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Jan. 4, 2013 at 7:04 PM
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Mission would drag asteroid to the moon

PASADENA, Calif., Jan. 4 (UPI) -- NASA is considering a mission to capture an asteroid and drag it into the moon's orbit for study, researchers in California have confirmed.

Scientists at the Keck Institute for Space Studies said the space agency is looking over the institute's proposal to build a robotic spacecraft that would latch onto a small asteroid and transport it to a high lunar orbit, NewScientist.com reported.

The mission would cost about $2.6 billion, about the same as NASA's Mars rover Curiosity mission, and could be ready by the 2020s, the Keck institute said.

The Obama administration has said it wants to send astronauts to a near-Earth asteroid but such a mission would take about six months and expose astronauts to long-term radiation beyond Earth's protective magnetic field, the Keck researchers said.

Using a robot spacecraft to move an asteroid to the moon would be a better first step, they said, because an object orbiting the moon would be within easier reach of robotic probes and manned missions.

The Keck team is proposing a slow-moving spacecraft that would approach an asteroid, no more than 20 feet across, and then gather the space rock up in a bag measuring about 30 feet by 45 feet and begin a return journey to the moon.

It would take such a mission with a slowly moving spacecraft about six to 10 years to place the asteroid into a lunar orbit, the Keck researchers said.

Uses of computers, smartphones compared

NEW YORK, Jan. 4 (UPI) -- People have different priorities when it comes to smartphone versus computer use although there is some common ground of utilization, a U.S. poll indicates.

Smartphone owners were tested on their regular use of computers and smartphones for a series of tasks that could be completed on either device, the Harris Poll reported Thursday.

The owners were asked which of a set of actions, common to both devices, they regularly performed on a smartphone and/or on a computer.

The immediate communication of text or instant messages is the most common smartphone use, at 87 percent, and the least common use for a computer at 20 percent, the poll indicated.

In contrast, email is the top use for computers at 90 percent, although email is also a highly used feature of smartphones at 72 percent, pollsters said.

Smartphone owners favor computers for researching goods and services at 81 percent versus 45 percent on smartphones.

Social media is one area where usage on both devices is close to equal, the poll indicated, as the fifth most frequent use for both devices -- 64 percent for smartphones and 69 percent for computers.

The poll was conducted online within the United States from Nov. 14-19, 2012, among 2,383 adults (aged 18 and over), of whom 991 own and use a smartphone.

No margin of error was reported.

Britain's first hand transplant a success

LEEDS, England, Jan. 4 (UPI) -- A British grandfather receiving the country's first hand transplant says he has already gained movement of his fingers following the operation.

Former pub owner Mark Cahill, 51, received the new hand to replace a right hand left unusable for five years because of gout and a subsequent infection. Surgeons at Leeds General Infirmary amputated the functionless hand and replaced it with a donor hand Dec. 27 in an 8-hour procedure, The Daily Telegraph reported.

It was the first time surgeons have carried out a hand amputation simultaneously with a transplant from a donor.

"The operation has changed my life," Cahill said.

"Before the op, I couldn't tie my own shoes, do up the buttons on my shirt, cut up my own dinner or play with my grandson's toys with him -- hopefully I'll be able to do all these things now."

Simon Kay, the leader of the surgical team, characterized the procedure as "extremely complex."

"We had two operating teams side by side," he said, "with one taking off the rigid hand bit-by-bit while the other marked the donor hand for attachment."

The team carefully marked all the nerves, blood vessels and tendons on both hands to ensure a successful result, he said.

Dinosaur feathers may have attracted mates

EDMONTON, Alberta, Jan. 4 (UPI) -- Fossils suggest some feathered varieties of dinosaurs used tail plumage to attract mates, much like modern-day peacocks and turkeys, a Canadian researcher says.

University of Alberta paleontologist Scott Persons says the evidence is for the proposition is a peculiar fusing together of vertebrae at the tip of the tail of four different species of dinosaurs, some separated in time and evolution by 45 million years.

The fused bones formed ridged, blade-like structure.

"The structure is called a pygostyle," Persons said in a university release Friday. "Among modern animals only birds have them."

Persons contends feathers radiating from the fused bones at the tail tip of Similicaudiptery, an early oviraptor not known to be a flying dinosaur, evolved as a means of waving its feathered tail fans in a display.

The hypothesis of oviraptor tail waving is supported by both the bone and muscle structure of the tail, he says.

Oviraptors were plant eaters inhabiting parts of China, Mongolia and Alberta, Canada, during the Cretaceous period, the final age of the dinosaur.

"By this time a variety of dinosaurs used feathers for flight and insulation from the cold," Persons says. "This shows that by the Late Cretaceous dinosaurs were doing everything with feathers that modern birds do now."

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