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NASA’s Hubble celebrates 20th anniversary

WASHINGTON, April 26 (UPI) — The U.S. space agency says it is celebrating the Hubble Space Telescope’s two decades in orbit with several online educational activities.

Hubble was launched April 24, 1990, aboard space shuttle Discovery, NASA said, noting Hubble’s discoveries have revolutionized nearly all areas of current astronomical research, from planetary science to cosmology.

Although the space telescope has had several technical problems, the space agency said Hubble scientists, engineers and NASA astronauts were able to upgrade the instrument and it is 100 times more powerful than when it was launched.

NASA said Hubble fans can take an interactive online journey with Hubble at http://www.nasa.gov/externalflash/Hubble20/.

They can also visit http://www.hubblesite.org to explore the ways the telescope has affected them.

The public also will have an opportunity to become at-home scientists by helping astronomers sort the thousands of galaxies seen by Hubble. NASA and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore are partnering with a consortium of scientists to launch an Internet-based astronomy project in which amateur astronomers can peruse and sort galaxies seen by Hubble into their classic shapes: spiral, elliptical and irregular. More information on that project is available at http://www.hubble.galaxyzoo.org.

For educators and students, the Space Telescope Science Institute is creating an educational Web site that offers, among other things, links to facts and trivia about Hubble. It’s available at http://amazing-space.stsci.edu/hubble_20.

Want to lose weight? Quit smoking.

NAVARRA, Spain, April 26 (UPI) — Not only does smoking not make people thinner, it is linked to weight gain, researchers in Spain said.

Lead author Francisco Javier Basterra-Gortari of the University of Navarra said nicotine poisoning was linked to weight gain.

The study, published in Revista Espanola de Cardiologia, found after tracking smokers, non-smokers and those who quit, those who had never smoked put on the least amount of weight over a 4-year period.

The researchers tracked 7,565 people age 50 and older for initial body mass index, being sedentary, physical activity, calorie/fiber intake, snacks between meals and consumption of soda, fast food and alcohol.

People who smoked the most at the beginning of the study and quit smoking during the study period gained the most weight, the study found.

In addition, those who smoked throughout the study also gained more weight during the study period than the non-smokers, Basterra-Gortari said.

Astronomers watch stars being born

TUCSON, April 26 (UPI) — A new instrument has been installed in the world’s largest optical telescope, allowing a view of the most distant and faintest objects in the universe.

The instrument, called Lucifer, was installed in the Large Binocular Telescope on Mount Graham in southeastern Arizona. The telescope’s U.S, German and Italian partners said Lucifer is the first of two new innovative near-infrared cameras and spectrographs to be installed in the telescope.

After more than a decade of design, manufacturing and testing, Lucifer provides a powerful tool to gain spectacular insights into the universe, the scientists said. Lucifer, built by a consortium of German institutes, will be followed by an identical instrument that is to be installed next year.

“With the large light-gathering power of the (telescope), astronomers are now able to collect the spectral fingerprints of the faintest and most distant objects in the universe,” said Professor Richard Green of the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory and the telescope’s director.

Lucifer is mounted at the focus points of the telescope’s two giant 27.6-foot-diameter mirrors. Each instrument is cooled to minus 213 degrees Celsius to observe near-infrared wavelengths. The researchers said near-infrared observations are essential for understanding the formation of stars and planets.

Lucifer is an acronym for large binocular telescope near-infrared utility with camera and integral field unit for extragalactic research.

Brain gene plays big role in intelligence

SALT LAKE CITY, April 26 (UPI) — U.S. researchers say they’ve found the brain gene STX1A plays a significant role in the level of intelligence displayed by Williams Syndrome patients.

A multi-institution team led by University of Utah Professor Julie Korenberg says its findings could have implications for the understanding of intelligence and treatment of neurological disease in the general population.

Researchers at UCLA, the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the Salk Institute and the University of Utah found variations in the expression of STX1A could account for 15.6 percent of cognitive variation in a group of 65 Williams Syndrome patients. STX1A is involved in the electrochemical processes that occur at the brain’s synapses.

Williams Syndrome is a neurodevelopmental disorder caused by the deletion of two dozen genes from chromosome 7 — a tiny fraction of the nearly 30,000 genes found in humans, the scientists said. But such patients have one less copy each of the genes in question than the general population and typically exhibit an IQ of 60, compared to an average of 100 for the general population.

“This study shows in part how nature’s hand shapes intelligence at the synapse,” Korenberg said. “Monitoring gene expression may provide unique insights into the neurobiology and genetics of intelligence in Williams Syndrome subjects and possibly the general population,” Korenberg said.

The research appears in the online journal PLoS One.

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Categorized | Consumption, Other, Smoking
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