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The Forgotten Victims of Climate Change Thursday, July 30, 2009 |

If it were up to Jessica Hellmann, insects such as butterflies and beetles would wield just as much conservation clout as traditional conservation icons, such as polar bears, tigers and dolphins.
"Animals such as polar bears, tigers and dolphins are tremendously important, but mostly because they help define how we think about our relationship with the natural world," says Hellmann. "But when it comes to the functioning of ecosystems, insects are where it's at."
Why are insects so ecologically important? "They carry diseases, they pollinate and they have economic impacts on crops and timber," says Hellmann, a biologist at the University of Notre Dame. In fact, almost 80 percent of the world's crop plants require pollination, and the annual value of insect-pollinated crops in the U.S. is about $20 billion. What's more, most of the multicellular living organisms on Earth are insects.
They are also particularly sensitive to climate change--as invertebrates, they can't regulate their own body temperatures--making them "great little thermometers," Hellmann adds.
On the road again
How will those "great little thermometers" respond when climate change makes their habitats too hot or too dry for them?
Research conducted by Hellmann and Shannon Pelini, one of Hellmann's doctoral students, indicates that global warming may affect a single insect species differently throughout its various life stages, and that global warming affects different insect species in different ways.
Most importantly, as climate change progresses, some insects may become trapped--like fish out of water--in habitats that can no longer support them. The insects may therefore go extinct or lose genetically important segments of their populations. But other species, and no one knows which ones yet, may be able to reach cooler climates by moving north on their own.
Will such mobile species be able to survive on the unfamiliar plants living in their new habitats? To help answer that question, Pelini conducted laboratory experiments that involve exposing caterpillars of two butterfly species to climates and plants that occur across their ranges, and then monitoring the growth and survival rates of these groups.
She will soon announce in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) how populations of these two butterfly species that live at the edges of their ranges will be affected by climate change and the various factors that may limit or reduce their northward expansion.
Hellmann is currently following up on Pelini's research by surveying thousands of genes in the two butterfly species in order to identify the genes that are turned off or on by climate change. These studies are designed to reveal the genetic bases for the tolerance of some insect species to climate change and the intolerance of others.
A controversial strategy
But the potential of some insect, plant and animal species to survive outside of their native habitats begs the question: should endangered species whose habitats are harmed by climate change be manually moved to more accommodating habitats? Hellmann warns that this idea, called "managed relocation" or "assisted migration," remains highly controversial.
"Under some circumstances, managed relocation might be wildly successful and save a species from extinction," says Hellmann. "But under other circumstances, relocated species may overpopulate their new habitats, cause extinctions of local species or clog water pipes as invasive zebra muscles have done in the Great Lakes." Such risks have traditionally compelled most scientists to reject managed relocation.
"Ten years ago, we would have said, 'No way. Managed relocation is a stupid idea.' And that's because the best strategy is to reduce greenhouse gases. But we are not reducing greenhouse gases fast enough."
That is why a working group co-led by Hellmann and partially funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) recently developed a new analytical tool to help decision makers determine if, when and how to relocate a particular species of plant, animal or insect based on multi-disciplinary considerations.
These considerations include the possibility of success of the relocation, its potential for causing ecological harm, relevant regulations and the cultural importance of impacted species.
David Richardson of Stellenbosch University in South Africa says that the tool, which he and other members of the working group announced in a recent PNAS article, represents "a new way to balance the risks of inaction vs. action" to help species survive climate change.
There is a difference between conducting managed relocation and introducing invasive species to new ecosystems. "If we thought that a species had the potential to become invasive, meaning it might become harmful where it was introduced, we would not want to consider that species as a candidate for managed relocation," says Hellmann. Species that are less likely to become invasive include those that are endangered or highly specialized or that we have some way of controlling.
"You just have to make sure that your managed species don't turn into invasive species. And that is the heart of the debate over managed relocation," says Hellmann.

Source: National Science Foundation, USA.

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The First Full Disk Image of Earth, From Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite, GOES-14 Wednesday, July 29, 2009 |

The latest Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite, GOES-14, provided its first visible full disk image of Earth on July 27, at 2:00 p.m. EDT. The prime instrument on GOES, called the Imager, is taking images of Earth with a 1 kilometer (km) or 0.62 mile resolution from an altitude of 36,000 km (22,240 miles) above Earth’s surface, equivalent to taking a picture of a dime from a distance of seven football fields.

