Bald eagles in the USA, where to see them


This video is called American Bald Eagle.

From Discovery News in the USA:

Endangered Species

Bald Eagle Spotting: Top Spots

Dec 27, 2013 12:43 PM ET // by Tim Wall

Forty years ago, the Endangered Species Act was signed into law by President Richard Nixon. The act’s authors sought to protect animals, plants and other wildlife from extinction caused by “economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation,” in the words of the Act.

One symbol of the United States, the bald eagle, provides an example of how a change to the economy saved an icon of North America.

DDT, or dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane, weakened eagle and other bird egg shells so much that the eggs would collapse under the mother. The chemical was introduced in the 1940s and already had decimated bird populations by the early 1960s.

NEWS: Bald Eagle Nestlings Contaminated by Chemicals

In 1972, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned the pesticide. The removal of DDT from the market allowed eagle eggs to regain their strength, and the raptors began a recovery.

Bald eagles soared off of the Endangered Species List in 2007. Although off the list, the birds are still protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Lacey Act, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

LIST: Animals Back From the Brink

An eagle-watching trip could be a thrilling way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act and the success of bald eagles.

From coast to coast, National Wildlife Refuges offer winter-long opportunities to observe the raptors, along with special events.

The USFWS presents a cross-country list of these eagle adventures in Maryland, Virginia, Illinois, Tennessee, Missouri, Oklahoma, Utah, California, Oregon and Washington. Here are a few highlights:

Maryland: Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge Eagle Festival March 15, 2014, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The festival is a free way to see more than 200 eagles overwintering in the refuge, the largest population on the East Coast, north of Florida.

Illinois: Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge Eagle Watch Jan. 18-19, 25-26 at  8 a.m., 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Reservations are required for this guided van trip to see eagle nests.

Missouri: Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge Open all winter. A 1.5-mile trail offers views of hundreds of eagles.

Oregon: Winter Wings Festival in Klamath Falls Feb. 13-16. Sessions on bald eagles and other raptors are featured events at this avian extravaganza.

The Endangered Species Act has prevented the extinction of 99% of the more than 2,140 species it currently protects: here.

West Nile Virus Behind Utah Bald Eagle Deaths: here.

Good malaria news


This video is called New malaria vaccine ‘highly effective’ in tests.

From Nature:

Zapped malaria parasite raises vaccine hopes

Maverick malaria vaccine achieves 100% protection using parasites from irradiated mosquitoes.

08 August 2013

A malaria vaccine has become the first to provide 100% protection against the disease, confounding critics and far surpassing any other experimental malaria vaccine tested. It will now be tested further in clinical trials in Africa.

The results are important because they demonstrate for the first time the concept that a malaria vaccine can provide a high level of protection, says Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland, adding that the findings are cause for “cautious optimism”.

No effective malaria vaccine is available at present. The World Health Organization has set a target to develop a malaria vaccine with 80% efficacy by 2025, but until now, says Fauci, “we have not even gotten anywhere near that level of efficacy.”

Scientists had previously been sceptical of the vaccine because producing it required overcoming massive logistical hurdles. The vaccine — called PfSPZ because it is made from sporozoites (SPZ), a stage in the life cycle of the malarial parasite Plasmodium falciparum (Pf) — uses a weakened form of the whole parasite to invoke an immune response.

In the phase I safety trial, reported today in Science1, the six subjects given five doses intravenously were 100% protected from later challenge by bites of infectious mosquitoes, whereas five of six unvaccinated controls developed malaria — as did three of nine people given only four doses of the vaccine.

PfSPZ was developed by Sanaria, a company based in Rockville, Maryland, and led by Stephen Hoffman, a veteran malaria researcher who also led the PfSPZ clinical trial. Most malaria-vaccine candidates are recombinant-subunit vaccines containing just a handful of parasite proteins, but Hoffman decided to test the whole-sporozoite vaccine on the basis of past experiments dating back to the 1970s showing that strong and long-lived protection could be obtained by exposing volunteers to thousands of bites from irradiated infected mosquitoes2.

