SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

Celestial celebrations
Balraj Singh Saini
While most of us are celebrating the Diwali festivities here on earth, a huge, strange "cracker" has suddenly burst in the space in our neighbourhood. This stranger is actually the well-known periodic comet belonging to our solar system.

New pig species
A Dutch scientist thinks he has discovered a new species of wild pig nearly twice the size of other pigs in Brazil's Amazon region.

‘Supermouse’ is reality
Steve Connor
Scientists have been astounded by the creation of a genetically modified “supermouse” with extraordinary physical abilities - comparable to the performance of the very best athletes - raising the prospect that the discovery may one day be used to transform people’s capacities.

THIS UNIVERSE
I want to know why the earth revolves on its axis and how?
I want to know why the earth revolves on its axis and how?
Celestial bodies are formed through accretion of dust and gas in large wandering clouds. Clouds interact with other clouds. In this movement affected by the gravitational interaction with many other bodies it is natural that they would also acquire rotational motion.

Prof Yash Pal

Prof Yash Pal

 


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Celestial celebrations
Balraj Singh Saini

Close-up view of Holmes comet.
 
Close-up view of Holmes comet

While most of us are celebrating the Diwali festivities here on earth, a huge, strange "cracker" has suddenly burst in the space in our neighbourhood. This stranger is actually the well-known periodic comet belonging to our solar system. 

The comet, named as Holmes after its discoverer Edwin Holmes, who first spotted it on November 6, 1892, goes around the sun in an orbit that lies between the orbits of planets Mars and Jupiter. The comet takes 6.9 years to complete one revolution around the sun.

But what makes the present appearance so special is that this time the comet has suffered a massive outburst. The explosion was of such a high intensity that the comet increased in brightness from an apparent visual magnitude of +17 to +2.5 (the lower the value, brighter the object), in a matter of just four hours. It was the amateur astronomers who alerted the professionals and the latter acclaimed it to be a lifetime event as occurrence of such massive outbursts is very rare.

A normal human eye can see objects whose visual magnitude is less than +6, which means that at the current brightness, Holmes is an easily observable object for the naked eye. In fact, it is currently the third brightest "star" in the Perseus constellation. The constellation can be located high up in the north-eastern skies after 10:00 PM. Holmes can be found between the stars a and ? of this constellation.

As skies tend to become hazy around Diwali, a digital camera with facility for longer exposure in the manual mode can prove very useful for locating the comet. First, roughly point your camera towards Perseus and take a wide-field picture at a low zoom such as 2X, giving an exposure of 30 seconds. Now, comparing the picture with the star-chart, you can easily identify the comet. Try zooming further and you can easily distinguish the comet from the adjoining stars.

At present, the apparent size of Holmes in the sky is around 14 arc minutes, which is nearly half the size of moon as seen from Earth. Given its distance of 1.6AU from us, this means that the actual size of the comet is around 75% the size of sun. Of late, its shape is becoming slightly elongated. Maybe it begins to display a marvellous tail in the days to come.

The night sky is going to remain dark for yet another week, till moonlight begins to block much of the view. So, make best use of the opportunity with your friends, family and children, cultivating an interest in observational astronomy.


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New pig species

A Dutch scientist thinks he has discovered a new species of wild pig nearly twice the size of other pigs in Brazil's Amazon region.

At four feet long and 90 pounds, the pig is the latest in a string of new species that Marc van Roosmalen reported to have found since 1996. His findings were published in the Oct. 29 edition of the German scientific journal Bonner Zoologische Beitrage.

Van Roosmalen, said his discovery of the peccary - a kind of wild pig he dubbed Pecari maximus - points out the need to protect the region as a habitat for wild species.

He said he made his discovery by accident in 2000, while searching for a new monkey species.

"I sensed there was something behind me and looked over my shoulder and saw three huge peccaries walking in a row," he said in an interview. "They came and disappeared like ghosts without making any sounds. That was atypical of peccaries, who always go around making lots of noise."