"The first GOES-14 visible full disk image shows little activity in the Atlantic Ocean and two tropical waves located in the East Pacific Ocean with a low probability of becoming a tropical cyclone. Numerous thunderstorms are seen scattered along the east coast and western Atlantic Ocean, with more significant rains and thunderstorms in the southeast Oklahoma and northeast Texas area," remarked Thomas Renkevens, a User Services Coordinator from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service, Camp Springs, Md. "NOAA will continue to follow the tropical waves and thunderstorms for possible further development."

The GOES satellite system aids forecasters in locating severe weather events and is instrumental in providing early warnings for residents located in the surrounding areas. "Being able to predict the path of a hurricane with reasonable certainty and only evacuating the areas at risk saves communities roughly a million dollars per mile," Renkevens stated.

"This GOES-14 image also shows a mostly cloud-free southwest United States, with a blanket of low clouds along over the Pacific Ocean off the west coast," stated Renkevens.

Video Here:

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Apollo 11 moonwalk video in NASA Website Saturday, July 25, 2009 |

NASA released newly restored video from the July 20, 1969, live television broadcast of the Apollo 11 moonwalk. The release commemorates the 40th anniversary of the first mission to land astronauts on the moon.

The initial video release, part of a larger Apollo 11 moonwalk restoration project, features 15 key moments from the historic lunar excursion of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

A team of Apollo-era engineers who helped produce the 1969 live broadcast of the moonwalk acquired the best of the broadcast-format video from a variety of sources for the restoration effort. These included a copy of a tape recorded at NASA's Sydney, Australia, video switching center, where down-linked television from Parkes and Honeysuckle Creek was received for transmission to the U.S.; original broadcast tapes from the CBS News Archive recorded via direct microwave and landline feeds from NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston; and kinescopes found in film vaults at Johnson that had not been viewed for 36 years.

"The restoration is ongoing and may produce even better video," said Richard Nafzger, an engineer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who oversaw television processing at the ground tracking sites during Apollo 11. "The restoration project is scheduled to be completed in September and will provide the public, future historians, and the National Archives with the highest quality video of this historic event."

NASA contracted with Lowry Digital of Burbank, California, which specializes in restoring aging Hollywood films and video, to take the highest quality video available from these recordings, select the best for digitization, and significantly enhance the video using the company's proprietary software technology and other restoration techniques.

Under the initial effort, Lowry restored 15 scenes representing the most significant moments of the 3.5 hours that Armstrong and Aldrin spent on the lunar surface.

On July 20, 1969, as Armstrong made the short step off the ladder of the Lunar Excursion Module onto the powdery lunar surface, a global community of hundreds of millions of people witnessed one of humankind's most remarkable achievements live on television.

The black and white images of Armstrong and Aldrin bounding around the Moon were provided by a single small video camera aboard the lunar module. The camera used a non-standard scan format that commercial television could not broadcast.

NASA used a scan converter to optically and electronically adapt these images to a standard U.S. broadcast TV signal. The tracking stations used microwave links, Intelsat communications satellites, and AT&T analog landlines to Mission Control in Houston to convert the signals and transmit them. By the time the images appeared on international television, they were substantially degraded.

At tracking stations in Australia and the United States, engineers recorded data beamed to Earth from the lunar module onto one-inch telemetry tapes. The tapes were recorded as a backup if the live transmission failed or if the Apollo Project needed the data later. Each tape contained 14 tracks of data, including bio-medical, voice, and other information — one channel was reserved for video.

A 3-year search for these original telemetry tapes was unsuccessful. A final report on the investigation is expected to be completed in the near future and will be publicly released at that time.

A copy of the newly restored scenes from the Apollo 11 restoration effort can be found at www.nasa.gov/multimedia/hd/apollo11.html.

NASA's Apollo 40th anniversary web sites provide easy access to various agency resources and multimedia about the program and the history of human spaceflight, including a gallery of Apollo multimedia features. Visit the site at:

(Source: Astronomy.com, NASA)

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Century's longest solar eclipse dazzles |

Despite treacherous weather Tuesday, hundreds of millions still watched daylight turn to darkness during the century's longest solar eclipse over parts of India and China. The event, also this year's only total solar eclipse, occurred as the Moon passed between Earth and the Sun, leaving swathes of southern Asia in the Moon's shadow for up to 6 minutes.

Many who saw the show participated in solar-eclipse tours, including Astronomy Editor David Eicher, Senior Editor Richard Talcott, and Senior Editor Michael E. Bakich. Eicher called the moment of totality, when the entire Sun was blocked out except for the ghostly corona, spectacular.

"The eclipse was FANTASTIC!" Eicher said. "We had a beautiful view of it and I suspect were very lucky given the weather in the region."

In fact, not all were so fortunate. Bakich's tour got stuck in a downpour. "It did get unearthly dark tho[ugh]," he said, and the "Chinese solar eclipse coverage on TV was terrific." So even those who missed out on the actual eclipse had a memorable experience.

