Saturday, May 16, 2009

Melting Threat From West Antarctic Ice Sheet May Be Less Than Expected; But U.S. Coastal Cities At Risk

Iceberg in Paradise Bay, West Antarctica. (Credit: iStockphoto/Micheal O Fiachra)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (May 15, 2009) — While a total or partial collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet as a result of warming would not raise global sea levels as high as some predict, levels on the U.S. seaboards would rise 25 percent more than the global average and threaten cities like New York, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, according to a new study.

Long thought of as the sleeping giant with respect to sea level rise, Antarctica holds about nine times the volume of ice of Greenland. Its western ice sheet, known as WAIS, is of particular interest to scientists due to its inherent instability, a result of large areas of the continent's bedrock lying below sea level. But the ice sheet's potential contribution to sea level rise has been greatly overestimated, according to new calculations.

Read more ....

Lessons From Earth's Most Murderous People

This photo and caption released by Survival International on May 29, 2008, caused a stir: Uncontacted Indians in Brazil seen from the air, May 2008 © Gleison Miranda/FUNAI

From Live Science:

Decades ago, when I was a bright-eyed undergraduate student, I saw a documentary called "Dead Birds" in my cultural anthropology class about the Dani of New Guinea, and it changed my life.

Brought up in a nice, middle-class, white American family, I had no idea that there were people in the world who still lived in huts, kept pigs, and spent their days on high, swaying platforms looking for the enemy. And when the enemy came screaming over the hill, wearing elaborate feathered headdresses and carrying spears, I was stunned into becoming an anthropologist, right then and there.

Read more ....

Color E-Paper That Rivals the Real Thing

Color scheme: A prototype in-plane electrophoretic display consisting of 1,000 pixels. Credit: Philips

From Technology Review:

Turning pixels on their side may finally mean high-quality color electronic paper.

Despite Amazon's promise to reinvent the newspaper and magazine industry with its new, large-screen Kindle DX electronic reader, some people may be reluctant to embrace the technology until full-color displays are possible. A new approach developed by Philips now offers fresh hope for color e-paper displays that are so bright and clear that even traditional liquid crystal displays (LCDs) will pale in comparison.

Read more ....

Wolfram Alpha Search Engine Is Now Online

The Wolfram Alpha Search Engine is now online, and can be found here.

Heavy use of the search engine has caused it to send back a message that it has exceeded its "user limits" .... but otherwise it appears to be a cool and practical search engine.

Telescopes Poised To Spot Air-Breathing Aliens

Image: The next generation of space telescopes will be capable of detecting "biosignatures" in the light from planets orbiting other stars (Image: G. Bacon STSCI / ESA / NASA)

From New Scientist:

SIGNS of life on planets beyond our own solar system may soon be in our sights. Experiments and calculations presented at an astrobiology meeting last week reveal how the coming generation of space telescopes will for the first time be capable of detecting "biosignatures" in the light from planets orbiting other stars.

Any clues about life on these exoplanets will have to come from the tiny fraction of the parent star's light that interacts with the planet on its journey towards Earth. The Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes have both detected gases such as carbon dioxide and water vapour in the atmospheres of a handful of gas-giant exoplanets as they pass in front of their parent stars. The gas molecules absorb light at characteristic wavelengths, and this shows up as dark lines in the spectrum of the starlight which has been filtered through the planet's atmosphere. But seeing evidence of life - so-called biosignatures - in the spectrum of worlds small enough to be rocky like Earth is beyond the sensitivity of these instruments.

Read more ....

Sleep Can Improve Your Word Power

From The Telegraph:

Reading bedtime stories to children could help to improve their vocabulary, new research suggests.

Psychologists have discovered that a good night's sleep plays a crucial role in allowing the brain to store and remember new words learned during the day.

People who were asked to learn a set of fictitious words were better at remembering them after they had spent time asleep than if they were asked to recall the words just a few hours after being taught them.

Read more ....

