Monday, November 30, 2009

Images of space shuttle Atlantis

1. The Way Home
Seen over the Mediterranean Sea, near the Algerian coast, the space shuttle Atlantis is featured in this image photographed by the Expedition 21 crew on the International Space Station soon after the shuttle and station began their post-undocking separation. Undocking of the two spacecraft occurred at 4:53 a.m. EST on Nov. 25, 2009.

2. Touch Down!
Streams of smoke trail from the main landing gear tires as space shuttle Atlantis touches down on Runway 33 at the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida after 11 days in space, completing the 4.5-million-mile STS-129 mission on orbit 171. On STS-129, the crew delivered 14 tons of cargo to the International Space Station, including two ExPRESS Logistics Carriers containing spare parts to sustain station operations after the shuttles are retired next year.

3.Thin Blue Line
The thin line of Earth's atmosphere and the setting sun are featured in this image photographed by the crew of the International Space Station while space shuttle Atlantis on the STS-129 mission was docked with the station.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Air shed near a highway target either the lungs or heart

Particle pollutants collected from the same air shed (the air within a particular geographic area) near a highway target either the lungs or heart depending on their size and associated chemical components. The research improves understanding of the health impacts of air particles near roads.

More than 50 percent of the total emissions of PM in urban areas are related to road traffic. Near roadway studies have reported associations between traffic density or proximity to roads and respiratory symptoms in children.

Researchers will apply the results to further investigate particulate matter’s (PM) health impact on the heart and lungs.

To learn more about the toxic effects of PM, EPA researchers took samples of three different sizes of the particles – coarse, fine, and ultrafine – near a highway in Raleigh, N.C. Coarse particles (PM2.5-10) are produced by abrasion of automobile brakes and tires and dispersion of road dust, while fine particles (PM0.1-2.5) and ultrafine particles (PM0.1) are emitted from the tail pipe, or form as a result of atmospheric reactions. Researchers then conducted toxicity studies in mice using samples of each particle.

Researchers found the coarse PM produced significant lung effects while ultrafine PM (and to a lesser extent fine PM) induced heart effects. While samples were taken from two locations near the road (22 yards and 301 yards), for the health effects studied, there were no substantial differences in health effects between the two samples although the near road coarse material was enriched for several metal species.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Ozone hole over Antarctica - 2009

The size of the annual ozone hole over Antarctica peaked in late September at 23.8 million square miles, slightly smaller than the North American continent, according to a news release from the NOAA in November.

That ranks as the 10th largest since satellite measurements began in 1979. Ozone over South Pole Station also reached its thinnest vertical point of the year on Sept. 26, NOAA reported.The ozone layer in the Earth’s stratosphere, between 10 and 30 kilometers above the ground, helps shield the planet from harmful ultraviolet radiation. Human-produced compounds known as chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs, release ozone-destroying chemicals into the atmosphere responsible for the depletion.

Extreme cold, ice cloud formation in the stratosphere, and a pattern of rapidly circulating air, called the polar vortex, make the ozone layer over Antarctica much more vulnerable to CFC-destruction than anywhere else on the planet.

International agreements have strictly limited the use of CFCs since the early 1990s. Scientists predict the ozone hole will recover by the end of the century.

Scientists in Antarctica, including teams from NOAA and the University of Wyoming, have been measuring atmospheric ozone since 1986.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Final Spacewalk preparations by the Crew

The combined 12-member crew of Atlantis and the International Space Station will move the last of this mission’s spare hardware during the third and final spacewalk today.

Mission Specialists Randy Bresnik and Robert Satcher Jr. are scheduled to begin their six-hour spacewalk an hour late at about 8:18 a.m. EST. They will transfer an oxygen filled High Pressure Gas Tank (HPGT) from the EXPRESS Logistics Carrier 2, or ELC2, located on the starboard truss, to a spot on the outside of the Quest Airlock. The tank will be used to replenish atmosphere lost when spacewalkers enter and exit the station.
While Satcher is relocating the HPGT, Bresnik will install the seventh Materials International Space Station Experiment, or MISSE 7. This is the most advanced of the MISSE payloads to date and will be the first to receive power directly from the station and use the station’s communication system to send commands and downlink real-time data.

