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Rats actually use their whiskers in a similar way that humans use their hands and fingers, particularly when exploring the dark, according to a revelatory new piece of research on the rodents.
Although it's long been known that mammals tend to use their whiskers to navigate dark patches, the full extent of control over the facial features was not known until now. Academics at Sheffield University set about using high speed videography to keep an eye on animals, each of which had been trained to run circuits for treats. Undergoing different scenarios, such as putting obstacles in their way or taking away visual cues, showed that the animals used their whiskers in a "purposeful" way to complete the track.
As the rats got quicker at running circuits, they also tended to change their whisker movements accordingly - whether that was to sweep surfaces or pushing their whiskers forward to detect objects that could be in their way. In the scenarios where they were likely to run into objects, the animals were more cautious and deliberately felt their way around using their whiskers. "All mammals except humans use facial whiskers as touch sensors. In humans we seem to have replaced this sense, in part, by being able to use our hand and fingers to feel our way," said Professor Tony Prescott. "The rat puts its whiskers where it thinks it will get the most useful information, just as we do with our fingertips."
NASA has created a full 3D model of a light-year-long nebula that was coughed out by the Eta Carinae system, 7,500 light years away from Earth, in the 19th century.
Eta Carinae can be found in the Carina constellation, and it's one of the brightest that are known out there by far - its smallest star is roughly 30 times as big as the Sun. In the 19th century, it spewed out the gassy Homonculus Nebula, and this is what the researchers have now printed off as a 3D model. NASA used the European Southern Observatory's appropriately titled Very Large Telescope and the X-Shooter spectrograph to image near-infrared, visible and ultraviolet wavelengths across the nebula to create the most complete image made to date. Researchers took this data to look at spatial and velocity information, which then enabled the creation of the very first high-res 3D model of the nebula.
The model was put together in Shape and allowed NASA staff to inspect the more unusual features of the nebula, including trenches and dust skirts, and because it was developed using an emission line of near infrared light that was created by the molecular hydrogen gas, even allows for a close-up guesstimate of the dust-covered sides facing away from our humble little planet.
Earlier this week we mentioned that a team of scientists working out of an abandoned McDonald's restaurant in California had been able to get the decades old ISEE-3 satellite to fire its thrusters. The thruster firing is the first step in an attempt to get the satellite back on track to begin studying solar winds, which was its original mission.
Decades ago, NASA redirected the ISEE-3 satellite to study comets rather than the mission it was built for. After getting the satellite to fire its thrusters, the team working on the project are now reporting that they have hit another issue.
While the first part of the thruster firing succeeded, another attempt to fire the thrusters this week wailed and that firing will be attempted again Wednesday. The failed maneuver Tuesday was intended to fire the thrusters over 400 times to get the spacecraft onto a path to take it near the moon without crashing into the moon.
After a 37-year journey through our solar system, NASA's Voyager I has been hit by a third solar 'tsunami'. These solar tsunamis are coming from our sun, in the form of coronal mass ejections - in other words, shock waves from massive, violent eruptions on our sun.
Since 2012, there have been three of these CMEs, with the third one erupting on Monday. These eruptions have been helping NASA confirm something it proposed late last year: that Voyager is the first craft from Earth to travel into interstellar space. But what is interstellar space? Well, it's an area that is just beyond what is known as our heliosphere.
The heliosphere is an area where solar wind pushes back the dense plasma of space, in something that resembles a protective bubble. This plasma is the result of the death of stars millions of years ago. What should really make your scratch your noggin' is that the plasma found outside of the heliosphere, and in interstellar space, is 40 times denser than the plasma inside of the heliosphere.
Researchers have discovered that the force of an improvised explosive device (IED), not including shrapnel or surrounding particles, can lead to significant damage to soldiers. Using pig eyes located in artificial holders, the researchers use violent shock waves to try to simulate what happens during an IED blast - hoping to be able to provide better medical treatment for military personnel suffering from eye injuries.
