Explanation: The Owl Nebula is perched in the sky about 2,600 light-years away toward the bottom of the Big Dipper’s bowl. Also cataloged as M97, the 97th object in Messier’s well-known list, its round shape along with the placement of two large, dark “eyes” do suggest the face of a staring owl. One of the fainter objects in Messier’s catalog, the Owl Nebula is a planetary nebula, the glowing gaseous envelope shed by a dying sun-like star as it runs out of nuclear fuel. In fact, the Owl Nebula offers an example of the fate of our Sun as it runs out of fuel in another 5 billion years. As we see it, the nebula spans over 2 light-years making it roughly 2,000 times the diameter of Neptune’s orbit. Beautiful to look at, this color image shows impressive details within the cosmic owl. The composite includes images made through narrow-band filters for a total of 24 hours of exposure time.
It’s Friday, so you know what that means - time for SciFri! Today at 2pm ET:
- Supermassive dinosaur would have ‘feared nothing’
- To master test material, give your brain a break
- The Wilderness Act turns 50
- From exotic garden to eco-haven
- Hello, stranger, want to share a cab?
- Randall Munroe asks “What If?”
See you then!
The Champagne Pool
This hot spring is found in an area known as the Waiotapu geothermal area on New Zealand’s North Island.
The hot spring sits in a crater 65 meters across and reaches temperatures of ~75℃. The vivid colors around the edge are produced due to elements that are dissolved in the hot waters as they travel through the ground.
The waters dissolve arsenic and antimony from the ground as they circulate. When they reach the edge of the pool and cool, those elements precipitate out of the water and form sulfide-rich minerals that give the reddish color. The name Champagne Pool derives from another dissolved compound, carbon dioxide, which dissolves in the water and bubbles up to the surface in the pond.
Image credit: Trey Ratcliff https://www.flickr.com/photos/stuckincustoms/4500083965
The number of California blue whales has rebounded to near historical levels, according to new research by the University of Washington, and while the number of blue whales struck by ships is likely above allowable U.S. limits, such strikes do not immediately threaten that recovery.
This is the only population of blue whales known to have recovered from whaling — blue whales as a species having been hunted nearly to extinction. Blue whales — nearly 100 feet in length and weighing 190 tons as adults — are the largest animals on earth. And they are the heaviest ever, weighing more than twice as much as the largest known dinosaur, the Argentinosaurus. They are an icon of the conservation movement and many people want to minimize harm to them, according to Trevor Branch, UW assistant professor of aquatic and fishery sciences.
"The recovery of California blue whales from whaling demonstrates the ability of blue whale populations to rebuild under careful management and conservation measures," said Cole Monnahan, a UW doctoral student in quantitative ecology and resource management and lead author of a paper on the subject posted online Sept. 5 by the journalMarine Mammal Science. Branch and André Punt, a UW professor of aquatic and fisheries sciences, are co-authors.
California blue whales are at their most visible while at feeding grounds 20 to 30 miles off the California coast, but are actually found along the eastern side of the Pacific Ocean from the equator up into the Gulf of Alaska.
Today they number about 2,200, according to monitoring by other research groups. That’s likely 97 percent of the historical level according to the model the co-authors used. That may seem to some a surprisingly low number of whales, Monnahan said, but not when considering how many California blue whales were caught. According to new data Monnahan, Branch and another set of co-authors published earlier this summer in PLOS ONE, approximately 3,400 California blue whales were caught between 1905 and 1971.
"Considering the 3,400 caught in comparison to the 346,000 caught near Antarctica gives an idea how much smaller the population of California blue whales was likely to have been," Branch said.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today approved a new immunotherapy drug to treat advanced melanoma, signaling a paradigm shift in the way the deadly skin cancer is treated.
The drug, Keytruda (pembrolizumab), was tested on more than 600 patients who had melanoma that had spread throughout their bodies. Because so many of the patients in the early testing showed significant long-lasting responses, the study was continued and the FDA granted the drug “breakthrough therapy” status, allowing it to be fast-tracked for approval.
The largest Phase 1 study in the history of oncology, the research was conducted at UCLA and 11 other sites in the U.S., Europe and Australia.
Keytruda, formerly known as MK-3475, is an antibody that targets a protein called PD-1 that is expressed by immune cells. The protein puts the immune system’s brakes on, keeping its T cells from recognizing and attacking cancer cells, said Dr. Antoni Ribas, the study’s principal investigator and a professor of medicine in the division of hematology-oncology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
For many years, when using immunotherapy to fight cancer, doctors’ strategy has been to bolster the immune system so it could kill the cancer cells. But the approach had limited success because PD-1 prevented the immune system from becoming active enough to attack the cancer.
Keytruda, in effect, cuts the brake lines, freeing up the immune system to attack the cancer.
"This drug is a game changer, a very significant advance in the treatment of melanoma," said Ribas, who also is a researcher at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. "For patients who have not responded to prior therapies, this drug now provides a very real chance to shrink their tumors and the hope of a lasting response to treatment."
Judith Gasson, senior associate dean for research at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and director of the Jonsson Cancer Center, said researchers have long hoped to develop an effective and lasting immunotherapy to fight cancer.
"We have long believed that harnessing the power of our own immune systems would dramatically alter cancer treatment," she said. "Based upon work conducted over the past two decades, we are beginning to see the clinical benefits of this research in some of the most challenging cancers."