Melting Ice Could Cause Gravity Shift

The disintegration of the Antarctic ice sheet could cause catastrophic flooding on the east and west coasts of America. AFP

From The Independent:

The melting of one of the world's largest ice sheets would alter the Earth's field of gravity and even its rotation in space so much that it would cause sea levels along some coasts to rise faster than the global average, scientists said yesterday.

The rise in sea levels would be highest on the west and east coasts of North America where increases of 25 per cent more than the global average would cause catastrophic flooding in cities such as New York, Washington DC and San Francisco.

Read more ....

Star Crust Is Ten Billion Times Stronger Than Steel

The outer crusts of so-called neutron stars (above, a neutron star in an artist's conception) are ten billion times stronger than steel—making it the strongest known material in the universe, scientists said in May 2009. Image by Casey Reed, courtesy of Penn State

From National Geographic News:

Move over, Superman.

The Man of Steel has nothing on the collapsed cores of massive snuffed-out stars, scientists say.

A new computer model suggests that the outer crusts of so-called neutron stars are the strongest known material in the universe.

To determine the breaking point of a neutron star's crust, the team modeled magnetic field stresses and crust deformation for a small region of the star's surface.

The results showed that the crust of a neutron star can withstand a breaking strain up to ten billion times the pressure it would take to snap steel.

"It sounds dramatic, but it's true," said study team member Charles Horowitz of Indiana University.

Read more ....

Friday, May 15, 2009

Let The Planet Hunt Begin: Kepler Spacecraft Begins Search For Other Earth-like Worlds

Artist concept of Kepler in space. (Credit: NASA/JPL)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (May 15, 2009) — NASA's Kepler spacecraft has begun its search for other Earth-like worlds. The mission, which launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on March 6, will spend the next three-and-a-half years staring at more than 100,000 stars for telltale signs of planets. Kepler has the unique ability to find planets as small as Earth that orbit sun-like stars at distances where temperatures are right for possible lakes and oceans.

"Now the fun begins," said William Borucki, Kepler science principal investigator at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. "We are all really excited to start sorting through the data and discovering the planets."

Read more ....

Supercomputer Helps SoCal Prep For The Big One


From Live Science:

Very few things in life are certain. If you live in Southern California, however, rest assured that some time in the next few decades you will experience an earthquake of significant magnitude.

And while the disaster itself is probably unavoidable, knowing which areas will be most affected can do a great deal to mitigate the aftermath. For example, where will the strongest ground movement occur, and how long will the shaking last?

Obviously, when it comes to new construction in an area with a high probability of an earthquake in the relatively near future, this knowledge is invaluable. Engineers crave this sort of data when they are designing the buildings of tomorrow.

Read more ....

Can The Grid Handle Renewables?

Photo: LIGHTS OUT FOR THE OLD GRID? A six-month study will test the grid's ability to handle the load and fluctuation of a surge of renewable energy. FLICKR/PETER KAMINSKI

From Scientific American:

A new study aims to find out how much electricity from wind and sunshine the aging power grid can support.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission launched a six-month study today to determine how much renewable energy the electric grid can accommodate.

FERC will work with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory on the $500,000 study to validate the preliminary frequency-response tool developed by the commission to gauge the grid's reliability if large quantities of renewable energy are sent to the system.

"We need a good metric – a good yardstick, a tool – to assess how much renewable energy can be injected into the bulk power ... system," said Joseph McClelland, director of FERC's Office of Electric Reliability.

Read more ....

Water Way To Travel! Super Winged Submersible That 'Flies' Through The Ocean Unveiled

Sea for two: The Super Falcon Submersible surfaces
near San Francisco following 20 years of research


From The Daily Mail:

Man has raced across the land and launched into space, but traveling underwater has proved more tricky.

Now an engineer has built a high-tech winged submersible that he says can 'fly' beneath the waves.

The Super Falcon Submersible, which resembles Thunderbird 4, can reach depths of 1,500 feet and speed through the ocean at six knots, which is nearly seven miles per hour. It has a range of around 25 nautical miles.

Created by British inventor Graham Hawkes for Hawkes Ocean Technologies, it is the newest and most advanced sub of their Deep Flight series and the culmination of four generations of experimental prototypes.

Read more ....