The region where Roosmalen discovered the new peccary and other species - mostly primates - lies along a logging frontier around Nova Aripuana, where the number of sawmills has grown from two in 2002 to 14 today. — AP


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‘Supermouse’ is reality
Steve Connor

Scientists have been astounded by the creation of a genetically modified “supermouse” with extraordinary physical abilities - comparable to the performance of the very best athletes - raising the prospect that the discovery may one day be used to transform people’s capacities.

The mouse can run up to six kilometres (3.7 miles) at a speed of 20 metres per minute for five hours or more without stopping. Scientists said that this was equivalent of a man cycling at speed up an Alpine mountain without a break. Although it eats up to 60 per cent more food than an ordinary mouse, the modified mouse does not put on weight. It also lives longer and enjoys an active sex life well into old age - being capable of breeding at three times the normal maximum age.

American scientists who created the mice - they now have a breeding colony of 500 - said that they were stunned by their abilities, especially given that the animals came about as a result of a standard genetic modification to a single metabolism gene shared with humans.

They emphasised that the aim of the research was not to prepare the way to enhance the genes of people. However, they accepted that it may be possible to use the findings to develop new drugs or treatments that could one day be used to “enhance” the natural abilities of athletes.

The professor of biochemistry at Case Western Reserve University at Cleveland in Ohio, Richard Hanson, said that the physical performance of the supermouse can only be compared to supremely fit athletes like the cyclist Lance Armstrong, who won the Tour de France seven consecutive times from 1999 to 2005. The genetic alteration to a gene involved in glucose metabolism appears to stimulate the efficient use of body fat for energy production. At the same time, the mice do not suffer from a buildup of lactic acid — which causes muscle cramps — a feature also seen in the best endurance athletes.

Professor Hanson said: “They are metabolically similar to Lance Armstrong biking up the Pyrenees. They utilise mainly fatty acids for energy and produce very little lactic acid. They are not eating or drinking and yet they can run for four or five hours. They are 10 times more active than ordinary mice in their home cage. They also live longer - up to three years of age - and are reproductively active for almost three years. In short, they are remarkable animals.

“On the downside, they eat twice as much as control mice, but they are half the weight, and are very aggressive. Why this is the case, we are not really sure.”

Professor Hanson, who led the 15-strong team of researchers, said that the first supermouse was created about four years ago by injecting a highly active form of a gene for an enzyme called phosphonenolpyruvate carboxykinase (PEPCK-C) into a mouse embryo. The results of studies on the mice are published for the first time in the Journal of Biological Chemistry earlier this month.— The Independent


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THIS UNIVERSE
I want to know why the earth revolves on its axis and how?

Celestial bodies are formed through accretion of dust and gas in large wandering clouds. Clouds interact with other clouds. In this movement affected by the gravitational interaction with many other bodies it is natural that they would also acquire rotational motion.

This might be slow motion in a large cloud, but when the cloud contracts to form a star and its accompanying planets, conservation of angular momentum requires that these smaller bodies begin to rotate faster.

You must have seen movies or TV programmes where a spinning skater pulls in her arms and starts going around like a top. You can yourself do an experiment. Sit on a revolving chair with good bearings.

Hold your arms out and take a heavy book in each hand. Then ask someone to spin you. If you pull in your arms while spinning you will start going around much faster. This is also due to conservation of angular momentum.

Therefore, the reason that the earth and other celestial bodies like the sun, the moon and the planets we know are all spinning can all be ascribed to the manner of their birth.

Theoretically you could have a probability of a body ending up with a zero spin, but the probability of that is very small. Your next question is “what keeps them moving”.

Once they are moving they keep moving unless some other forces act on them.

This does occur. There is evidence that some billions of years ago the earth was spinning faster, so much so that a day was only 18 hours long.

At that time the moon was much closer to the earth, having been formed in a collision of a large body with the earth. The tidal force between the moon and the earth was much higher.

This caused a loss of energy and momentum. Another consequence of this was that the moon started moving away from the earth.

It is still moving away — at a rate of a few centimetres every year.


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