It's A Busy Month For Asteroids Flying Past Earth

It’s A Busy Month For Asteroids Flying Past Earth

September seems to be quite the month for close encounters with asteroids. After the flyby of 2016 QA2 last week, three other objects will cross paths with our planet this month.

Today, we have had two close encounters. At 1.12pm EDT (6.12pm BST), asteroid 2016 RB1cameas close as 40,000 kilometers (25,000 miles) to planet Earth, about 12 percent of the Earth-Moon distance. The space rock is 10 meters (32 feet) across, a pebble compared to 250458 (2004 BO41), another object that has crossed our sky.

250458 flew over our heads at 2.49am EDT (7.49am BST) and is estimated to be between 0.7 and1.6 kilometers (0.4 and1 miles) across. It passedat the very safe distance of 16 million kilometers (10 million miles), almost 39 times the distance to the Moon, as reported byNASAs Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) Program.

If an asteroid this size were to hit Earth, it would spell certain doom for most life on the planet. According to a research paper from last year, an asteroid of 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) in diameter hitting a continental land mass would turn the planet into a dry, frigid, and dark world.

Later next week, another asteroid will pass nearby. The recently discovered 2016 QL44 will pass near Earth on September 17 at 2.48pm EDT (7.48pm BST), although due to some uncertainties the timing mayvary. At its perigee (closest point), 2016 QL44 will be 1.5 million kilometers (923,000 miles) away and it’s estimated to be between 27 and 60 meters (88 and200 feet) across.

While these close passages shouldnt be cause for alarm, we cannot put our heads in the sand and pretend there is no risk. Asteroids of all sizes are a clear and present danger for humanity, and many government agencies including NASA and ESA have projects to monitor NEOs.

The effort is there, but there is still much to do. We have found only about1.5 percentout of the 1million hazardous asteroidslarger than 30 meters (100 feet) in sizearound Earth. We must keep our guard up.

Read more:

What Trends Will Dominate SXSW This Year?

What Trends Will Dominate SXSW This Year?


Elon Musk speaking at SXSWi in 2013.
Image: Mashable Nina Frazier Hansen

Each year, hordes of tech fans descend on Austin, Texas, for South By Southwest Interactive. This year is already shaping up to be one like no other, with can’t-miss panels and new startups taking center stage.

It’s only March, but 2014 has already been defined by wearable tech and bold, billion-dollar acquisitions. During SXSWi, even more announcements and new technologies could enter the game.

What are your predictions for SXSWi this year? Whether you’re observing the action from home or on the ground in Austin, we want to hear your thoughts and analysis. Share your thoughts, Instagrams, Vine videos and tweets using the hashtag #MashSXSW. If you’re in Texas for SXSWi, don’t forget to stop by the Mashable House to get a photo with Grumpy Cat or an epic selfie on the Wrecking Ball.

If you’ll be tracking SXSWi from a different location, Mashable will be providing live coverage on Twitter, Vine and Snapchat.

Stay tuned for live coverage of the biggest events, and check back to see if your photos have been featured.

We’ll see you in Texas.

Read more:

Relaxed Cat Sits Like Person On Railing At The Park

Relaxed Cat Sits Like Person On Railing At The Park

As summer comes to a close, it’s time to take advantage of the last bit of nice weather. So go outside, and sit by the ball park.

This relaxed cat has the idea. The kitty was caught by  on camera having a nice sit just like a person would. The video went viral this week, and has amassed more than 145,000 hits, and has been showcased on Gawker, MostWatchedDailyPicks, and msnNOW.


Read more:

Deep Space Missions Get Boost As Production Of Plutonium-238 Restarts

Deep Space Missions Get Boost As Production Of Plutonium-238 Restarts

For the first time in nearly 30 years, plutonium-238 has been produced in the U.S., returning a key capability to spacecraft. This isotope of plutonium is essential for powering missions into deep space, and with the worlds stockpile running low, proposals for future NASA missions had been left in the lurch.

Now, mission planners can rest easy, as50 grams (0.1 pounds) of plutonium oxide were produced by the U.S. Department of Energys Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee just before Christmas 2015.Its a small amount, but the beginnings of steady production of the isotope. ORNL is aiming for up to 400 grams (0.9 pounds) per year at first, rising to 1.5 kilograms (3.3 pounds) in the near future.