On Sunday, Bresnik told the flight controllers his new daughter, Abigail Mae Bresnik, had been born in Houston at 11:04 p.m. CST Saturday. He said his wife Rebecca and new daughter, 6 pounds, 13 ounces and 20 inches long, were doing well. Bresnik got the news by private phone patch through mission control shortly after the crew was awakened.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer or Wise is getting ready to roll

Wise is scheduled to launch no earlier than 6:09 a.m. PST (9:09 a.m. EST) on Dec. 9 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. It will circle Earth over the poles, scanning the entire sky one-and-a-half times in nine months. The mission will uncover hidden cosmic objects, including the coolest stars, dark asteroids and the most luminous galaxies.

The mission will map the entire sky at four infrared wavelengths with sensitivity hundreds to hundreds of thousands of times greater than its predecessors, cataloging hundreds of millions of objects. The data will serve as navigation charts for other missions, pointing them to the most interesting targets. NASA's Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescopes, the European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory, and NASA's upcoming Sofia and James Webb Space Telescope will follow up on Wise finds.

Wise also will find the coolest of the "failed" stars, or brown dwarfs. Scientists speculate it is possible that a cool star lurks right under our noses, closer to us than our nearest known star, Proxima Centauri, which is four light-years away. If so, Wise will easily pick up its glow. The mission also will spot dusty nests of stars and swirling planet-forming disks, and may find the most luminous galaxy in the universe.

To sense the infrared glow of stars and galaxies, the Wise spacecraft cannot give off any detectable infrared light of its own. This is accomplished by chilling the telescope and detectors to ultra-cold temperatures. The coldest of Wise's detectors will operate at below 8 Kelvin, or minus 445 degrees Fahrenheit.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mudsnails can mean big trouble: EPA Researchers

Researchers from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Mid-Continent Ecology Division have discovered an invasive species living in the waters of Lake Superior: the tiny New Zealand mudsnail (Potamopyrgus antipodarum).
The snail was discovered in sediments collected from Duluth Superior Harbor and the St. Louis River Estuary during a survey focused specifically on finding new invaders in Great Lakes harbors. EPA researchers found more than 100 New Zealand mudsnails.
Although only about the size of a peppercorn when fully grown, New Zealand mudsnails can mean big trouble. For starters, a snail does not need a partner to reproduce. New Zealand mudsnails breed asexually-essentially cloning themselves. Small populations can quickly explode.
In addition, by closing up its shell, a New Zealand mudsnail can survive for days out of water. Hitching a ride on the bottom of a boat, a pair of hip waders, or some fishing gear, snails can easily be moved accidentally from one body of water to the next. Once the New Zealand mudsnail is established in an area, it's hard to avoid new infestations.
"They have adapted so well in Western rivers that they have pushed out almost all of the native insects, snails, and other invertebrates that are important food for fish," says Doug Jensen, aquatic invasive species program coordinator for Minnesota Sea Grant. "More than 700,000 New Zealand mudsnails per square meter cover the bottoms of some rivers. That's like having 585,000 snails in your bathtub!"
Spreading the Word
State agencies in Minnesota and Wisconsin have launched communications campaigns prior to the beginning of boating and fishing seasons to alert people to look out for the snail, and take actions to reduce the chances of helping the snail spread.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ozone layer and Climate change impact on Air quality

In many areas of the country, ozone pollution on hot summer days is as predictable as an over-abundance of mosquitoes crashing your backyard barbecue. Like sunburn, ground level ozone thrives on sunlight. Keeping the pollutant at regulated levels to protect public health, however, may be an even greater challenge for air quality managers in the near future because of global climate change.

An April 2009 EPA report compiles and assesses the latest science on the implications of climate change for ozone formation in the United States. The report's findings demonstrate the potential for climate change to make ozone management more difficult. The report also highlights the gaps in science that require further study in this relatively new field of modeling climate and atmospheric chemistry.

The studies cannot predict what the future will hold for air quality as climate change continues, but they do provide some of the first critical information that air quality managers and policy makers can use to formulate pollution control strategies.

For example, climate change has the potential to produce significant increases in ground-level ozone in many regions, so air quality managers in areas just below or not in compliance with ozone standards should begin to consider the potential effects of climate change. Climate change also may lengthen the ozone season, so policy makers may need to extend the time over which they monitor ozone concentrations, and issue air quality alerts earlier in the spring and later in the fall.