Space Shuttle Masquerades As Sunspot In New Image

Photo: NASA's space shuttle Atlantis is on an 11-day mission to repair and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope. The shuttle's silhouette can be seen against the sun in this image taken from Florida on Tuesday, when the shuttle was on its way to Hubble (Image: NASA/Thierry Legault)

From New Scientist:

The space shuttle Atlantis masquerades as a sunspot in this image, taken by photographer Thierry Legault as the shuttle sped towards the Hubble Space Telescope on Tuesday.

Atlantis is on an 11-day mission to give Hubble a new lease on life. In a series of five back-to-back spacewalks, astronauts are replacing old equipment, installing two new cameras, and repairing two others.

After a two-day journey to reach Hubble, the shuttle's robotic arm reached out to grab hold of the probe on Wednesday. Astronauts emerged the next day to outfit the telescope with a new camera and replace an old computer.

Read more ....

Is Warp Speed Possible? We Ask a String Theorist

The Enterprise: Courtesy Industrial Light & Magic/Paramount Pictures

From Popsci.com:

PopSci talks to futurist Michio Kaku about the (not necessarily) impossible physics of Star Trek.

Science geeks, Trekkers, and action-movie fans have now had a few days to digest the newest incarnation of the Star Trek franchise. PopSci set out to answer some of the movie's most puzzling questions (aside from what Winona Ryder was doing on Vulcan): Can we time-travel through black holes? Can we seed said black holes using something called "red matter"? How about teleportation -- will someone named Scotty (or Chekov) ever beam someone up?

Read more ....

Neandertals Sophisticated And Fearless Hunters, New Analysis Shows

Model of the Neanderthal man. Exhibited in the Dinosaur Park M├╝nchehagen, Germany. (Credit: iStockphoto/Klaus Nilkens)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (May 14, 2009) — Neandertals, the 'stupid' cousins of modern humans were capable of capturing the most impressive animals. This indicates that Neandertals were anything but dim. Dutch researcher Gerrit Dusseldorp analysed their daily forays for food to gain insights into the complex behaviour of the Neandertal. His analysis revealed that the hunting was very knowledge intensive.

Although it is now clear that Neandertals were hunters and not scavengers, their exact hunting methods are still something of a mystery. Dusseldorp investigated just how sophisticated the Neandertals' hunting methods really were. His analysis of two archaeological sites revealed that Neandertals in warm forested areas preferred to hunt solitary game but that in colder, less forested areas they preferred to hunt the more difficult to capture herding animals.

Read more ....

Star Crust Is Ten Billion Times Stronger Than Steel

The outer crusts of so-called neutron stars (above, a neutron star in an artist's conception) are ten billion times stronger than steel—making it the strongest known material in the universe, scientists said in May 2009. Image by Casey Reed, courtesy of Penn State

From National Geographic News:

Move over, Superman.

The Man of Steel has nothing on the collapsed cores of massive snuffed-out stars, scientists say.

A new computer model suggests that the outer crusts of so-called neutron stars are the strongest known material in the universe.

To determine the breaking point of a neutron star's crust, the team modeled magnetic field stresses and crust deformation for a small region of the star's surface.

The results showed that the crust of a neutron star can withstand a breaking strain up to ten billion times the pressure it would take to snap steel.

"It sounds dramatic, but it's true," said study team member Charles Horowitz of Indiana University.

Read more ....

19 Years Of Hubble

Courtesy STScI and NASA
The deployed Hubble telescope

From The CBC:

Happy birthday, Hubble

This galaxy was chosen as a subject for the Hubble Space Telescope because it won the most votes in a competition hosted by the Space Telescope Science Institute. The contest was held in celebration of 2009's designation as the International Year of Astronomy. This year also marks the Hubble telescope's 19th year in operation. This group of three galaxies is known as Arp 274, and is about 400 million light years away from Earth in the constellation Virgo. You can see the birthplace of new stars in the small knots of bright blue in the small galaxy on the left, and the arms of the galaxy on the right. (NASA)

The link to see the pictures from Hubble are here.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Gadgets Sap World's Electricity

From Live Science:

Sometime this year, the number of people using a personal computer will pass the one billion mark, according to the International Energy Agency. By sometime next year there will be more than 3.5 billion mobile phones subscribers and 2 billion TVs in use around the world, according to a new report from the agency.

