Invest a Night in Vesta

Wanna see a protoplanet? The asteroid 4 Vesta is easily visible in nothing more than a pair of binoculars this month. Credit: NASA

Want to see a protoplanet? The asteroid 4 Vesta is easily visible in nothing more than a pair of binoculars this month. Credit: NASA

The brightest asteroid visible from Earth prowls across Cetus the Whale this month. Vesta shines at magnitude +6.3, right at the naked eye limit for observers with pristine skies, but easily coaxed into view with any pair of binoculars. With the moon now gone from the evening sky, you can start your search tonight. (…)
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© Bob King for Universe Today, 2015. |
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‘The Martian’ Screenwriter Drew Goddard Learned A Huge Lesson From ‘The Cabin In The Woods’

“The Martian” is expected to rocket to No. 1 at the box office this weekend, possibly overtaking the October opening record set by “Gravity” in 2013. Fox snatched up the rights to Andy Weir’s debut novel just months before the Sandra Bullock spectacle hit theaters, with “The Cabin in the Woods” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” scribe Drew Goddard set to write the script and direct. But when Goddard stepped down from the director’s seat to write the now-delayed “Spider-Man” spin-off “Sinister Six,” Ridley Scott laced up his spacesuit instead. Goddard, who has since created Netflix’s “Daredevil” and begun work on a “Cloverfield” sequel, promises that’s for the best. The Huffington Post hopped on the phone with him to discuss “The Martian,” his appreciation for “Galaxy Quest” and one big lesson he learned from “Cabin in the Woods.”

Do you feel like you’ve lived in the world of “The Martian” for a long time at this point?

I think I first read the book in March of 2013, so it’s been about two and a half years, which in Hollywood terms is a pretty short time, actually. But it’s still two and a half years of your life to be living with this, so it’s fun to see it finally get out there, for sure.

After “Gravity” and “Interstellar,” this is the third consecutive year a big space movie has transcended the sci-fi genre and become an Oscar contender. Is it better to avoid those movies in case they seep into yours, or do you see them to make sure you’re not doing the same thing?

I got a really good piece of advice when I first started out in this business. A friend of mine said, “Whatever you’re writing at any given time, don’t read the trades, —> Read More

China Is Genetically Engineering Mini Pigs To Sell As Pets

We’d all like our baby pets to stay perpetually tiny, but scientists in China are taking that desire to a whole new level.

BGI, a genomics institute located in Shenzhen, announced in late September that it is genetically engineering miniature pigs to sell as pets for $1,600 each.

The institute creates the micropigs by using a gene-editing technique that alters the genomes of a Bama — an already small breed of pig — to make it even smaller. BGI uses TALENs (an enzyme) to disable one of two copies of the growth hormone receptor gene in a Bama’s fetal cells.

BGI then clones pigs from the fetus, which produces stunted male Bama clones that are, in turn, naturally bred with normal females. Half of the resulting offspring are micropigs.

Unlike normal Bamas — which can weigh up to 100 pounds — these lab-created pigs only grow up to 30 pounds when mature, around the same weight as a medium-sized dog.

The micropigs were originally used as lab animals that acted as models for human disease, according to Nature magazine. Pigs, specifically smaller breeds of pig, are commonly used as model organisms in biomedical research because they “closely [resemble] man in anatomy, physiology and genetics,” according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

According to Yong Li, technical director of BGI’s animal-science platform, BGI has not observed any health problems associated with cloning in any of the gene-edited pigs they’ve produced.

In the future, the institute promises to offer miniature pigs in a variety of coat colors and patterns, which will be achieved through further gene editing.

While BGI feels confident about bringing genetically modified micropigs to the public, other experts remain skeptical.

“Obviously, this has to be —> Read More

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