Perseid meteor shower will be a rare, intense ‘outburst’ this year

An outburst of Perseid meteors lights up the sky in August 2009 in this time-lapse image. Stargazers expect a similar outburst during next week’s Perseid meteor shower, which will be visible overnight on Aug. 11 and 12.

An outburst of Perseid meteors lights up the sky in August 2009 in this time-lapse image. Stargazers expect a similar outburst during next week’s Perseid meteor shower, which will be visible overnight on Aug. 11 and 12. (NASA/JPL)

Astronomers are predicting that this year’s Perseid meteor shower should be a dramatic one.

That means that stargazers away from bright city lights should head outdoors Thursday night and very early Friday morning to recline and catch a glimpse of natural fireworks that could feature as many as 200 shooting stars each hour, according to NASA. The show is supposed to really kick off after midnight Friday morning.

The night spanning Friday, August 12 into Saturday, August 13, is also a good time to catch them, NASA says.

Want to see some “shooting stars?” You’re in luck! The Perseid meteor shower peaks Aug 11-12 http://go.nasa.gov/2bhmpHc 

While the Perseid meteor shower occurs annually in August, this one should be more intense than usual. Scientists describe it as an “outburst,” the last of which happened in 2009.

“Forecasters are predicting a Perseid outburst this year with double normal rates on the night of Aug. 11-12,” Bill Cooke, a meteor expert at NASA’s Meteoroid Environments Office in Huntsville, Alabama, said in a statement earlier this month. “Under perfect conditions, rates could soar to 200 meteors per hour.”

The meteors are tiny, but are cruising at 132,000 miles per hour, NASA says. That means they burn up brightly— a sizzling 3,000 to 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The particles were left behind by a comet called Swift-Tuttle.

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This year is expected to have such a bright display because the Earth is traveling through more debris from the comet, according to the space agency. The last time that comet passed proximate to Earth was in 1992, according to the Royal Astronomical Society, which said this year will be a “surge in activity” for the annual meteor shower.

On Thursday, #PerseidMeteorShower was even trending topic on Twitter.

NASA advises that people who want to catch the shooting star display should allow their eyes 45 minutes to adjust.

Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger

Greenland shark could have lived for up to 400 years, scientists say

Aug. 11, 2016: This undated photo shows a Greenland shark slowly swimming away from a boat, returning to the deep and cold waters of the Uummannaq Fjord in northwestern Greenland during a tag -and- release program in Norway and Greenland.

Aug. 11, 2016: This undated photo shows a Greenland shark slowly swimming away from a boat, returning to the deep and cold waters of the Uummannaq Fjord in northwestern Greenland during a tag -and- release program in Norway and Greenland. (Julius Nielsen via AP)

In the cold waters of the Arctic, a denizen of the deep lurked for centuries. Now scientists calculate that this female Greenland shark was the Earth’s oldest living animal with a backbone.

They estimated that the gray shark, part of the species named after Greenland, was born in the icy waters roughly 400 years ago, and died only recently. That conclusion puts the entire species at the top of the longevity list.

Using a novel dating technique, an international team of biologists and physicists estimated the age of 28 dead female Greenland sharks based on tissue in their eyes. Eight of the sharks were probably 200 years or older and two likely date back more than three centuries, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science.

Until now, that record holder was a bowhead whale that hit 211 years old, according to study lead author Julius Nielsen and AnAge, an animal longevity database .

The oldest of the Greenland sharks examined was nearly 16.5 feet long (5 meters) and estimated to be 392 years old when it was caught around four years ago. But that calculation comes with a huge margin of error — plus or minus 120 years — due to the newness of the dating technique, said Nielsen, a marine biologist at the University of Copenhagen.

That means the shark was probably born sometime between 1500 and 1740 with the most likely birth year 1620.

“It’s an estimate. It’s not a determination,” Nielsen said. “It is the best we can do.”

Even at the lowest end of the margin error, the shark would have been 272 years old when it died, and still would be the longest-living animal with a backbone, Nielsen said. Other experts agreed.

Joao Pedro Magalhaes, a University of Liverpool aging researcher, said because the study is based on an indirect measurement he wouldn’t necessarily concentrate on exact numbers, especially when they exceed 400 years, where the upper end of the margin of error goes.