Once we automate and scale up the process, the nation will have a long-range capability to produce radioisotope power systems such as those used by NASA for deep space exploration, said Bob Wham, project lead at the labs Nuclear Security and Isotope Technology Division, in a statement.

With a half-life of 87.7 years, plutonium-238 steadily decays into uranium-234. Each gram that decays produces about 0.5 watts of thermal power, which can be used by spacecraft to power their various instruments and systems with a radioisotope thermonuclear generator (RTG). The Curiosity rover on Mars, for example, uses plutonium-238 as its energy needs are too high for solar power alone.

Plutonium-238 can power spaceraft for decades. NASA

Such was the state of affairs that some missions had to try different methods, though. The last plutonium-238 to be produced in the U.S. was at the Savannah River Plant in South Carolina, ending in 1988. This left NASA relying on their existing stockpile, and also buying from Russia, limiting the capabilities of some space missions

NASAs Juno spacecraft, for example, which is arriving at Jupiter this year, runs solely onsolar power, in part due to the shortage of plutonium-238 during its design. This will be the furthest spacecraft from Earth ever to operate on just solar power.

ESAs Rosetta spacecraft in orbit around comet 67P Churyumov/Gerasimenko, and the Philae lander on the surface, would also have benefitted from plutonium-238. Instead, they had to remain in hibernation with their systems powered down for several years while they drifted towards the comet.

To create plutonium-238, as part of a program costing $15 milliona year, ORNL mixes neptunium-237 with aluminium, and presses the mixture into high-density pellets. The so-called High Flux Isotope Reactor at ORNL then irradiates the pellets, creating neptunium-238, which decays quickly into plutonium-238.

Shown is part of the process the lab is using. ORNL

ORNL said that NASA only had about 35 kilograms (77 pounds) left, only half of which met power specifications for spacecraft, enough for two or three more missions into the 2020s. The newly produced material can be mixed with the existing supply, giving NASA an increased capability much longer into the future, although some have suggested it may not be enough.

NASAs next mission to use plutonium-238 will be the as-yet unnamed Mars 2020 rover, which is similar in design to Curiosity. And who knows what other future missions will benefit from this new production line.

Photo Gallery

Read more:

Univision Weather Cat Is the Cutest News Blooper Ever

Univision Weather Cat Is the Cutest News Blooper Ever

As far as news bloopers go, it doesn’t get much cuter than this: a neighborhood kitty wandering on-camera during Univision 23 meteorologist Eduardo Rodriguez’s forecast segment recently. The Univision weather cat’s tail first floats along the bottom of the screen in the video above, then the surprise visitor takes a poke around the bottom righthand corner of the shot.

Rodriguez deserves Pulitzer consideration for keeping it together during the fuzzy interlude. According to the Univision News Tumblr page, several cats live outside the station’s Miami studios, sometimes sneaking inside for a bit of TV face — or tail — time.

BONUS: 10 Cats That Hate Toasters, Popcorn and Treadmills

Six Incredible Scientists Who Had To Flee Their Homelands As Refugees

Six Incredible Scientists Who Had To Flee Their Homelands As Refugees

In 1933 Albert Einstein’s house in Germany was raided by agents of the newly appointed Nazi government. The Nazis had systematically denounced both Einstein and his work, calling his relativity theory Jewish science.

Fortunately, Einstein was on tour in the US when Hitler rose to power. Instead of being murdered, he became the world’s most famous refugee.

Fame can open doors, and after a period in England under permanent guard he was offered a position at Princeton, but even the greatest scientist of the age had a lobby group arguinghe should not be allowed to settle in America. Thousands of lower profile Jewish scientists also fled Germany, but usually received less friendly receptions. Many leading American academic institutions had a Jewish quota, and thousands of refugees were turned back to eventually die in concentration camps.

Yet those who escaped represented an astonishing abundance of genius, many of whom played a crucial part in the Allies winning the Second World War and in building the scientific institutions and companiesof the countries in which they settled. The combination of European theory and American application has been credited with much of the scientific progress made in the 1940s and ’50s.

