The Next Generation of Exploration: The NEOCam Mission

Credit: ESA

Near-Earth Asteroids (NEO) of large size can potentially orbit close to Earth, making them Potentially Hazardous Objects (PHO). Credit: ESA

In February of 2014, NASA put out the call for submissions for the thirteenth mission of their Discovery Program. In keeping with the program’s goal of mounting low-cost, highly focused missions to explore the Solar System, the latest program is focused on missions that look beyond Mars to new research goals. On September 30th, 2015, five semifinalists were announced, which included proposals for sending probes back to Venus, to sending orbiters to study asteroids and Near-Earth Objects.

Among the proposed NEO missions is the Near Earth Object Camera, or NEOCam. Consisting of a space-based infrared telescope designed to survey the Solar System for potentially hazardous asteroids, the NEOCam would be responsible for discovering and characterizing ten times more near-Earth objects than all NEOs that have discovered to date.(…)
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© mwill for Universe Today, 2015. |
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Mars Probably Used To Have Massive Lakes And Streams

It’s very likely the Gale Crater on Mars, where NASA’s Curiosity rover famously landed in 2012, was once home to expansive lakes, the space agency has confirmed.

NASA scientists first proposed that the crater once contained a massive lake after analyzing data from the rover last year. Now, a new paper that was published Friday in the journal Science provides direct evidence that the red planet was once home to ancient bodies of water.

“We have geological evidence that points to long-lived lakes,” Dr. Ashwin Vasavada, project scientist for NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission and a co-author of the paper, told The Huffington Post.

“We went to Gale Crater to figure out if that environment ever had the conditions to support life,” he said. “One of the necessities for habitability is water, and we already had some clues from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter images taken before landing that there was action of water within Gale Crater but we didn’t know how much water was involved… and we didn’t know how long it was there.”

The researchers examined images taken by the Curiosity rover’s onboard cameras and analyzed data from soil samples that were collected by the rover drilling in Gale Crater.

They noticed three different kinds of rocky sediment that provide evidence for the presence of flowing water, Vasavada said. The first kind of sediment was gravel that is often found in the bottom of stream beds. The second was sandstone and the third was a fine, silty rock that may have once been mud formed at the bottom of standing water.

Standing water must have been a part of the red planet’s history and flowing water must have deposited sediments into the crater’s lake 3.8 to 3.3 billion years ago, —> Read More

Zimbabwe Authorities Foil Parks Employees’ Bid to Smuggle Ivory

By Oscar Nkala

A senior ecologist and two game rangers employed by the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority in Hwange National Park have been arrested
in connection with a foiled bid to smuggle at least eight elephant tusks to an unspecified destination via Harare International Airport.

At a press conference in Harare earlier this week, parks authority spokeswoman Caroline-Washaya Moyo said that senior ecologist Edwin Makuwe and game rangers Pedzisai Nyoni and John Masimba will soon appear in court on charges of stealing and attempting to smuggle the ivory.

The tusks have been identified as part of a large haul stolen last year from the authority’s warehouse in Hwange.

Police detectives from the Precious Commodities and Minerals Unit of the Border Control Division arrested the three men on October 7 at the Hwange Safari Lodge Main Camp.

The arrest followed the seizure the day before of eight elephant tusks as they were being loaded onto an Air Zimbabwe plane. The destination of the flight has not been revealed.

“The offense was discovered during X-ray scanning [of the cargo],” Washaya-Moyo said. “The Authority wants to ensure that poaching and illegal smuggling of wildlife and wildlife products is under control.”

She declined to give further details, saying that doing so could jeopardize ongoing investigations.

A parks ranger, who requested anonymity, said the tusks were traced back to Hwange after the police found a falsified ivory export permit representing the parks authority, which he had unwittingly signed.

Examination of serial numbers on the tusks showed that they were part of the large ivory haul from the stockpile in a warehouse in Hwange late last year.

The warehouse is the regional holding center for all tusks and rhino horns recovered in Hwange and surrounding conservancies from poachers, the culling of herds, and deaths from natural causes.

“We believe we’re on the verge of resolving the warehouse —> Read More

We Can Identify A Friend’s Voice After Hearing Just Two Words

The human voice carries a great deal of information about who people are — information that can be decoded in a way that allows us to rapidly identify individuals and traits.

In fact, humans have such sophisticated vocal recognition abilities that we can outperform state-of-the-art machines designed for the same purpose.

In a new study, which was presented at the International Congress of Phonetic Sciences in Glasgow in August, linguists from the University of Montreal in Quebec found that more than 99 percent of the time, two words are enough for a person of normal hearing to distinguish the voice of a close friend or relative among other voices.

For the study, phoneticists created a “voice lineup,” which operated similarly to when the police line up a group of individuals with similar physical features before a witness. But in the voice lineup, several voices with similar acoustic properties were presented sequentially, with recordings of each voice uttering between one and 18 syllables.

A group of 44 French-speaking adult participants listened to a voice lineup featuring both the voice of a close friend or family member, and other similar-sounding voices.

The researchers found that the participants could identify the voices of their loved ones with 99.9 percent accuracy after hearing just four syllables — in this case, “merci beaucoup.” In contrast, machines have only a 92 percent chance of correctly identifying a voice.

“The auditory capacities of humans are exceptional in terms of identifying familiar voices,” Dr. Julien Plante-Hébert, the study’s lead author, said in a statement. “At birth, babies can already recognize the voice of their mothers and distinguish the sounds of foreign languages.”

This is because humans have a sophisticated sensory memory, which gives us the ability to record and later recall vast amounts of speech, including contextual information about what —> Read More

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