“But the study is convincing enough for us to say that these animals live way longer than human beings and possibly longer than any other vertebrate,” said Magalhaes, who runs the longevity database and wasn’t part of Nielsen’s team.

Some animals without backbones live longer. An ocean quahog, a clam, lived 507 years and two different types of sponges are said to survive for 15,000 and 1,500 years.

While not surprised that Greenland sharks live a long time, “I’m really shocked by the magnitude of that longevity,” wrote Christopher Lowe, director of the shark lab at California State University Long Beach. He wasn’t part of the study, but praised it as creative and compelling.

Greenland sharks love cold water — preferring temperatures near freezing — and are all over the Arctic. The cold water and the slow metabolism that comes with it might have something to do with their long lives, Nielsen said. Lowe, in an email, said “the rule of thumb is deep and cold = old when it comes to fishes.”

“I don’t know why they get as old, but I hope someone will find out,” Nielsen said.

For the age estimates, he uses a complex and indirect system that combines chemical tracking, mathematical modeling and growth measurements. He focuses on the shark eye lens. Those form while the shark is still developing inside the mother’s uterus and measures of carbon in them won’t change after birth, so it gives a good, rough sense of when the shark was born.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shark expert Allen Andrews said the dating method “is novel and is likely robust” but he said there are still a number of uncertainties.

Rare ‘whale fall’ spotted by deep-sea scientists

 Scientists aboard the Exploration Vessel Nautilus spotted these whale bones on the seafloor.

Scientists aboard the Exploration Vessel Nautilus spotted these whale bones on the seafloor. (NOAA)

A rare sight was recently captured by scientists aboard a deep-sea exploration vessel: the skeleton of a fallen whale. Researchers say these bony remains provide a feast of nutrients for sea creatures, including bone-eating “zombie worms.”

Newly released video footage from the Exploration Vessel Nautilus shows the whale bones on the seafloor, in what researchers term a natural “whale fall.”

“Coming across a natural whale fall is pretty uncommon,” a Nautilus researcher said in the video. “Most of the ones that have been studied have been sunk intentionally at a certain spot.” [Extreme Life on Earth: 8 Bizarre Creatures]

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The ecological impacts of a whale fall are far-reaching. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), whale carcasses provide a “sudden, concentrated food source and a bonanza for organisms in the deep sea.” Scavengers arrive on the scene first, consuming the soft tissue over the course of a few months, and the remaining detritus can enrich the ocean floor sediment for more than a year, NOAA said.

The whale skeleton itself is also a rich supplier of resources — particularly for a type of parasitic creature often referred to as zombie worms (Osedax roseus) because they feast on the dead.

“They burrow down into the bone and digest the lipids,” a Nautlius researcher said in the video.

According to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, the species was discovered feasting on a rotting gray whale carcass in 2002. In what could be considered an evolutionary hack to avoid searching for a mate, only female worms perform the necessary drilling to get to the fat within the bones.

“The males live inside the females — sometimes 100 males to one female,” Nautilus researchers said.

Skeletons from whale falls also serve as a hard substrate for invertebrate colonization. “It almost looks like a type of anemone,” the Nautlius researchers said, while observing a mysterious white orb on the whale’s jawbone.

Upon further inspection, though, the scientists said the orb was likely a coral making use of the surface.

Based on the shape of the whale jaw, the researchers speculated it was a baleen species, and could have been a juvenile, based on its relatively small size.

The new footage offers insights into the fate of a peculiar object that was spotted recently by an Australian fisherman. The strange, floating object turned out to be a bloated whale carcass, which scientists say will eventually result in a whale fall after it deflates and sinks to the seafloor.

The Exploration Vessel Nautilus, a 210-foot-long (64 meters) research vessel operated by the Ocean Exploration Trust, is investigating the Southern California continental margin from July 24 to Aug. 12.

Original article on Live ScienceCopyright 2016 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Stunning NASA video shows megarocket booster test in extreme slo-mo

NOW PLAYINGNASA shares stunning slow-mo video of massive rocket booster

You’ve never seen a rocket test quite like this. A new NASA video captures the eerie beauty of a massive rocket motor test in extreme slow-motion using an innovative new camera.

The video offers a spectacular view of the QM-2 test by the company Orbital ATK on June 28, which test-fired a full-scale version of the solid rocket booster that will help launch NASA’s new Space Launch System megarocket on missions into deep space. To capture the booster test in extreme detail, NASA engineers and scientists used what they call a High Dynamic Range Stereo X camera (or HiDyRS-X for short).