And that's a problem.

You've heard of vampire energy? It's the name given to electricity that runs TVs, stereos and computers when they're in sleep mode, not even being used. You've seen the little red lights that indicate something's still humming inside.

Add that to the juice used by all manner of gadgets when they are being used or charged and, well ...

Without new policies, the energy consumed by electronic gadgets will double by 2022 and increase threefold by 2030 to 1,700 Terawatt hours (TWh), the IEA estimates.

Read more ....

100 Geeks You Should Be Following On Twitter

From Geekdad/Wired News:

Twitter has of late been inundated by, shall we say, “normals.” What was once our little playground has become rather more populated. But that doesn’t make it any less effective a tool for communication. It just means we have to stick together, and keep the geek community thriving.

To this end, GeekDad has assembled the following: a list of 100 awesomely geeky-geeks. These are great, creative gamers and chiptune artists, astronomers and LEGO builders. Of course such a list cannot dream of being exhaustive, and we hope you’ll add your own suggestions in the comments.

Read more ....

Fringe Season Finale Flirts With Theoretical Physics


From Popular Mechanics:

During the course of its first season, Fringe has played with the idea of that there are actually two realities, one slightly different from the other. In the season finale, "There's More Than One of Everything," the show delved into the science behind this idea, fleshing out the alternate reality with FBI Agent Olivia Dunham and company trying to stop ├╝ber-villain David Robert Jones from getting to the elusive Massive Dynamic CEO William Bell, who, according to spokeswoman Nina Sharp, is hiding out in this other reality. PM spoke to physicist Michio Kaku, author of Physics of the Impossible, to perform our final fact check of Fringe, season one.

Read more ....

Angels & Demons - Separating Science From Fiction

Photo: In the film, Tom Hanks plays the Harvard academic Robert Langdon, who finds evidence that an ancient clandestine brotherhood have stolen antimatter from a secret laboratory at CERN, which they plan to use as a weapon to destroy the Vatican.

From The Independent:

CERN scientist Tara Shears examines the scientific reality of new film Angels and Demons.

Anti-matter and CERN are getting fantastic exposure with the release of the film Angels and Demons today - a film adaptation of Dan Brown’s novel of the same name.

As a CERN scientist myself, when I heard that part of the plot was based in the world’s biggest particle physics laboratory I was intrigued to see how our work would be portrayed. I was pleasantly surprised on the whole; it was wonderful to see particle physics get the Hollywood treatment! However, when you delve deeper into the science behind the plot, there is a line to draw between reality and fiction.

Read more ....

Milk And Cereal As Good As Expensive Sports Drinks In Boosting Performance, Claim Scientists

The milk helps reduce lactic acid levels in the blood,
the compound that causes stiffness after exercise Photo: GETTY


From The Telegraph:

Milk and cereal help to speed up recovery after exercise as much as expensive sports drinks, new findings from the University of Texas suggest.

Researchers found that athletes were just as replenished after exercise with a bowl of wheat flakes and skimmed milk as they were with many modern sports drinks which claim to rehydrate and re-energise the muscles.

They found that the traditional breakfast was just as good at replenishing blood sugar and insulin levels and that protein production was even better than with the so-called energy drinks.

Read more ....

Lift-Off! Telescopes Herschel And Planck Launched To Seek Out The Origins Of The Universe


From The Daily Mail:

Two European telescopes have launched into space today which could solve the mystery surrounding the origins of the universe.

The Herschel and Planck observatories were sent into orbit together from French Guinea at 2.12pm (BST) and scientists hope they will reveal crucial stages of star birth and galaxy formation.

This will help them answer some of the most important questions in modern science, such as how did the universe begin, how did it evolve to what we see now, and how will it continue to evolve in the future?

Read more ....

