Science briefs: Earth about to reach greatest distance from sun

June 15, 2014 

A photo of a temple wall at Angkor Wat, top, was computer-enhanced, below, to reveal painted elephants.


At 8 p.m. July 3, the Earth, in its annual orbit around the sun, will be at it farthest point from the sun. Astronomers call this point an aphelion.

The average distance of the Earth from the sun is about 92,918,000 miles. However, the Earth’s orbital path around our central star is not a perfect circle but is slightly elliptical. Because of this, the Earth is slightly closer to the sun in January. At 8 p.m. July 3, Earth will be 94,506,462 miles from the sun – about 1.5 million miles farther than average.

The small difference in our distance from the sun has a very insignificant effect on our seasons and weather, according to the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute, near Rosman in Western North Carolina.

One effect that does result from our distance from the sun is the speed of Earth’s orbit. Near aphelion, when the Earth is farthest from the sun, it slows down a bit.

Volunteer’s computer reveals lost art from Angkor Wat

Long-lost paintings have been discovered on the walls of Cambodia’s ancient Angkor Wat temple, thanks to the keen observations of an Australian National University researcher.

The ancient paintings date back almost 500 years and depict deities, animals, boats and the temple itself, giving historians a new understanding of life in a relatively unknown period of Cambodia’s history.

Rock art researcher Noel Hidalgo Tan discovered the hidden images while working as a volunteer at an archaeological excavation in Angkor Wat during a university break in 2010. “I was walking through the temple on a lunch break, and I saw some pigments on the wall. I took some pictures but didn’t think they would be anything special,” he said.

It was only when Tan enhanced the images on his computer that the paintings emerged, revealing the long-lost artworks.

Angkor Wat is one of the world’s most famous monuments and a national symbol of Cambodia. Built in the 12th century, Angkor Wat was in the center of the city of Angkor, the capital of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to the 15th centuries.

Chiplike device to aid analysis of vast number of cells

A research team from Duke University and Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea has developed a chiplike device that could be scaled up to sort and store hundreds of thousands of individual living cells in a matter of minutes. The system is similar to a random access memory chip, but it moves cells rather than electrons.

The researchers hope the cell-sorting system will revolutionize research by allowing the fast, efficient control and separation of individual cells that could then be studied in vast numbers.

“Most experiments grind up a bunch of cells and analyze genetic activity by averaging the population of an entire tissue rather than looking at the differences between single cells within that population,” said Benjamin Yellen, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering. “That’s like taking the eye color of everyone in a room and finding that the average color is gray, when not a single person in the room has gray eyes. You need to be able to study individual cells to understand and appreciate small but significant differences in a similar population.”

The study was published in Nature Communications.

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