“Traditional high speed video cameras are limited to shooting in one exposure at a time, but HiDyRS-X can record multiple high speed video exposures at once, combining them into a high dynamic range video that adequately exposes all areas of the video image for comprehensive analysis,” NASA officials said in a video description. [How NASA’s SLS Megarocket Will Fly (Infographic)]

And the results are haunting.

When Orbital ATK test-fired the QM-2 solid rocket booster, the event lasted only 2 minutes. NASA’s HiDyRS-X video of the test, however, lasts 3 minutes. The test is already underway as the clip starts and is still going strong at the end. Brilliant swirls of superhot flame can be seen dancing about inside the rocket motor’s exhaust plume.

Orbital ATK’s QM-2 booster test was the second (and final) full-scale test of the solid rocket boosters to be used for NASA’s Space Launch System. The first test of QM-1 occurred in March 2015. Two of the boosters will be used to help launch the SLS rocket (which will have four main engines of its own) on missions beyond low-Earth orbit.

NASA plans to use the SLS rocket to launch its new Orion spacecraft on missions that will send astronauts on deep-space voyages to an asteroid, Mars and beyond. The first test flight of SLS and Orion is sheduled for launch in fall of 2018.

In our galaxy’s center, scientists see a void

An artist's conception of the implied distribution of young stars, represented here by Cepheids shown as blue stars, plotted on the background of a drawing of the Milky Way. With the exception of a small clump in the Galactic center, the central 8,000 light years appear to have very few Cepheids, and hence very few young stars.

An artist’s conception of the implied distribution of young stars, represented here by Cepheids shown as blue stars, plotted on the background of a drawing of the Milky Way. With the exception of a small clump in the Galactic center, the central 8,000 light years appear to have very few Cepheids, and hence very few young stars. (The University of Tokyo)

The Milky Way has a huge region that is evidently no place for youngsters. The center of our galaxy has an enormous void that surprisingly lacks young stars, astronomers announced last week.

Using a telescope in South Africa, the astronomers focused their study on a type of star called cepheids. These are youthful stars— just between 10 and 300 million years old, compared to the 4.6 billion years our Sun has under its belt. Cepheids are a key type of star for scientists to study, because they pulsate, and the pulsation time is linked to their brightness, allowing astronomers to figure out how far away the star is.

But when the scientists studied the inner part of our galaxy, they discovered a dearth of these young stars in a huge portion of the Milky Way’s center outside of its core.

“We already found some while ago that there are Cepheids in the central heart of our Milky Way (in a region about 150 light years in radius),” Noriyuki Matsunaga, a professor at the University of Tokyo and the leader of the team behind the discovery, said in a statement. “Now we find that outside this there is a huge Cepheid desert extending out to 8000 light years from the centre.”

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The finding gives scientists more information about the structure of our galaxy— an enormous spiral, made up of billions of stars, that measures about 100,000 light years across. The Earth is located about 26,000 light years from the center.

“The current results indicate that there has been no significant star formation in this large region over hundreds of millions years,” Giuseppe Bono, a coauthor of the new study, said in the statement. “The movement and the chemical composition of the new Cepheids are helping us to better understand the formation and evolution of the Milky Way.”

The study was published in the journal the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger

Whale as old as the Titanic spotted in Pacific

File photo of orcas off the coast of Washington. Neither is 'Granny,' but photos of her leaping from the water are at the Orca Network link in the summary.

File photo of orcas off the coast of Washington. Neither is ‘Granny,’ but photos of her leaping from the water are at the Orca Network link in the summary. (NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center via AP)

Whale watchers off the coast of Washington saw a welcome sight last week—a killer whale nicknamed “Granny” who is believed to be an astonishing 105 years old, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

Granny’s more formal name among scientists who have studied her for decades is J2, and a post at the Orca Network uses both names in the original post about her sighting: “J2 Granny (oldest southern resident orca) looking gorgeous. She and J27 spent more time out of the water than in it!” The link includes multiple photos of her leaping from the water.

Female orcas typically live about 50 years, notes a post at the NOAA, but a rare few have been been known to reach 100. Granny appears to be in this category, or at least close to it.