The ’30s and ’40s represent the peak of scientific flight, but the multiple Nobel Prize winners, pastand future,who settled wherever they could were far from unique. Scientists are often seen as troublemakers by repressive regimes. Fortunately, many of history’s greatest scientists have found countries that wanted to take them. However, we don’t know how many younger geniuses had their potential snuffed out because no government would accept them.

These are a few of the scientific giants on whose shoulders we stand, and whose lives once depended on finding refuge in a country more accepting than their homeland.

Johannes Kepler

Europe in the late 16th and early 17th centuries wasn’t a safe place for anyone. Religious wars swept across the continent, and being a scientist whose work challenged dominant interpretations of the Bible didn’t help.

Johannes Kepler’s astonishing mathematical processing, which allowed us to understand the movements of the planets,and the behavior of light,was done while under constant threat. Banished from Graz, Austria, over his religious convictions, Kepler was lucky that Emperor Rudolph II waived official bans on Lutherans in Prague for his sake. This allowed him to do the work that transformed astronomy in relative safety. After Rudolph abdicated, Kepler found it safest to move three more times, possibly preventing other great contributions.

Erwin Schrdinger

For decades, after he fled for his life, Austria honored ErwinSchrdinger by putting him on their currency. sterreichische Nationalbank public domain

Erwin Schrdinger, most famous for his thought experiment about a cat,wasn’t Jewish but nevertheless left Germany in 1934 due to his opposition to Nazism. Despite having shared the 1933 Nobel prize for physics for his wave equation,the basis for much of quantum science, he was shunned by Oxford and Princeton universities over his unorthodox sexual relationships, and took a position at the University of Graz. When Germany took over Austria, his public opposition to antisemitism and friendship with Einstein made his position dangerous.

After fleeing Austria, Schrdinger eventually settled in Ireland, one of the few places that would take him. There, he played a major part in establishing the school of theoretical physics at the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies, while writing a bookthat inspired the discovery of thestructure of DNA.

Salome Gluecksohn-Waelsch

The most prominent scientific refugees from Nazi Germany(Sigmund Freud aside) were physicists, but Salome Gluecksohn-Waelsch was a geneticist who helped explain how the cells in a fertilized egg differentiate into the various roles required for a functioning body.

As a woman and a Jew she faced double discrimination in Germany, fleeing in 1933, and was refused a faculty position at Columbia because of her gender. Despite these obstacles, she went on to winthe National Medal of Science and the Thomas Morgan Medal for her contributions to genetics.

Gustav Nossal

Sir Gustav Nossal. Mark Coulson, 5th World Conference of Science Journalists CC 2.0

Sir Gustav Nossal was just 7 years oldwhen his Jewish ancestry made it necessary for his family to flee Austriain 1939. Where Einstein, Bohr, or Fermi could use their achievements as passports, Nossal had to rely on the kindness of strangers to survive. Settling in Australia, Nossal became one of the country’s most distinguished scientists, directing the prestigious Walter and Eliza Hall Institute,and becoming president of both the International Union of Immunological Sciences and the Australian Academy of Sciences.

Nossal’s hundreds of papers on Immunology led to him being named Australian of the Year in 2000, which might be taken as a sign his adopted country is glad they let him in.

Emmanuel Dongala

For most of us, becoming a doctor or professor of physics or chemistry would be considered an ambitious career goal. Emmanuel Dongala has done both, as well as pursuing a successful career as an award-winningwriter, playwright and founder of a theater company.

Born in the Republic of the Congo in 1941, Dongala was awarded a PhD in physics from the University of Montpellier, France, before returning home to teach chemistryat the University of Brazzaville, later becoming Dean of the university.

content-1466500455-dongala-ffmbuchmesse2However, a civil war in the 1990s that killed 150,000 civilians forced Dongala to flee. Despite his time there as a student, France refused his application for asylum, but support from prominent writers led to him being accepted into the US, becoming professor of physics at Simon’s Rock College, Massachusetts.

The conflict gave him plenty of material for his writing, but also interfered withhis research in asymmetric synthesis and environmental toxicology.

