brown and Dr. Batygin lay out a detailed circumstantial argument for the planet’s existence in what astronomers have observed — a half-dozen small bodies in distant, highly elliptical orbits.

"What is striking, the scientists said, is that the orbits of all six loop outward in the same quadrant of the solar system and are tilted at about the same angle. The odds of that happening by chance are about 1 in 14,000, Dr. Batygin said.

"A ninth planet could be gravitationally herding them into these orbits.

"For the calculations to work, the planet would be quite large — at least as big as Earth, and likely much bigger — a mini-Neptune with a thick atmosphere around a rocky core, with perhaps 10 times the mass of Earth."

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