"This report represents a significant advancement in our understanding of the possible impacts of climate change on air quality in the United States," says Joel Scheraga, National Program Director for EPA's Global Change Research Program. "It is our hope that the work we've done will enhance our ability as a nation to protect air quality and human health, even as the climate changes."

Upcoming reports will focus on other regulated pollutants, such as particulate matter and mercury, and the combined effects of climate and human-caused emissions. This will provide a more complete understanding of the range of possible impacts of global climate change on regional air quality.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Some General tips, while traveling this summer

Plan Ahead...
If you are traveling with perishable food, place it in a cooler with ice or freezer packs. When carrying drinks, consider packing them in a separate cooler so the food cooler is not opened frequently. Have plenty of ice or frozen gel-packs on hand before starting to pack food. If you take perishable foods along (for example, meat, poultry, eggs, and salads) for eating on the road or to cook at your vacation spot, plan to keep everything on ice in your cooler.

Pack Safely...
Pack perishable foods directly from the refrigerator or freezer into the cooler. Meat and poultry may be packed while it is still frozen; in that way it stays colder longer. Also, a full cooler will maintain its cold temperatures longer than one that is partially filled. Be sure to keep raw meat and poultry wrapped separately from cooked foods, or foods meant to be eaten raw such as fruits.

If the cooler is only partially filled, pack the remaining space with more ice. For long trips to the shore or the mountains, take along two coolers — one for the day's immediate food needs, such as lunch, drinks or snacks, and the other for perishable foods to be used later in the vacation. Limit the times the cooler is opened. Open and close the lid quickly.

Now, follow these food safety tips:

When Camping...
Remember to keep the cooler in a shady spot. Keep it covered with a blanket, tarp or poncho, preferably one that is light in color to reflect heat.

Bring along bottled water or other canned or bottled drinks. Always assume that streams and rivers are not safe for drinking. If camping in a remote area, bring along water purification tablets or equipment. These are available at camping supply stores.

Keep hands and all utensils clean when preparing food. Use disposable moist towels to clean hands. When planning meals, think about buying and using shelf-stable food to ensure food safety.

When Boating...
If boating on vacation, or out for the day, make sure the all-important cooler is along.

Don't let perishable food sit out while swimming or fishing. Remember, food sitting out for more than 2 hours is not safe. The time frame is reduced to just 1 hour if the outside temperature is above 90 °F.

Now, about that "catch" of fish — assuming the big one did not get away. For fin fish: scale, gut and clean the fish as soon as they are caught. Wrap both whole and cleaned fish in water-tight plastic and store on ice. Keep 3-4 inches of ice on the bottom of the cooler. Alternate layers of fish and ice. Cook the fish in 1-2 days, or freeze. After cooking, eat within 3-4 days. Make sure the raw fish stays separate from cooked foods.

Crabs, lobsters and other shellfish must be kept alive until cooked. Store in a bushel or laundry basket under wet burlap. Crabs and lobsters are best eaten the day they are caught. Live oysters can keep 7-10 days; mussels and clams, 4-5 days.

Caution: Be aware of the potential dangers of eating raw shellfish. This is especially true for persons with liver disorders or weakened immune systems. However, no one should eat raw shellfish.

When at the Beach
Plan ahead. Take along only the amount of food that can be eaten to avoid having leftovers. If grilling, make sure local ordinances allow it.

Bring the cooler! Partially bury it in the sand, cover with blankets, and shade with a beach umbrella.

Bring along disposable moist towelettes for cleaning hands.

If dining along the boardwalk, make sure the food stands frequented look clean, and that hot foods are served hot and cold foods cold. Don't eat anything that has been sitting out in the hot sun for more than 2 hours (1 hour when the temperature is above 90 °F) — a real invitation for foodborne illness and a spoiled vacation.

When in the Vacation Home or the Recreation Vehicle...
If a vacation home or a recreational vehicle has not been used for a while, check leftover canned food from last year. The Meat and Poultry Hotline recommends that canned foods which may have been exposed to freezing and thawing temperatures over the winter be discarded.

Also, check the refrigerator. If unplugged from last year, thoroughly clean it before using. Make sure the refrigerator, food preparation areas, and utensils in the vacation home or in the recreational vehicle are thoroughly cleaned with hot soapy water.