As the Chronicle explains, researchers who first spotted her in 1971 pegged her age at 60. The Orca Network tells KIRO-TV that the margin of error is 12 years, meaning she could be a youthful 90.

Given the playful new images, she’s doing pretty well for a creature who, if the older figure is correct, entered the ocean around the same time as the Titanic and made it through two world wars, notes the Charlotte Observer.

Why, she’s even the honorary mayor of Eastsound, Washington, and you can read her June “mayoral address” here. (Researchers have found humpback whales deliberately save other creatures from killer whales.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Whale as Old as the Titanic Spotted in the Pacific

US military aims to combat chemical threats with ‘smart uniform’

File photo: U.S. Army soldiers from the 2nd Platoon, B battery 2-8 field artillery, fire a howitzer artillery piece at Seprwan Ghar forward fire base in Panjwai district, Kandahar province southern Afghanistan, June 12, 2011.

File photo: U.S. Army soldiers from the 2nd Platoon, B battery 2-8 field artillery, fire a howitzer artillery piece at Seprwan Ghar forward fire base in Panjwai district, Kandahar province southern Afghanistan, June 12, 2011. (REUTERS/Baz Ratner)

In the next decade, U.S. soldiers could get new smart uniforms that are breathable but also designed to shield them from hazards like viruses and chemical weapons, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California announced on Wednesday.

The uniforms could be made of fabric that contains tiny carbon nanotubes that function as channels to let water vapor out, but at the same time block biological agents like viruses from entering. Each tube is tiny in diameter: a human hair is roughly 5,000 times wider. The lab said that that’s small enough to keep out biological hazards like the dengue virus.

According to the lab, the fabric— a technology they call “second skin”– is more breathable than Gore-Tex.

They’re also exploring new ways to use the fabric to protect soldiers from chemical agents, which actually could fit through the carbon nanotubes. One strategy involves having the tubes seal when they contact a threat— so the agent can’t get in— and another is based on the idea of a layer on the top of the fabric that can neutralize the agent, and then peel away.

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“This is thought to be a really new paradigm of protection, because you can imagine that the soldier will wear a suit that is very breathable and comfortable to start with,” but once in a place with a chemical or biological threat, it will protect him or her, Francesco Fornasiero, a staff scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, said in a video released by the lab that explains the new technology.

The researchers have published their findings in the journal Advanced Materials.

“The material will be like a smart second skin that responds to the environment,” Kuang Jen Wu, the leader of the biosecurity and biosciences group at the lab, said in a statement. “In this way, the fabric will be able to block chemical agents such as sulfur mustard (blister agent), GD and VX nerve agents, toxins such as staphylococcal enterotoxin and biological spores such as anthrax.”

The lab said that the breathable, protective fabric is just one part of the new smart uniforms, which they estimate could be ready for use in less than 10 year’s time.

Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger

The Marines now have robots that carry and fire heavy machine guns

File photo - The Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System (U.S. Army)

File photo – The Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System (U.S. Army)

We’ve seen all sorts of weapons mounted on drones, and military drones already wield impressive firepower, but that doesn’t mean we’re done building crazy machines with fire power. The next step is adding heavy machine guns and even grenade launchers to robots. Thankfully, these are not robots powered by artificial intelligence. Just like drones, they’re piloted by soldiers — the robots only do the heavy lifting and stabilize fire.

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Detailed in a Business Insider video, the MAARS (Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System) is the military’s machine gun-toting robot. The robot is like a mini-tank with a remote control. It can travel at a top speed of 7 mph, which means it’ll walk alongside marines on a mission, and its battery is good for 8 to 12 hours.

When equipped with a M240 machine gun, the MAARS can carry some 400 rounds in addition to the weapon itself. But it can also be used to drag wounded Marines off the battlefield if need be.

A tactical robot controller is needed to operate the MAARS and fire the weapon, and the same device can be used for drones or other devices. The robot has cameras and sensors that transmit information to the controller, which may also make it a valuable weaponized scout.

The MAARS is not alone. A bigger version of the robot exists, the RVM/CART, which can carry a massive M134 minigun — a weapon capable of firing between 2,000 and 3,000 rounds per minute.

Business Insider‘s video is available at the source link, while a longer YouTube video shows the MAARS in action.

Himmler’s lost diaries from ‘last phase of war’ found

The undated file photo shows German Nazi party official and head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler.

