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NASA's last space shuttle, Atlantis, has left International Space Station and is back home. Their mission was the 135th and last flight for the program, which began in 1981. Over the past 30 years, the space shuttles held more than just humans and the occasional animals. A Star Wars lightsaber, Buzz Lightyear figurine, and even the Mets’ home plate have all been space travelers. See a list of the top 9 weirdest things that flew into space.

BuzzLightyear


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As Atlantis landed at the Kennedy Space Station this morning, many Orlando locals were able to hear the loud sonic boom as the shuttle re-entered Earth’s atmosphere. The shuttle’s twin sonic booms - caused by shock waves at its nose and tail - are a result of the orbiter traveling faster than the speed of sound. Below is a diagram explaining how sonic booms occur and where they were heard:

ShuttleSonicBoom

 

The following YouTube clip is a recording of the Sonic Boom heard in Naples, FL.


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By Marcus Pfister

A beautiful, conceited fish lives in the deep part of the ocean. His scales sparkle and shine as he swims through the ocean - alone. The other fish attempt to befriend him, but he ignores them until one day when a small blue fish approaches him. The small blue fish tells the Rainbow Fish how beautiful his scales are, and asks for one of them. Horrified, the Rainbow Fish refuses and swims on, puzzling aloud over his loneliness.

A crab directs him to an octopus, whose advice is simple: give away his scales to the other fish and he will be happy. After some thought, and a second request from the small blue fish, the Rainbow Fish takes the octopus's advice and finds friendship and happiness. This is a great book for children to learn about the importance of sharing.

the_rainbow_fish


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A discovery from Montana’s Hell Creek Formation leads researchers to believe the Triceratops may have been the last dinosaur standing. At 65 million years old, the rhinoceros-like, three-horned Triceratops would be the youngest dinosaur known to man. The dino’s age falls into the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) period where scientists believe all non-avian, or non bird-like, dinos became extinct. This finding could prove the “3-meter gap” theory false.

The 3-meter gap theory suggests dinosaurs gradually died out before the K-T event 65 million years ago. Those who support this theory believe a meteor couldn’t have killed all the dinosaurs at once because there is a segment free from any fossils. The recent discovery at Hell Creek seems to prove that theory wrong. According to the article on Discovery News, The Hell Creek Triceratops “was not only found within that 3-meter region, but it also exists at the upper reaches of it, proving that at least one dinosaur and presumably more were still alive when the meteorite blasted into Chicxulub, Mexico.” Thus, the opposing theory to the 3-meter gap suggests dinosaurs went extinct in masses because a meteor struck their homeland.

Researchers are still discovering fossils of small mammals that lived after the KT event in the Montana area. The mammals, including hoofed condylarths and rodent like multiuberculates, had to adapt and relocate after the dinosaurs went extinct. Why certain creatures survived the K-T extinction may never be known but science suggests their diet had something to do with it. Dinosaur extinction is a mystery waiting to be solved. Archeologists and researchers are continually looking to solve the case, so discoveries like the Triceratops in Montana are helpful pieces added to the puzzle.

Triceratops


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Wine may not just be for unwinding after a hard day of work on Earth. French researchers suggest red wine may reduce the effects of microgravity on astronauts in space. Microgravity is also known as weightlessness or zero gravity. It is a state of free fall, just like the feeling you get as you drop on a roller coaster.

When experienced over an extended period of time, microgravity can have some scary consequences. Bone deterioration, muscle loss, weakened immune system, dehydration, and shortness of breath are all common side effects of weightlessness on astronauts. Human bones grow in a state of gravity and our immune system builds up to ward off infections we are exposed to on Earth. Once humans are taken out of that state of gravity and familiar environment for an extended period of time, our bodies can react negatively to the change. In space, many astronauts experience nausea, headaches, sweating, and of energy from Space Adaption Syndrome. It usually lasts a few days, but their immune system is weakened.

Astronauts go through extensive training to prepare for these effects. But according to recent research, drinking red wine could reduce the risks associated with zero gravity. As stated in an article from DiscoveryNews.com, “Red wine contains resveratrol, an antioxidant that prevents blood clots, lowers "bad" cholesterol levels, and just helps protect your blood vessels in general. And now it seems as if resveratrol can also prevent bone density loss and muscle atrophy.” By studying rats in a simulated microgravity environment, the French researchers were able to see that those rats that didn’t receive resveratrol showed a loss of bone and muscle density, as well as signs of pre-diabetes from insulin resistance.

So what’s the catch? Why aren’t astronauts popping bottles of vintage in space? It turns out the rats had to consume quite a bit of resveratrol to show resistance to microgravity. It would take more than one or two glasses of wine for humans to do so. NASA certainly doesn’t want our astronauts intoxicated in space, so more research will need to be done. For now, the astronauts aboard Atlantis can look forward to a nice glass of wine when they come back to earth.

red wine


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El Nino and La Nina are the two most powerful weather phenomena on the planet and are known to alter the climate across more than half the planet! El Nino is the warming of water in the Pacific Ocean, determined by a comparison of average water temperatures over several years. If the ocean between the coasts of South America-Peru, Ecuador, Columbia-and the middle of the ocean toward the Date Line is warmer by 2-10 degrees F, we know that an El Nino is here. La Nina, officially called ENSO, is the cooling of water in the Pacific Ocean. El Nino and La Nina may alternate between every other year and every three years, so that the time from one El Nino to the next tends to be every three to seven years.

The tremendous phenomena of El Nino, known for its warming effect on the water in the Pacific Ocean is likely caused by underwater volcanic activity. El Nino weather can include rain and flooding along the Pacific coast, tornadoes and thunderstorms in the southern U.S., and fewer than normal hurricanes in the Atlantic. The warm waters of El Nino are also known to disrupt the food chain of fish, birds and sea mammals. During an El Nino, an increased dryness can occur in areas typically saturated with rainfall between November and March in the western Pacific over Indonesia and northern Australia. On the flip side, other areas such as Peru and Ecuador see an increase in rainfall. In fact, the El Nino was discovered in Peru by fishermen who noticed that every three to seven years, there was an increase in rainfall.

El_Nino

Satellite Image of El Nino

La Nina happens about half as often as El Nino. During a La Nina, winter temperatures in the U.S. are warmer than normal in the Southeast and cooler than normal in the Northwest. La Nina, known for its cooling effect on the water in the Pacific Ocean, can include weather like snow and rain on the west coast, unusually cold weather in Alaska, unusually warm weather in the rest of the U.S., drought in the southwest, and a higher than normal number of hurricanes in the Atlantic.

La_Nina

Satellite Image of La Nina

The reason there are fewer hurricanes during El Nino, despite warmer waters, can be explained by the jet stream, or a long, narrow, wandering current of high speed winds blowing from a generally westerly direction several miles above the Earth’s surface. El Nino tends to suppress the formation of hurricanes by steering the subtropical jet stream into the hurricane’s path and effectively cutting off the tops of the hurricanes with its strong winds, preventing them from growing any bigger. During a La Nina, on the other hand, the jet stream works in the advantage of a forming hurricane, allowing them to grow with ease and great intensity.

 


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A rare zebra-donkey cross, known as a "zonkey" or "donkra", has made its first appearance at a Chinese zoo since its birth on Sunday. The foal, which has stripy legs and pale stripes down its brown body, had a difficult birth at Xiamen Haicang Zoo. Staff had to turn the rare hybrid upside down to prevent it from choking. The donkra weighed 30kg and was nearly a meter tall at birth. Zoo staff said the female zebra mated naturally with the donkey after the pair were left together in the same enclosure.


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