That the vaccine works so well is a “pivotal success,” says Stefan Kappe, a malaria researcher at the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute in Washington.”The trial results constitute the most important advance in malaria vaccine development since the first demonstration of protection with radiation attenuated sporozoite immunization by mosquito bite in the 70s.”

Against the odds

But to make PfSPZ was challenging. Sanaria succeeded in raising mosquitoes in sterile conditions on an industrial scale, feeding them blood infected with the malaria parasite and then irradiating them to weaken the parasite so that it can still infect people but not cause disease.

Billions of parasites were then harvested from the mosquitoes’ salivary glands, purified and cryopreserved. Many researchers were highly sceptical that sporozoites could be mass-produced in a way that passed the strict quality and safety standards needed for human medicines, notes Fauci. “To my amazement, Hoffman did it,” he adds.

Hoffman says that he hopes to have a vaccine licensed within four years. The trial now needs to be repeated and extended in regions where malaria is rampant to test whether it provides protection against different strains of the parasite than that used in the vaccine, and to see how it performs in different age groups, including young children. The first trials will be carried out at the Ifakara Health Institute in Tanzania.

Piggybacking infrastructure

Even if the vaccine is shown to be highly effective in the field, logistical difficulties might limit its applicability. In mass vaccination campaigns, hundreds of people are vaccinated within minutes, so vaccines are usually given orally or by injection into or just under the skin. Intravenous injection is more cumbersome. “It’s very unlikely to be deployable in infants or young children,” argues Adrian Hill, a malaria researcher at the Jenner Institute in Oxford, UK.

In 2011, a clinical trial of PfSPZ given under the skin reported disappointing results, protecting only two of 80 subjects3. But the need to deliver the vaccine intravenously “is not a show-stopper”, says Hoffman, noting that the volume of vaccine —  0.5 millilitres — is tiny and requires a tiny syringe, although the company is exploring ways to improve the intravenous delivery system.

Another logistical hurdle, says Hill, is that the vaccine must be kept frozen in liquid nitrogen vapour phase. Hoffman argues, however, that the vaccine can piggyback on veterinary infrastructure in places that use liquid nitrogen to store and transport veterinary vaccines and semen for artificial insemination of livestock. “If you can carry semen into the deep Saharan belt and remote areas, why can’t you do that for a human vaccine?” says Marcel Tanner, director of the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute in Basel, Switzerland, which is a sponsor of the trial in Tanzania.

“Which of the logistical challenges can be managed and which will become show-stoppers can be difficult to predict,” says David Kaslow, director of the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative in Washington, DC, a public–private partnership for malaria-vaccine development.

Kappe hopes the trial results will encourage funders to invest more in optimizing this vaccine approach. “If we were talking about an HIV vaccine, there would be no question about investing in this type of success,” he says.

Nature
doi:10.1038/nature.2013.13536

References

  1. Seder, R. A. et al. Science http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1241800 (2013).
  2. Hoffman, S. L. et al. J. Infect. Dis. 185, 1155–1164 (2002).
  3. Epstein, J. E. et al. Science 334, 475–480 (2011).

See also here.

United States governmental licence plate spying


This video is called “You are being tracked” — ACLU reveals mass license plate surveillance.

By Eric London in the USA:

US government using license plates to track movements of millions

18 July 2013

A report issued by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Wednesday [ http://www.aclu.org/alpr ] details an immense operation through which nearly 1 billion license plate records of hundreds of millions of drivers are tracked and huge databases are amassed, providing the American government with access to the history and recent whereabouts of the majority of the US population.

For years, a network of federal security agencies, local police departments and private companies have been using automatic license plate readers on police cruisers, in parking lots, at traffic intersections—even through smartphone apps—to photograph cars and their drivers and to record license plate numbers with the matching time, date and location.

“More and more cameras, longer retention periods, and widespread sharing allow law enforcement agents to assemble the individual puzzle pieces of where we have been over time into a single, high-resolution image of our lives,” the report says.

“The systems can also plot all vehicles at a particular location, such as the location where a crime—or a political protest—took place” through a procedure called “geofencing,” whereby “law enforcement or private companies can construct a virtual fence around a designated geographical area, to identify each vehicle entering that space.”