The undated file photo shows German Nazi party official and head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler. (AP Photo/str/file)

Among their 1,000 pages, the newly found diaries of Holocaust architect Heinrich Himmler track his hourly schedule—filled with activities both mundane and grotesque—over the years 1938, 1943, and 1944.

The Jewish Chronicle reports that some of Himmler’s diaries were discovered in the 1950s, and hundreds of letters surfaced in Tel Aviv more recently; these “service diaries” were reportedly taken by the Red Army, archived in Podolsk near Moscow, and forgotten.

Germany’s Bild newspaper on Tuesday began serializing the diaries, and theTimes of London has details. Himmler began many days with a lengthy massage in an effort to assuage chronic stomach cramps.

Hours of meetings would follow (one entry shows 19 policy meetings in a four-hour span); meetings occurred with 1,600 people over the course of the diaries.

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The Times reports plenty of innocuous moments: looking at the stars and planned phone calls with his daughter Gudrun, identified as “Puppi.” But interspersed are execution orders, the purchase of guard dogs for Auschwitz, and movements that sound innocuous but were anything but.

A February 2, 1943, entry lists a visit to the Sobibor death camp for “inspection of special commando”; the Times reports his visit was to include a demonstration of gassing, and 400 women and girls were reportedly brought to the camp from a nearby city for that purpose.

The German Historical Institute has authenticated the diaries, and its director says that what appears to be “rather dry” is actually very valuable. “We get a better structural understanding of the last phase of the war,” says Nikolaus Katzer.

Himmler killed himself with a cyanide pill in May 1945. (A trove of personal documents revealed more about Himmler.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Himmler’s Lost Diaries Reveal Nazi’s Last Years

AP Photos: In Brazil’s Amazon, worship with psychedelic tea

  • In this June 22, 2016 photo, a boatman gets ready to cross the Purus river near the city of Boca do Acre, Amazonas state, Brazil. The Purus river provides the main access to the community of Ceu do Mapia in a trip of more than four hours deep in the Amazon jungle of western Brazil. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

    In this June 22, 2016 photo, a boatman gets ready to cross the Purus river near the city of Boca do Acre, Amazonas state, Brazil. The Purus river provides the main access to the community of Ceu do Mapia in a trip of more than four hours deep in the Amazon jungle of western Brazil. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres) (The Associated Press)

Canoes slide through a narrow river, dodging branches and trees for more than four hours to reach a tiny village deep in the Amazon jungle of western Brazil.

The community’s culture revolves around an ancient psychedelic tea locals know as the Holy Daime. The Ayahuasca brew is sacred to Ceu do Mapia villagers, who use it in rituals that blend Indian beliefs with Roman Catholicism.

The Cult of the Holy Daime was started in 1930 by a descendant of slaves. It wasn’t until the early 1980s that rubber tapper Sebastiao Mota de Melo, nicknamed Godfather Sebastiao, took hundreds of followers deeper into the forest to create a new village that would live by the doctrine of the Ayahuasca tea. People here believe the drink heals the body and expands the mind.

“There was nothing here. We had this cleansing ceremony with a candle and we built a house for everyone, for all the people who arrived first. We were all family,” said Rita Gregorio de Melo, wife of Sebastiao and the village’s matriarch.

Melo died in 1990, but his wife, who is now 91, still heads the sect with her two sons.

Brewing the sacramental tea is a ritual in itself. Men chant to a steady rhythm, banging mallets on jungle vines called Jagube. In a giant pot, a man cooks the juice that comes out of the hammered vines and mixes it with a plant with hallucinogenic properties named Psychotria viridis.

The tea is used several times during religious ceremonies, but otherwise not usually more than weekly. While the hallucinogenic effects are usually moderate, drinkers say it helps facilitate spiritual connections.

On a recent evening, villagers gathered for a celebration. Women wore shiny white crowns on their heads, green sashes over their shoulders and green belts around their waists.

At the church, Alfredo Gregorio de Melo, son of the village founder and spiritual leader of Holy Daime, lit candles on a table shaped like the Star of David. Men and women lined up in two separate rows to drink the tea after making the sign of the cross. They then sang together prayers and psalms in a large circle.

“The Daime is everything to me. It saved me from death,” said Luiz Lopes de Freitas, a village man. “I found a world that heals and teaches faith.”