Generally, about 1 in 10 patients responded to previous immunotherapy drugs. Some of those who responded, however, exhibited long-lived benefits, which sustained scientists’ interest in the method as an effective mechanism to fight cancer.
The response and duration rates for Keytruda were much greater than for previous drugs, Ribas said. In the new study, 72 percent of patients responded to the drug, meaning that their tumors shrank to some degree. Overall, 34 percent of patients showed an objective response, meaning that their tumors shrank by more than 30 percent, and did not re-grow.
Ribas said Keytruda has the potential to be used to treat other cancers that the immune system can recognize, including cancers of the lung, bladder, head and neck.
Survivors’ stories Kathy Thomas, 59, of Torrance, California, was diagnosed in September 2011 with melanoma that had spread to her liver and was invading her left breast. She underwent several therapies that did not work, and she was weakening fast.
"I lost weight. I threw up nearly every day," Thomas said. "My hair was thinning. I just had no strength at all. I was so sick I had to use a wheelchair."
Thomas met with Ribas in 2012 but was skeptical about enrolling in a trial to test an experimental therapy. She soon overcame her hesitation.
"I decided I wanted to survive," she said. "I wasn’t going to let this disease beat me."
Since enrolling in the study, Thomas’ tumors have shrunk. She regained her strength and her appetite. She’s out of her wheelchair and walking normally again. She said she has experienced no side effects from the therapy, and she travels monthly to San Francisco to visit her grandson.
"I just enjoy life now, really enjoy it," she said.
Watch Kathy Thomas discuss her therapeutic experience:http://youtu.be/BOgw7mgQEdc
Tom Stutz, 74, of Sherman Oaks, California, was diagnosed in June 2011 with melanoma that had spread to his lung, liver and other parts of his body. He didn’t see how he could survive, but he decided to enroll in the clinical trial of Keytruda anyway.
"I wasn’t eating. I was on oxygen. I couldn’t walk," he said. "When I went into the hospital at the end of May , I didn’t think I was coming out."
Gradually, though, Stutz started feeling better. Today, he’s no longer on oxygen and walks several miles every day.
"It’s the little things that make me happy now," Stutz said. "I’m very appreciative that I get to get up in the morning, go into my backyard and see my garden. I’m able to be with my children and grandchildren, go on vacations with them. I was close to the end of the road, as far as you can get to the edge of the cliff, and I was pulled back by this treatment."
Watch Tom Stutz discuss his therapeutic experience: http://youtu.be/-HV2W5XrOZY
Melanoma incidence rates have been increasing for at least 30 years. An estimated 76,100 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2014, and nearly 10,000 Americans will die from the disease this year. While melanoma accounts for less than 2 percent of all skin cancer cases, it is responsible for the vast majority of skin cancer deaths, according to the American Cancer Society.
What will your future look like?
Symbolia is looking for pitches for our second anniversary issue. Our theme: THE FUTURE. We’re seeking reported comics, illustrated narratives, animated GIFs, blueprints, and whatever else you can think of that explores the following lines of inquiry:
- How is communications technology, medical science, or engineering evolving and what can we expect next?
- What biotech breakthroughs are just around the corner?
- How is technology changing cultures? What will change next?
- What is the future of religion and spirituality?
- What does the future of architecture look like?
For this issue, we’re trying something a little different. This issue will be a nexus of in-depth reporting, inspiring art pieces, and smart speculative fiction.
If you’ve been itching to contribute to Symbolia, but haven’t seen a good way to do so, this is the time to pitch us.
How to pitch: Send an email with a one paragraph description of what you’d like to cover, why you’re the best person to cover this topic, and links to your work to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The deadline to submit pitches is MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 19.
Curiosity Rover: Dust Removal Tool
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover used the Dust Removal Tool on its robotic arm to brush aside reddish, more-oxidized dust, revealing a gray patch of less-oxidized rock material at a target called “Bonanza King,” visible in this image from the rover’s Mast Camera (Mastcam).
The Mastcam’s right-eye camera, which has a telephoto lens, took this image on Aug. 17, 2014, during the 722nd Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity’s work on Mars. The brushing activity occurred earlier the same sol. The rover team is evaluating Bonanza King as a possible drilling target. The mission has previously drilled into three target rocks to collect sample powder for analysis by the rover’s onboard laboratory instruments.
The brushed area is about 2.5 inches (6 centimeters) across. It reveals thin, white, cross-cutting veins. They might be sulfate salts or another type of mineral that precipitated out of solution and filled fractures in the rock. These thin veins might be related to wider light-toned veins and features in the surrounding rock.
To the left of the brushed patch is a row of five smaller and less conspicuous spots where dust has been partially removed. These are at points on Bonanza King that were zapped with the laser of Curiosity’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument on Sol 719 (Aug. 14, 2014). Color balancing and contrast adjustment have been used in preparing this image from Mastcam’s raw image of this exposure.
Drilling a shallow test hole is the next step in evaluating this location for full-depth drilling to collect a sample. The shallow “mini-drill” test enables assessing whether powder from the drilling tends to clump.
Bonanza King is on a ramp rising from the northeastern end of “Hidden Valley,” between Curiosity’s August 2012 landing site in Gale Crater and destinations on Mount Sharp within the crater. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built the project’s Curiosity rover. Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, built and operates the rover’s Mastcam.