The use of this technology for such authoritarian procedures gives the lie to the claims of the government and security apparatus that the purpose of the license-tracking program is to stop crime.

In Maryland, for example, where license plate trackers stored over 85 million license plate reads in 2012 alone, only 0.2 percent of those license plates were matched to any suspected unlawful activity. Of the 0.2 percent, 97 percent of those were for violation of state registration or smog check programs.

However, the data on the whereabouts of all 85 million plates in Maryland is stored in a state fusion center, the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center (MCAC), which is then shared with a regional database called the National Capital Region License Plate Reader Project (NCR). According to the NCR, “any law enforcement agency” can take license plate data and “retain it indefinitely.”

Regional databases similar to the NCR exist across the country to help circumvent individual state limitations on the length of time for which license plate and travel data can be held. Though not referenced in the ACLU report, the aggregated license plate data from all state and regional databases are likely compiled and stored indefinitely by the National Security Agency alongside the DNA and ID photograph records and Internet and phone communications of the vast majority of people in the US.

At a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday, Deputy Director of the National Security Agency John Inglis admitted that the depth of the NSA surveillance program goes far beyond what the government had previously admitted: here.

USA: How Corporations and Law Enforcement Are Spying on Environmentalists: here.

Is ‘strobe light star’ twins?


This video is called Flashing Star Spied By Hubble | Time-Lapse Video.

By Clara Moskowitz in the USA:

Rare ‘strobe light star’ may actually be twins

Protostellar object LRLL 5436, NASA, ESA, and J. Muzerolle (STScI)

This infrared image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows an image of protostellar object LRLL 54361. The image was released Feb. 7.

Space.com

An odd flashing star may actually be a pair of cosmic twins: two newly formed baby stars that circle each other closely and flash like a strobe light, scientists say.

Astronomers discovered the nascent star system, called LRLL 54361, with the infrared Spitzer observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope, and say the rare cosmic find could offer a chance to study star formation and early evolution. It is only the third such “strobe light” object ever seen, researchers said.

The celestial oddity is located about 950 light-years from Earth and lets out a bright pulse of light every 25.34 days. Hubble telescope scientists said the baby star object (or protostar) is the most powerful such stellar strobe found to date. But understanding what’s causing the flashing light is difficult, because the system is hidden behind opaque dust and a dense disk of material.

“This protostar has such large brightness variations with a precise period that it is very difficult to explain,” astronomer James Muzerolle of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., said in a statement. Muzerolle is the lead author of a paper detailing the finding published recently in the journal Nature.

However, Spitzer’s infrared eyes were able to peer through the dust enough to discern signs of a protostar, or a pair of protostars, no more than a few hundred thousand years old.

New earth-like planet discovery


This video is about the star HD 40307.

From EarthSky:

Nov 07, 2012

New super-Earth may be just right to support life

A new super-Earth planet that may have an Earth-like climate and be just right to support life has been discovered around a nearby star by an international team of astronomers, led by Mikko Tuomi, University of Hertfordshire, and Guillem Anglada-Escude, University of Goettingen.

The new super-Earth planet exists in the habitable zone of a nearby star and is part of a six-planet system. The system was previously thought to contain three planets in orbits too close to the star to support liquid water. By avoiding fake signals caused by stellar activity, the researchers have identified three new super-Earth planet candidates also in orbit.

This artist’s impression shows HD40307g in the foreground (on the left hand side), with its host star HD40307 and two other planets in the system (on the right-hand side). Image credit: J. Pinfield

Mikko Tuomi said: “We pioneered new data analysis techniques including the use of the wavelength as a filter to reduce the influence of activity on the signal from this star. This significantly increased our sensitivity and enabled us to reveal three new super-Earth planets around the star known as HD 40307, making it into a six-planet system.”

Of the new planets, the one of greatest interest is the one with the outermost orbit from the star -– with a mass at least seven times of the Earth. Its orbit around the host star is at a similar distance to Earth’s orbit around our Sun, so it receives a similar amount of energy from the star as the Earth receives from the Sun – increasing the probability of it being habitable. This is where the presence of liquid water and stable atmospheres to support life is possible and, more importantly, the planet is likely to be rotating on its own axis as it orbits around the star creating a daytime and night-time effect on the planet which would be better at creating an Earth-like environment.