In addition to faster medical treatment following an IED attack, researchers want to develop better eyewear able to keep soldiers safe while out on patrol. Ocular injuries currently amount to 13 percent of overall battlefield injuries, ranking No. 4 on the common injury list.
"The big thing that we found, that no one had seen before, is that the shock wave itself is sufficient to cause significant damage to the eye," said Matthew Reilly, biomedical engineering at University of Texas at San Antonio, in a statement. "The current military eyewear that they use to protect soldiers is designed based on particle impact rather than dealing with the blast wave."
CybAero, a Swedish company specializing in its unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) helicopter, has received an order of 70 rotary-wing drones, valued at $100 million over eight years. Assuming the deal is approved by the Swedish Agency for Non-Proliferation and Export Controls department, the Chinese AVIC company will receive shipments for the unmanned helicopters.
This is the largest UAV vertical take-off and landing involving drones less than 200kilograms, according to the company, and will provide stability for CybAero to continue developing its UAV helicopters.
"This represents a breakthrough in the market for the civil application of unmanned helicopters," said Mikael Hult, CybAero CEO, in a statement. "Our goal is to become the global market leader with at least 30 percent of the global market. Through this order, which is our biggest to date, we've taken a significant step towards achieving this goal."
United States Navy researchers are developing a carbon-fiber cloud missile defense system, known as "Pandarra Fog," able to help defend against missile attacks. As part of a recent test, the fog was able to shroud the USS Meyer, USS Cable and USS Mustin while in the ocean south of Guam in late June. In addition to making ships more difficult to strike, the Navy hopes to use it for counter-targeting against enemy threats.
The exact physical makeup of Pandarra Fog remains unknown, but is said to be no harm to the environment or sailors near the fog. The carbon fiber particle-based clouds are created using a device located aboard the ships, described as maritime obscurant generator prototypes, and should better help defend against anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles.
"Pandarra Fog showed the value of quickly bringing together scientific and joint forces to tackle our hardest warfighting problems," said Antonio Siordia, U.S. 7th Fleet science advisor. "This isn't just smoke or chaff, this is high-tech obscurant which can be effective against an array of missile homing systems."
A group of volunteers has been working out of an old abandoned McDonalds on the campus of NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View. These researchers have been working to establish communications with an old NASA satellite called ISEE-3 that was retasked decades ago by NASA to study comets.
The team was able to establish communications, but was unable to get the spacecraft to fire its thrusters previously. The team has announced that it has now been able to get the thrusters to fire before the satellite was too far away and lost again for thousands of years.
The ultimate goal of the volunteers is to get ISEE-3 back to the Earth-sun Lagrange point 1 to resume its original task of observing solar winds. NASA has to give the volunteer team the final approval to bring the satellite into its intended orbit.
Fossilized remains of the largest flying bird ever discovered have been identified after being unearthed 30 years ago. It has taken scientists that long to identify the species, but the identification is complete. Scientists say that the massive bird would have resembled a seagull with a wingspan between 20 and 24-feet.
The fossil was discovered in South Carolina and scientists on the project say that the fossil is remarkable for its size and its preservation. The skull is said to be remarkably intact and the scientists are surprised that the bird made it to the bottom of the ancient sea without being destroyed by scavengers.
Scientists say that despite its massive size, the bird would have been a very elegant flier. The team believes that the massive bird would have used air currents to soar over the ocean looking for food.
NASA is going to use Google smartphones with 3D technology at the International Space Station (ISS), helping robots conduct operations on the orbiting research lab. There is specific focus in having 3D technology help with the Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES), aiming to help reduce workload for astronauts.
The Google devices will launch to the ISS later this month, and could provide a much-needed technology boost in space. The Project Tango devices from Google feature support for a motion-tracking camera and infrared depth sensor, with the ability to track sharp angles and develop 3D maps.
"We wanted to add communication, a camera, increase the processing capability, accelerometers and other sensors," said Chris Provencher, Smart SPHERES project manager, in an interview with Reuters. "As we were scratching our heads thinking about what to do, we realized the answer was in our hands. Let's just use smartphones."