The Truth About Angels, Demons and Antimatter

Physicist Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer) and symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) look upon an antimatter trap in the 2009 movie "Angels and Demons." Credit: Sony Pictures

From Live Science:

An antimatter explosion threatens to level the Vatican in the movie adaptation of the thriller "Angels and Demons," but real-world physicists are unfazed by this plot.

The story features "Da Vinci Code" hero Robert Langdon racing to recover an antimatter capsule stolen from the CERN particle physics facility in Switzerland. Researchers first figured out how to create and trap antimatter particles at CERN, which gave author Dan Brown the inspiration for his story.

One physicist doesn't find CERN's unexpected publicity from the story upsetting. On the contrary, he's rather pleased.

Read more ....

EBay Has Unexpected, Chilling Effect On Looting Of Antiquities, Archaelogist Finds

The daughter of a Peruvian artisan who specializes in the production of fake antiquities holds up an example. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of California - Los Angeles)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (May 9, 2009) — Having worked for 25 years at fragile archaeological sites in Peru, UCLA archaeologist Charles "Chip" Stanish held his breath when the online auction house eBay launched more than a decade ago.

"My greatest fear was that the Internet would democratize antiquities trafficking, which previously had been a wealthy person's vice, and lead to widespread looting," said the UCLA professor of anthropology, who directs the UCLA Cotsen Institute of Archaeology.

Indeed, eBay has drastically altered the transporting and selling of illegal artifacts, Stanish writes in an article in the May/June issue of Archaeology, but not in the way he and other archaeologists had feared.

Read more ....

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Life’s First Spark Recreated In The Laboratory

A fundamental but elusive step in the early evolution of life
on Earth has been replicated in a laboratory.


From Wired Science:

Researchers synthesized the basic ingredients of RNA, a molecule from which the simplest self-replicating structures are made. Until now, they couldn’t explain how these ingredients might have formed.

“It’s like molecular choreography, where the molecules choreograph their own behavior,” said organic chemist John Sutherland of the University of Manchester, co-author of a study in Nature Wednesday.

RNA is now found in living cells, where it carries information between genes and protein-manufacturing cellular components. Scientists think RNA existed early in Earth’s history, providing a necessary intermediate platform between pre-biotic chemicals and DNA, its double-stranded, more-stable descendant.

Read more ....

The Man Who Discovered Greenhouse Gases

Image: John Tyndall’s discovery that gases could trap heat provided the first hints of the mechanism behind climate change (Image: 1873, The Graphic)

From New Scientist:

As an antidote to this year's Darwin-mania, we celebrate a piece of science from 1859 that wasn't remotely controversial at the time, but which underpins the hottest political potato of our era: climate change. In May 1859, six months before the publication of On the Origin of Species, Irish physicist John Tyndall proved that some gases have a remarkable capacity to hang onto heat, so demonstrating the physical basis of the greenhouse effect. Charles Darwin had journeyed round the world and ruminated for 20 years before presenting his inflammatory ideas on evolution. Tyndall spent just a few weeks experimenting in a windowless basement lab in London.

"THE scene was one of the most wonderful I had ever witnessed. Along the entire slope of the Glacier des Bois, the ice was cleft and riven into the most striking and fantastic forms. It had not yet suffered much from the warming influence of the summer weather, but its towers and minarets sprang from the general mass with clean chiselled outlines." John Tyndall was entranced by the Alps, in particular the great glaciers that creaked and groaned as they crept down the mountains. He found the Mer de Glace especially captivating: the largest glacier in France was a deep river of ice that stretched down the north slope of Mont Blanc and spilled out into the Chamonix valley near the hamlet of Les Bois.

Read more ....

‘90% Of The Last Million Years, The Normal State Of The Earth’s Climate Has Been An Ice Age’


From Watts Up With That?

Those who ignore the geologic perspective do so at great risk. In fall of 1985, geologists warned that a Columbian volcano, Nevado del Ruiz, was getting ready to erupt. But the volcano had been dormant for 150 years. So government officials and inhabitants of nearby towns did not take the warnings seriously. On the evening of November 13, Nevado del Ruiz erupted, triggering catastrophic mudslides. In the town of Armero, 23,000 people were buried alive in a matter of seconds.