San Thang

San Thang’s voyage across the South China Sea at the end of the Vietnam
War looked a lot like what we are seeing in the Mediterranean today. He fled Vietnam among 409 people crammed aboarda tiny boat seeking to avoid repression from the communist forces who had recently taken Saigon.

Fortunately for Thang, and chemistry, the Australian government then had a different approach to those seeking asylum to today. Now, Thang would besent to hellish conditionson isolated islands, but the 24-year-old was accepted into the country and a career at Griffith University.

Thang’s work providing tools to allow chemical engineers to alter plastics to suit their needs has proven so useful it was at short odds to winthe Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2014. Funding cutbacks have forced him from the position in which he spent most of his career, but he has continued to work on in an unpaid capacity.

Today, the boats crossing the Mediterranean include scientists whose expertisemake them targets for extremists groups.

Many leading academic institutions are determined to avoid repeating the mistakes of their counterparts 80 years ago. The European Commission has launched “Science4Refugees” to match fleeing scientists with workplaces that could use their skills.In the US, Scholars at Riskand the Scholar Rescue Fundare raising money and other resources to support a small selection of those in need.

Image in text:Professor Emmanuel Dongala. Jummai CC 3.0

Read more:

Could Early Music Training Help Babies Learn Language?

Could Early Music Training Help Babies Learn Language?

Growing up in China, I started playing piano when I was nine years old and learning English when I was 12. Later, when I was a college student, it struck me how similar language and music are to each other.

Language and music both require rhythm; otherwise they dont make any sense. Theyre also both built from smaller units syllables and musical beats. And the process of mastering them is remarkably similar, including precise movements, repetitive practice and focused attention. I also noticed that my musician peers were particularly good at learning new languages.

All of this made me wonder if music shapes how the brain perceives sounds other than musical notes. And if so, could learning music help us learn languages?

Music Experience And Speech

Music training early in life (before the age of seven) can have a wide range of benefits beyond musical ability.

For instance, school-age children (six to eight years old) who participated in two years of musical classes four hours each week showed better brain responses to consonants compared with their peers who started one year later. This suggests that music experience helped children hear speech sounds.

Music may have a range of benefits. Breezy Baldwin, CC BY

But what about babies who arent talking yet? Can music training this early give babies a boost in the steps it takes to learn language?

The first year of life is the best time in the lifespan to learn speech sounds; yet no studies have looked at whether musical experience during infancy can improve speech learning.

I sought to answer this question with Patricia K. Kuhl, an expert in early childhood learning. We set out to study whether musical experience at nine months of age can help infants learn speech.

Nine months is within the peak period for infants’ speech sound learning. During this time, theyre learning to pay attention to the differences among the different speech sounds that they hear in their environment. Being able to differentiate these sounds is key for learning to speak later. A better ability to tell speech sounds apart at this age is associated with producing more words at 30 months of age.

Here Is How We Did Our Study

In our study, we randomly put 47 nine-month-old infants in either a musical group or a control group and completed 12 15-minute-long sessions of activities designed for that group.

Babies in the music group sat with their parents, who guided them through the sessions by tapping out beats in time with the music with the goal of helping them learn a difficult musical rhythm.

Here is a short video demonstration of what a music session looked like.

Infants in the control group played with toy cars, blocks and other objects that required coordinated movements in social play, but without music.

After the sessions, we measured the babies brains responses to musical and speech rhythms using magnetoencephalography (MEG), a brain imaging technique.

New music and speech sounds were presented in rhythmic sequences, but the rhythms were occasionally disrupted by skipping a beat.

These rhythmic disruptions help us measure how well the babies’ brains were honed to rhythms. The brain gives a specific response pattern when detecting an unexpected change. A bigger response indicates that the baby was following rhythms better.

Babies in the music group had stronger brain responses to both music and speech sounds compared with babies in the control group. This shows that musical experience, as early as nine month of age, improved infants ability to process both musical and speech rhythms.

These skills are important building blocks for learning to speak.

Other Benefits From Music Experience

Language is just one example of a skill that can be improved through music training. Music can help with social-emotional development, too. An earlier study by researchers Tal-Chen Rabinowitch and Ariel Knafo-Noam showed that pairs of eight-year-olds who didnt know each other reported feeling more close and connected with one another after a short exercise of tapping out beats in sync with each other.

