Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Johnald's Fantastical Daily Link Splurge

Johnald's Fantastical Daily Link Splurge

Gigantic Storm With Huge Tail Erupts on Saturn

Posted: 27 Dec 2010 01:00 PM PST

An enormous storm has erupted in Saturn's northern hemisphere.

Amateurs first sighted the storm earlier this month, but the Cassini spacecraft moved into a good position on Dec. 24 to photograph it from about 1.1 million miles away. Earth received the raw and unprocessed shots today.

The storm has a huge central funnel and a long tail that sweeps around Saturn's northern hemisphere for tens of thousands of miles. A shot in blue light (left) reveals the extent of the tail, but infrared light (right) shows detail of the storm's amorphous core. The photos were taken exactly a month after Cassini recovered from a solar-flare-induced error that temporarily silenced the spacecraft from Nov. 2 through Nov. 24.

Saturn's weather is complex like Jupiter's, but it's often difficult to see such storms beneath Saturn's hazy outer atmosphere, wrote Carolyn Porco, a planetary scientist and leader of Cassini's imaging team, on Twitter.


Images: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

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Honeybees May Be Spreading Disease to Wild Bees

Posted: 27 Dec 2010 10:16 AM PST

Eleven species of wild pollinators in the United States have turned up carrying some of the viruses known to menace domestic honeybees, possibly picked up via flower pollen.

Most of these native pollinators haven't been recorded with honeybee viruses before, according to Diana Cox-Foster of Pennsylvania State University in University Park. The new analysis raises the specter of diseases swapping around readily among domestic and wild pollinators, Cox-Foster and her colleagues report online Dec. 22 in PLoS ONE.

Gone are any hopes that viral diseases in honeybees will stay in honeybees, she says. "Movement of any managed pollinator may introduce viruses."

A pattern showed up in the survey that fits that unpleasant scenario. Researchers tested for five viruses in pollinating insects and in their pollen hauls near apiaries in Pennsylvania, New York and Illinois. Israeli acute parasitic virus showed up in wild pollinators near honeybee installations carrying the disease but not near apiaries without the virus.

In domestic honeybees, such viruses rank as one of the possible contributors to the still-mysterious malady known as colony collapse disorder that abruptly wipes out a hive's workforce, Cox-Foster says.


Now she and others are looking at what the viruses do to wild pollinators. Preliminary results of ongoing lab tests show some disturbing effects, Cox-Foster says. "Is this part of the reason why we've seen the decline of native pollinator species in the U.S.?" she muses.

Surveys show that wild bumblebees, for example, are dwindling in numbers, and the new study raises further concerns. "We recognize that those viruses likely pose a major threat to wild bumblebees," says Sarina Jepsen of the Xerces Society, an invertebrate conservation group in Portland, Oregon.

One of the most interesting results in the study is the detection of deformed-wing virus and sacbrood virus in pollen carried by foraging bees that weren't infected themselves, comments Michelle Flenniken of the University of California, San Francisco, who has studied bee viruses but was not involved in the new work.

Healthy foraging insects carrying virus-laden pollen are one of the pieces of evidence that Cox-Foster and her colleagues use to argue that pollen by itself can transmit viral infections. "Knowing that viruses are found in and can be transmitted from pollen is an important finding," says Flenniken.

This raises concerns about possible virus transmission through the 200 tons of honeybee-collected pollen used to feed bumblebees in bee-raising operations worldwide, Cox-Foster says.

Image: A wild bee (the bumblebee, Bombus vosnesenskii) and a honey bee forage together on a sunflower. Sarah Greenleaf/UC Berkeley

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Snowflakes Under an Electron Microscope

Posted: 27 Dec 2010 09:41 AM PST

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If you've ever wondered what snowflakes truly look like, spend a few moments with these images from the Electron Microscopy Unit of the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville, Maryland.

At the EMU, where other areas of focus include crop pathogens and livestock diseases, "studying the structure of snow is vital to several areas of science as well as to activities that affect our daily lives."

That's no doubt true. But for the rest of us, snow's structure is just beautiful. Enjoy!

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Image: Electron and Confocal Microscopy Laboratory, Agricultural Research Service, U. S. Department of Agriculture.

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