Many areas that didn't see totality still got to see quite a spectacle. As Astronomy magazine Columnist and Contributing Editor Stephen James O'Meara recounted in a blog post, a partial eclipse was visible as far away as Hawaii. Despite only about 10 percent of the Sun being blocked, it was still a beautiful sight.

"The sky was perfectly clear, and the orientation of the Sun and Moon during the eclipse made them look like a giant eyeball in the sky," O'Meara wrote. "I was expecting the Moon to kiss the Sun, and then move off. Instead, the two battled for nearly an hour. It was a really special partial eclipse."

Eicher and Bakich have also been blogging about their tours, which include stops at the Three Gorges Dam and visiting Xian's Terra Cotta Warriors.

(Source: Astronamy.com)

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Solar Eclipse "View from the Sky" Wednesday, July 22, 2009 |

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Complete Solar Eclipse in India |

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40 Years Since First Step on Moon! Saturday, July 18, 2009 |

Forty years ago, Apollo astronauts set out on a daring adventure to explore the Moon. They ended up discovering their own planet.

How do you discover Earth … by leaving it? It all started with a single photograph:

Apollo 8 was the first crewed Saturn V launch and the first time humans were placed in lunar orbit. Mission plans called for the astronauts to photograph possible landing sites for future missions. Before this, only robotic probes had taken images of the Moon's far side.

As the astronauts in their spacecraft emerged from behind the Moon, they were surprised and enchanted by an amazing view of Earth rising over the lunar horizon. Bill Anders quickly snapped a picture of the spectacular Earthrise – it was not in the mission script.

His timing could not have been better. It was Christmas Eve, 1968, the close of one of the most turbulent, fractured years in U.S. and world history. The picture offered a much needed new perspective on "home."

For the first time in history, humankind looked at Earth and saw not a jigsaw puzzle of states and countries on an uninspiring flat map – but rather a whole planet, a fragile sphere of dazzling beauty floating alone in a dangerous void. There was a home worthy of careful stewardship.

The late nature photographer Galen Rowell described this photo as "the most influential environmental photograph ever taken."

"It changed humanity's entire orientation," says Kristen Erickson of NASA. "And similar photos taken by the Apollo 11 through 17 crews reinforced the impact of this first view."

Apollo photos of the big blue marble energized grass-roots green movements and led directly to the modern fleet of Earth observing satellites NASA uses to monitor and predict weather, examine ozone holes, investigate climate change, and much more. Like Anders' camera, these satellites have transformed the way we view the planet we call Earth.

Right: 40 years after Apollo, a fleet of satellites encircle Earth, monitoring and studying our home planet. Image credit: NASA

We gained all this by shooting for the Moon.

The Apollo astronauts were, by their own admissions, profoundly moved and changed when they gazed upon Earth from their unique position in space.

"It changed my life," said Rusty Schweickart, Apollo 9 astronaut.

"…You only see the boundaries of nature from there…not those that are manmade," said Eugene Cernan of Apollos 10 and 17. "It is one of the deepest, most emotional experiences I have ever had."

Apollo 17 was the last crewed Moon mission. Since then, no humans have been to the place where they can float and gaze at the whole Earth. (Note: The crew of the International Space Station has a beautiful view of Earth, but not the whole Earth. Because the space station is in low-Earth orbit, only a portion of the planet can be seen at any one time.)

Soon, we'll be back. Right now, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is circling the Moon gathering critical data NASA scientists need to plan for renewed human exploration. NASA is once again charting a daring mission to the Moon -- this time to stay.

Above: "The Big Blue Marble." This is one of the last Apollo photos of the whole Earth, taken by the crew of Apollo 17. [more]

There are many compelling reasons to return. Former space shuttle astronaut Joseph Allen thinks our own planet is one of them:

"With all the arguments, pro and con, for going to the Moon, no one suggested that we should do it to look at the Earth. But that may in fact be the most important reason."

In his recent confirmation hearing to take NASA's helm as administrator, former astronaut Charles F. Bolden said, "I dream of a day when any American can launch into space and see the magnificence and grandeur of our home planet."

Until then, a few astronauts will take the ride for all of us, and they'll be carrying cameras a thousand times more advanced than Apollo.

What the space agency shows us will surely expand our vision. It always has.

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ఒక మంచి మాట

"మనుషులను వారి డీగ్రీలను, మేధోసంపత్తిని చూసి అంచనా వేయకండి. అతని మనసును, ఆలోచనా విధానాన్ని బట్టి అంచనా వేయండి."

- మహాత్మాగాంధీ