Music helps children bond better. Boy image via

Another researcher, Laura Cirelli, showed that 14-month-old babies were more likely to show helping behaviors toward an adult after the babies had been bounced in sync with the adult who was also moving rhythmically.

There are many more exciting questions that remain to be answered as researchers continue to study the effects of music experience on early development.

For instance, does the music experience need to be in a social setting? Could babies get the benefits of music from simply listening to music? And, how much experience do babies need over time to sustain this language-boosting benefit?

Music is an essential part of being human. It has existed in human cultures for thousands of years, and it is one of the most fun and powerful ways for people to connect with each other. Through scientific research, I hope we can continue to reveal how music experience influences brain development and language learning of babies.

Christina Zhao, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Washington

Read more:

Dinosaurs Couldn't Sing But Ancient Birds Could Honk

Dinosaurs Couldn’t Sing But Ancient Birds Could Honk

For a long time, the idea that dinosaurs roar was based on a lot of speculation. Only recently, a study actually suggested that some may have been able to coo, much like their living descendants, the birds. Birds themselves began to evolve during the reign of the dinosaurs, but just like their terrible lizard relatives, its not entirely clear what they actually sounded like back then.

A brand new Nature paper has revealed that the oldest known vocal organ one belonging to an ancient bird has been dug up in Antarctica. This impeccably preserved syrinx is around 66 to 69 million years old, which means that its owner used it to squawk or honk alongside the very last non-avian dinosaurs in existence.

In fact, as its the earliest vocal organ of its kind, its discoverers realized that the ability of birds to sing and call evolved quite late in their evolutionary history, right around the time the infamous asteroid-based apocalypse took place.

This particular vocal organ belonged to a specimen of Vegavis iaai, a Cretaceous-aged bird that was first found on Antarcticas Vega Island in 1992. Only after a re-examination in 2013 was the fossil found to contain a syrinx.

The oldest-known voice box. NSF/University of Texas at Austin

An analysis of the intricate 3D structures within the vocal organ suggested that these enigmatic birds would not have been able to vocalize quite as musically as todays birds, but they were well on their way. They probably would have sounded most like ducks or geese.

The origin of birds is about so much more than the evolution of flight and feathers, co-author Julia Clarke, a paleontologist at The University of Texas at Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences, said in a statement.

Back then, the world was far warmer, and the southern continent was covered in lush forests. V. iaai would have lived like modern waterfowl, floating on bodies of water and pecking at seafood.

Archaeopteryx, one of the earliest bird-like dinosaurs known to science, appeared in the fossil record around 150 million years ago, but theres no evidence they sounded like contemporary avian creatures. It now appears that it took another 84 million years for the first syrinxes to evolve.

Significantly, thanks to their extremely close evolutionary lineages, this bird syrinx can give paleontologists an insight into what noises their plodding, ferocious cousins may have made from their gaping maws. Sadly, with no evidence of a syrinx within any co-existing dinosaurs, its unlikely that dinosaurs could ever sing.

To speculate wildly, we might have closed-mouth booms more similar to crocodilians in large-bodied dinosaurs likeT. rex, Clarke added. But in the late Cretaceous, the sounds of the forest would be more diverse, possibly with the higher pitched calls of modern bird relatives.

This study provides yet another stunning revelation that the age of the dinosaurs was even more biodiverse than anyone previously imagined. At the time V. iaai roamed the skies of Antarctica, cat-sized dwarf pterosaurs flew alongside far more gigantic ones, and benign leaf-eating titanosaurs up to 20 meters (66 feet) tall and 30 meters (98 feet) long stalked the plains in herds.

Just recently, a panel of conservationists and biologists produced a white paper declaring that the resurrection of long-dead beasts is a good idea, but only if they died recently. This rules out the de-extinction of the non-avian dinosaurs, which is a great shame apart from nixing the chances of Jurassic Park becoming a reality, it also means well likely never know what they truly sounded like.

Comparing V. iaai with an Arcosauria a group of creatures containing all extinct dinosaurs and birds and a modern alligator. Each would have very different vocalizations, and only the birds developed a syrinx. NSF/University of Texas at Austin

Read more: