Titan Tech: Lightweight Drone Could Explore Saturn Moon

by Elizabeth Howell

Sailing the soupy atmosphere of Titan, Saturn’s largest natural satellite, an interplanetary balloon could one day release a small drone to explore the moon’s swamp-like surface.

The so-called “Titan Aerial Daughtercraft” mission concept recently received a $100,000 Phase 1 grant from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program, a sort of sandbox for the agency to explore far-out and futuristic ideas.

As part of this proposed mission, a quadcopter drone would “jump” from a mothership-type balloon to explore the surface of Titan; the drone would then return to the balloon to recharge for the night, the researchers said. Both vehicles would be used to investigate Titan’s hydrogen- and carbon-rich environment, which some scientists think resembles the composition of Earth’s atmosphere early in its history…

(read more: Live Science)

images: illustration - Larry Matthies/NASA; photos - NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

New to Google Earth: Ancient Flying Reptiles
by Stephanie Pappas
Want to find the nearest pterosaur? There’s an app for that — or a database, at least.
A newly developed website catalogs more than 1,300 specimens of extinct flying reptiles called pterosaurs, thus enabling users to map out the ancient creatures on Google Earth. The goal is to help researchers find trends in the evolution and diversity of these ancient winged reptiles…
(read more: Live Science)
image: Thalassodromeus sethi, ©AMNH 2014

New to Google Earth: Ancient Flying Reptiles

by Stephanie Pappas

Want to find the nearest pterosaur? There’s an app for that — or a database, at least.

A newly developed website catalogs more than 1,300 specimens of extinct flying reptiles called pterosaurs, thus enabling users to map out the ancient creatures on Google Earth. The goal is to help researchers find trends in the evolution and diversity of these ancient winged reptiles

(read more: Live Science)

image: Thalassodromeus sethi, ©AMNH 2014

Underwater Robots Search for Sea Turtles
Scientists test out a new tool for keeping track of endangered populations of sea turtles: submersible robots withside-scan sonar.
From the deck of a small research boat, Rob Downs, a sonar expert with NOAA’s National Ocean Service, lowered an automated underwater vehicle into the waves. The AUV was bright yellow, about 6 feet long, and shaped like a torpedo. Like the AUV that is currently searching the bottom of the Indian Ocean for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, this one was equipped with side-scan sonar. But its first-of-a-kind mission was to find something much smaller than an airplane. It was searching for sea turtles.
All species of sea turtles found in U.S. waters are listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, and NOAA Fisheries scientists need to keep tabs on their populations. Larisa Avens, who leads sea turtle research at the NOAA Fisheries lab in Beaufort, North Carolina, is one of them.
“Sea turtles are often surveyed from the air,” Avens said, “but flights can be expensive, and you only see the turtles when they surface to breathe.” Avens and Downs, along with their academic and state agency research partners, hope to help solve that problem using sonar…
(read more: NOAA Fisheries)
photo:  Larisa Avens, a biologist with the NOAA Fisheries lab in Beaufort, NC, with a male loggerhead sea turtle. Photo courtesy of Larisa Avens.

Underwater Robots Search for Sea Turtles

Scientists test out a new tool for keeping track of endangered populations of sea turtles: submersible robots withside-scan sonar.

From the deck of a small research boat, Rob Downs, a sonar expert with NOAA’s National Ocean Service, lowered an automated underwater vehicle into the waves. The AUV was bright yellow, about 6 feet long, and shaped like a torpedo. Like the AUV that is currently searching the bottom of the Indian Ocean for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, this one was equipped with side-scan sonar. But its first-of-a-kind mission was to find something much smaller than an airplane. It was searching for sea turtles.

All species of sea turtles found in U.S. waters are listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, and NOAA Fisheries scientists need to keep tabs on their populations. Larisa Avens, who leads sea turtle research at the NOAA Fisheries lab in Beaufort, North Carolina, is one of them.

“Sea turtles are often surveyed from the air,” Avens said, “but flights can be expensive, and you only see the turtles when they surface to breathe.” Avens and Downs, along with their academic and state agency research partners, hope to help solve that problem using sonar…

(read more: NOAA Fisheries)

photo:  Larisa Avens, a biologist with the NOAA Fisheries lab in Beaufort, NC, with a male loggerhead sea turtle. Photo courtesy of Larisa Avens.

Geneticist George Church tinkers with DNA to fight disease, create new biofuels, and perhaps even resurrect extinct species.

In the future, George Church believes, almost everything will be better because of genetics. If you have a medical problem, your doctor will be able to customize a treatment based on your specific DNA pattern.

When you fill up your car, you won’t be draining the world’s dwindling supply of crude oil, because the fuel will come from microbes that have been genetically altered to produce biofuel.

When you visit the zoo, you’ll be able to take your children to the woolly mammoth or passenger pigeon exhibits, because these animals will no longer be extinct. You’ll be able to do these things, that is, if the future turns out the way Church envisions it—and he’s doing everything he can to see that it does…

I mean, it’s just too hard to send actual humans, right?

“Our best bet for space exploration could be printing humans, organically, on another planet,” Adam Stelzner, the Curiosity rover’s lead engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said during a conference this month. In a truly wonderful story, Motherboard talked with Stelzner and Harvard University biologist Gary Ruvkun about the idea. Here’s how it would work…

Identify 500 birds with new Birdsnap app 
Take a picture of a bird and identify it. This free new iPhone app is an electronic field guide featuring 500 of the most common North American bird species.
Researchers at Columbia Engineering, led by Computer Science Professor Peter Belhumeur, have taken bird-watching to a new level. Using computer vision and machine learning techniques they have developed Birdsnap, a new iPhone app that is an electronic field guide featuring 500 of the most common North American bird species.
The free app, which enables users to identify bird species through uploaded photos, accompanies a visually beautiful, comprehensive website that includes some 50,000 images. Birdsnap, which also features birdcalls for each species, offers users numerous ways to organize species—alphabetically, by their relationship in the Tree of Life, and by the frequency with which they are sighted at a particular place and season. The researchers, who collaborated with colleagues at the University of Maryland, are presenting their work at the IEEE Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition in Columbus, OH, June 24 to 27…
(read more: EarthSky)
* Get the Birdsnap app here.

Identify 500 birds with new Birdsnap app 

Take a picture of a bird and identify it. This free new iPhone app is an electronic field guide featuring 500 of the most common North American bird species.

Researchers at Columbia Engineering, led by Computer Science Professor Peter Belhumeur, have taken bird-watching to a new level. Using computer vision and machine learning techniques they have developed Birdsnap, a new iPhone app that is an electronic field guide featuring 500 of the most common North American bird species.

The free app, which enables users to identify bird species through uploaded photos, accompanies a visually beautiful, comprehensive website that includes some 50,000 images. Birdsnap, which also features birdcalls for each species, offers users numerous ways to organize species—alphabetically, by their relationship in the Tree of Life, and by the frequency with which they are sighted at a particular place and season. The researchers, who collaborated with colleagues at the University of Maryland, are presenting their work at the IEEE Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition in Columbus, OH, June 24 to 27…

(read more: EarthSky)

* Get the Birdsnap app here.

Neuroscience:  All Circuits Are Busy
Crowd-sourced science has exploded in recent years. An Internet game called Eyewire, from Sebastian Seung’s lab at M.I.T., asks volunteers to trace the fine details of neurons.  
by Zach Wise
H. Sebastian Seung is a prophet of the connectome, the wiring diagram of the brain. In a popular book, debates and public talks he has argued that in that wiring lies each person’s identity.
By wiring, Dr. Seung means the connections from one brain cell to another, seen at the level of the electron microscope. For a human, that would be 85 billion brain cells, with up to 10,000 connections for each one. The amount of information in the three-dimensional representation of the whole connectome at that level of detail would equal a zettabyte, a term only recently invented when the amount of digital data accumulating in the world required new words. It equals about a trillion gigabytes, or as one calculation framed it, 75 billion 16-gigabyte iPads…
(read more: NY Times)
image: Alex Norton/EyeWire

Neuroscience:  All Circuits Are Busy

Crowd-sourced science has exploded in recent years. An Internet game called Eyewire, from Sebastian Seung’s lab at M.I.T., asks volunteers to trace the fine details of neurons. 

by Zach Wise

H. Sebastian Seung is a prophet of the connectome, the wiring diagram of the brain. In a popular book, debates and public talks he has argued that in that wiring lies each person’s identity.

By wiring, Dr. Seung means the connections from one brain cell to another, seen at the level of the electron microscope. For a human, that would be 85 billion brain cells, with up to 10,000 connections for each one. The amount of information in the three-dimensional representation of the whole connectome at that level of detail would equal a zettabyte, a term only recently invented when the amount of digital data accumulating in the world required new words. It equals about a trillion gigabytes, or as one calculation framed it, 75 billion 16-gigabyte iPads

(read more: NY Times)

image: Alex Norton/EyeWire

Hubble Space Telescope:  Galactic Silhouettes
Through an extraordinary chance alignment, the Hubble telescope has captured a view of a face-on spiral galaxy lying precisely in front of another larger spiral. The unique pair is called NGC 3314. This line-up provides astronomers with the rare chance to see the dark material within the foreground galaxy, seen only because it is silhouetted against the light from the object behind it. NGC 3314 lies about 140 million light-years from Earth in the direction of the southern hemisphere constellation Hydra.
This picture is one of many produced by the Hubble Heritage Program, created 1-1/2 years ago to publicly release some of the best celestial views taken by the telescope’s visible-light camera. Now, the International Center of Photography in New York City has rewarded the program for its work with the annual Infinity Award for Applied Photography.
Credit: NASA/ESA & The Hubble Heritage Team STScI/AURA

Hubble Space Telescope:  Galactic Silhouettes

Through an extraordinary chance alignment, the Hubble telescope has captured a view of a face-on spiral galaxy lying precisely in front of another larger spiral. The unique pair is called NGC 3314. This line-up provides astronomers with the rare chance to see the dark material within the foreground galaxy, seen only because it is silhouetted against the light from the object behind it. NGC 3314 lies about 140 million light-years from Earth in the direction of the southern hemisphere constellation Hydra.

This picture is one of many produced by the Hubble Heritage Program, created 1-1/2 years ago to publicly release some of the best celestial views taken by the telescope’s visible-light camera. Now, the International Center of Photography in New York City has rewarded the program for its work with the annual Infinity Award for Applied Photography.

Credit: NASA/ESA & The Hubble Heritage Team STScI/AURA

Kepler Space Telescope Brought Back From the Dead!

The planet-hunting telescope to begin observations again May 30th, 2014. The new mission, K2, will use sunlight to make up for a lost reaction wheel and keep the telescope balanced. K2 will scan the ecliptic sky, looking at a new field roughly every 80 days, as it searches for more planets and other celestial gems.

Find out more: http://kepler.nasa.gov/

Image Credit: W. Stenzel/NASA Ames

(via: Science News)