Guillem Angla-Escude said: “The star HD 40307, is a perfectly quiet old dwarf star, so there is no reason why such a planet could not sustain an Earth-like climate.”

Hugh Jones, University of Hertfordshire, added: “The longer orbit of the new planet means that its climate and atmosphere may be just right to support life. Just as Goldilocks liked her porridge to be neither too hot nor too cold but just right, this planet or indeed any moons that is has lie in an orbit comparable to Earth, increasing the probability of it being habitable.”

Earlier this year, the Kepler spacecraft found a planet with a similar orbit. However, Kepler 22d is located 600 light years from Earth, whereas this new super-Earth planet known as HD 40307g is much closer being located at forty-two light years from Earth.

Mikko Tuomi carried out this work as a member of the European science network RoPACS (Rocky Planets Around Cool Stars) – an initiative with a research focus on the search for planets around cool stars. RoPACS has pan-European membership and is led from the University of Hertfordshire by David Pinfield, who commented: “Discoveries like this are really exciting, and such systems will be natural targets for the next generation of large telescopes, both on the ground and in space.”

Maryland Science Center Opens New Permanent Exhibition on Life Beyond Earth: here.

Dinosaur footprints discovery at NASA space base


This video from the USA is called NASA Finds Dinosaur Footprint – On NASA Property.

From ScienceDaily:

Footprints of Cretaceous Dinosaur Found at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

(Aug. 21, 2012) — About 110 million light years away, the bright, barred spiral galaxy NGC 3259 was just forming stars in dark bands of dust and gas. Here on the part of the Earth where NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center would eventually be built, a plant-eating dinosaur sensed predators nearby and quickened its pace, leaving a deep imprint in the Cretaceous mud.

On Friday, Aug. 17, 2012, noted dinosaur hunter Ray Stanford shared the location of that footprint with Goddard’s facility management and the Washington Post newspaper.

“This was a large, armored dinosaur,” Stanford said. “Think of it as a four-footed tank. It was quite heavy, there’s a quite a ridge or push-up here. … Subsequently the sand was bound together by iron-oxide or hematite, so it gave us a nice preservation, almost like concrete.”

Stanford, a “proud amateur dinosaur tracker” has had several papers published, including the discovery of a new species of nodosaur from a fossilized hatchling found near the University of Maryland in College Park. He previously confirmed the authenticity of this track with David Weishampel of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, author of the book “Dinosaurs of the East Coast.”

He had material from the same Cretaceous-era sedimentary rock dated, with help from the US Geological Survey, to approximately 110- to 112-million years old, by analyzing pollen grains sealed in the stone. The Cretaceous Period ran between 145.5 and 65.5 million years ago, and was the last period of the Mesozoic Era.

Goddard Facilities Manager Alan Binstock said the agency considers the footprint and its location “sensitive but unclassified.”

The footprint is on federal land, so improperly removing it could potentially violate three laws: the Antiquities Act, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act and the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act.

NASA officials will next consult with the State of Maryland and paleontologists to form a plan for documenting and preserving the find, Binstock said.

Stanford also identified and presented several smaller footprints — three-toed, flesh-eating therapods [sic; theropods] — to Goddard officials from the same site.

He called the location of the find “poetic.”

“Space scientists may walk along here, and they’re walking exactly where this big, bungling heavy armored dinosaur walked, maybe 110 to 112-million years ago,” Stanford said.

Read the Washington Post story here.

See also here, with videos.

Feb. 5, 2013 — A grouping of 110 to 112 million-year-old dinosaur footprints pressed into mud from the Cretaceous Period have now been safely moved from their original setting on the grounds of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Until further scientific study is possible, the footprints, now wrapped in protective material, will be stored on the Goddard campus: here.

Atlantic sturgeon restoration program


Discovery News says:

Biologists in Maryland hope an adult female Atlantic sturgeon can help replenish local populations of the ancient species. Jorge Ribas gets the tale.

Black Sea and Danube sturgeon: here.

Sturgeon reintroduction in the Dutch Rhine: here. And here. And here. And here.