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UPI NewsTrack Science and Technology News

Dec. 31, 2012 at 6:05 PM   |   Comments

Comet heads our way for celestial show

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Dec. 31 (UPI) -- A newly discovered comet could be the celestial spectacle of a century and light up the skies as bright as a full moon in 2013, its Russian discoverers say.

Amateur Russian sky watchers Artyom Novichonok and Vitali Nevski observed the object dubbed Comet ISON in September, Discovery.com reported.

"The object was slow and had a unique movement," Novichonok wrote on a comet-hunting blog.

"But we could not be certain that it was a comet, because the scale of our images are quite small and the object was very compact," he wrote of the object beyond the orbit of Jupiter.

However, follow-up observations confirmed the discovery.

In late 2013 Comet ISON is expected to pass extremely close to the sun, putting on a light show expected to be visible to the naked eye for sky watchers on Earth from early November through the first few weeks of January 2014.

The comet may be the brightest to appear in the sky since 1965 and may even be visible in daylight, the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center predicted.


Russia planning railway-mobile ICBMs

MOSCOW, Dec. 31 (UPI) -- Russia plans to resume production of railway-based intercontinental ballistic missiles with prototypes to be deployed by 2020, RIA Novosti reported.

Work on a prototype is already under way, a senior Russian defense industry official told the news agency on condition of anonymity.

ICBMs were first put onto Russian railways in 1987, but all had been destroyed by 2005 under the START II arms reduction treaty with the United States.

New START, the treaty's replacement signed in 2010, does not ban railway-based ICBMs.

The new missiles will be half the weight of the previous missiles, the industry source said.

Three locomotives were needed to move the railway-based missiles of the 1980s and tracks were often damaged because of the immense loads.

The mobile missiles had been developed because it was thought they would be harder to identify and target than fixed launch sites.

One Russian military expert called the return to such a cumbersome technology "a bad idea."

"We're better off developing telecoms systems, unmanned drones and precision weapons, not these monsters," Alexander Konovalov told RIA Novosti.


Intel may show set-top TV box in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS, Dec. 31 (UPI) -- Intel may give consumers a first look at its rumored cable TV set-top box at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next week, tech sites are reporting.

The first working version of the tech giant's set-top box could be shown at Intel's CES event on January 7, an unnamed source at Intel told TechCrunch.

Intel may also be launching its own streaming television service, an industry source familiar with Intel's plans told TechCrunch.

The source was unable to provide a specific date for the launch of the service.

Using a broadband Internet connection, the set-top box would reportedly offer a service bundling certain TV channels and streaming content.

One rumored feature could remove the need for a dedicated DVR, as the service might let people watch any program broadcast over the past month, CNET reported.

Rumors of a television service from Intel first surfaces this past March following a report from The Wall Street Journal.


Giant pandas could be source of new drugs

BEIJING, Dec. 31 (UPI) -- Giant pandas produce a powerful antibiotic in their blood stream that may be a rich source of powerful new drugs, Chinese scientists say.

The substance, which kills bacteria and fungi, could lead to new treatments against drug resistant superbugs and other diseases, they said.

Researchers at Nanjing Agricultural University identified the substance, cathelicidin-AM, by analyzing panda DNA, The Daily Telegraph of London reported Sunday.

Scientist say they believe the panda's immune system produces the compound to protect them from infections they are exposed to living in the wild.

The compound could lead to drugs for humans, the researchers said.

"It showed potential antimicrobial activities against wide spectrum of microorganisms including bacteria and fungi, both standard and drug-resistant strains," lead researchers Xiuwen Yan of the university's Life Sciences College said.

"Under the pressure of increasing microorganisms with drug resistance against conventional antibiotics, there is urgent need to develop new type of antimicrobial agents."

The researchers reported they've managed to synthesize the compound in the lab by decoding the genes to produce a small molecule known as a peptide.

"Gene-encoded antimicrobial peptides play an important role in innate immunity against noxious microorganisms," Xiuwen said. "They cause much less drug resistance of microbes than conventional antibiotics."

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