Heavens

Since the early 1990s astronomers have discovered more than 300 planets orbiting stars other than our sun, nearly all of them gas giants like Jupiter. Powerful space telescopes, such as the one that is central to NASA's recently launched Kepler Mission, will make it easier to spot much smaller rocky extrasolar planets, or exoplanets, more similar to Earth.

By combining the best of two different distance measurement approaches with a super-accurate technology called an optical frequency comb, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have built a laser ranging system that can pinpoint multiple objects with nanometer precision over distances up to 100 kilometers. The novel LIDAR ("light detection and ranging") system could have applications from precision manufacturing lines on Earth to maintaining networks of satellites in perfect formation, creating a giant space-based platform to search for new planets.

Researchers have witnessed a star being transformed into an object that spins at almost 600 times a second using telescopes in the USA and the Netherlands, and CSIRO's Parkes telescope in Australia.

ITHACA, N.Y. -- After thoroughly investigating Victoria Crater on Mars for two years, the instruments aboard the Rover Opportunity reveal more evidence of our neighboring red planet's windy, wet and wild past. The overview of the findings – compiled in one source – is published in the latest issue of the journal Science (May 22, 2009).

Astronomers have discovered a unique double-star system that represents a "missing link" stage in what they believe is the birth process of the most rapidly-spinning stars in the Universe -- millisecond pulsars.

"We've thought for some time that we knew how these pulsars get 'spun up' to rotate so swiftly, and this system looks like it's showing us the process in action," said Anne Archibald, of McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

For the first time, researchers have observed a singular cosmic act of rebirth: the transformation of an ordinary, slow-rotating pulsar into a superfast millisecond pulsar with an almost infinitely extended lifespan.

The discovery was made during a large radio sky survey by an international team of astrophysicists at McGill University, the University of British Columbia (UBC), West Virginia University, the U.S. National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) and several other institutions in the United States, the Netherlands and Australia.

The bombardment of Earth nearly 4 billion years ago by asteroids as large as Kansas would not have had the firepower to extinguish potential early life on the planet and may even have given it a boost, says a new University of Colorado at Boulder study.

If grandma seems to forget things, will she end up demented? These days, memory loss is one of the very few symptoms that may signal which 70-year-olds risk developing dementia. This is shown in a doctoral thesis at the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Several of the tests previously used to predict which elderly individuals risk developing dementia do not seem to work any longer. The thesis shows that memory loss is the only factor that can still be used to indicate who is at risk, although not among the very old.

The new observations reveal that Messier 87's halo of stars has been cut short, with a diameter of about a million light-years, significantly smaller than expected, despite being about three times the extent of the halo surrounding our Milky Way [1]. Beyond this zone only few intergalactic stars are seen.

"This is an unexpected result," says co-author Ortwin Gerhard. "Numerical models predict that the halo around Messier 87 should be several times larger than our observations have revealed. Clearly, something must have cut the halo off early on."

STANFORD, Calif. — Human immune cells communicate constantly with one another as they coordinate to fight off infection and other threats. Now researchers at Stanford University's School of Medicine have shown that muffling a key voice in this conversational patter is an early step in the progression of human cancers. Silencing an inter-cell signaling mechanism called the interferon pathway may be one way newly developing cancers gain the upper hand. It may also explain the immune dysfunctions seen in many cancer patients and why cancer immunotherapies are often ineffective.

The study of ancient lake sediment from high altitude lakes in the Andes has revealed for the first time that mercury pollution occurred long before the start of the Industrial Revolution.

University of Alberta Earth and Atmospheric Sciences PhD student Colin Cooke's results from two seasons of field work in Peru have now provided the first unambiguous records of pre-industrial mercury pollution from anywhere in the world and will be published in the May 18th Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

BERKELEY, CA — Members of the international Nearby Supernova Factory (SNfactory), a collaboration among the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a consortium of French laboratories, and Yale University, have found a new technique that establishes the intrinsic brightness of Type Ia supernovae more accurately than ever before. These exploding stars are the best standard candles for measuring cosmic distances, the tools that made the discovery of dark energy possible.

Asian Americans who have adopted more aspects of Western culture may be more likely to engage in behaviors that increase sun exposure, thereby endangering their skin health, according to a report in the May issue of Archives of Dermatology, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

STANFORD, Calif. - HIV-positive patients who don't seek medical attention until they have a serious AIDS-related condition can reduce their risk of death or other complications by half if they get antiretroviral treatment early on, according to a new multicenter trial led by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

The study results could lead to widespread changes in treatment for HIV patients, particularly those diagnosed at an advanced stage, experts say.

A phase III study has shown that adding an antibody-based therapy that harnesses the body's immune system resulted in a 20 percent increase in the number of children living disease-free for at least two years with neuroblastoma. Neuroblastoma, a hard-to-treat cancer arising from nervous system cells, is responsible for 15 percent of cancer-related deaths in children.