For ninety percent of the last million years, the normal state of the Earth’s climate has been an ice age. Ice ages last about 100,000 years, and are punctuated by short periods of warm climate, or interglacials. The last ice age started about 114,000 years ago. It began instantaneously. For a hundred-thousand years, temperatures fell and sheets of ice a mile thick grew to envelop much of North America, Europe and Asia. The ice age ended nearly as abruptly as it began. Between about 12,000 and 10,000 years ago, the temperature in Greenland rose more than 50 °F.

Read more ....

Obsession With Naked Women Dates Back 35,000 Years

Side and front views of the Venus of Hohle Fels. Credit: H. Jensen; Copyright University of Tubingen

From Live Science:

If human culture seems obsessed with sex lately, it's nothing new. Archaeologists have discovered the oldest known artistic representation of a woman — a carved ivory statue of a naked female, dating from 35,000 years ago.

The figurine, unearthed in September 2008 in Hohle Fels Cave in southwestern Germany, may be the oldest known example of figurative art, meaning art that is supposed to represent and resemble a real person, animal or object. The discovery could help scientists understand the origins of art and the advent of symbolic thinking, including complicated language.

Read more ....

Changes In The Sun Are Not Causing Global Warming, New Study Shows

With the U.S. Congress beginning to consider regulations on greenhouse gases, a troubling hypothesis about how the sun may impact global warming is finally laid to rest. (Credit: iStockphoto)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (May 12, 2009) — With the U.S. Congress beginning to consider regulations on greenhouse gases, a troubling hypothesis about how the sun may impact global warming is finally laid to rest.

Carnegie Mellon University's Peter Adams along with Jeff Pierce from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, have developed a model to test a controversial hypothesis that says changes in the sun are causing global warming.

The hypothesis they tested was that increased solar activity reduces cloudiness by changing cosmic rays. So, when clouds decrease, more sunlight is let in, causing the earth to warm. Some climate change skeptics have tried to use this hypothesis to suggest that greenhouse gases may not be the global warming culprits that most scientists agree they are.

Read more ....

Could Wolfram|Alpha Sway Google Regulators?


From Wired News/Epicenter:

News Analysis — Wolfram|Alpha, a company whose product you have never used, may turn out to be Google’s best friend.

For those who haven’t heard yet, Wolfram|Alpha is a much-hyped, badly-named computational search engine that gives real answers to queries such as “internet users in Europe.” It pulls off the techie magic by using structured data sets, rather than messy web pages, as its index. Its demo has impressed quite a few tech journalists, including the originally skeptical Danny Sullivan, one of the crown princes of search engine journalism. See the screenshot below from Read/Write/Web:

Read more ....

Brain's Problem-solving Function At Work When We Daydream

These are fMRI brain scans from UBC Mind Wandering Study.
(Credit: Courtesy of Kalina Christoff)


From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (May 12, 2009) — A new University of British Columbia study finds that our brains are much more active when we daydream than previously thought.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds that activity in numerous brain regions increases when our minds wander. It also finds that brain areas associated with complex problem-solving – previously thought to go dormant when we daydream – are in fact highly active during these episodes.

Read more ....

Brain's Willpower Spot Found

From Live Science:

When healthy eaters choose broccoli over a Butterfinger, they use a small region in their brains that indulgers don't use.

That bundle of cells is a clue to the biology of willpower, a new study finds. Like a wagging finger in our heads, the region admonishes us to consider long-term benefits over instant rewards when we make decisions.

"This is the first time people have looked at the mechanism of self-control in people who are making real-life decisions," said Todd Hare, a Caltech neuroscientist who led the study.

Read more ....

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Did America Forget How to Make the H-Bomb?


From Mother Jones:

For decades nonproliferation experts have argued that, once unleashed, the nuclear genie cannot be stuffed back in the bottle. But they probably didn't consider the possibility that a country with nuclear bomb-making know-how might forget how to manufacture a key atomic ingredient. Yet that's precisely what happened to the US recently, and national security experts say this institutional memory lapse raises serious questions about the federal government's nuclear weapons management.

In 2007, as the government began overhauling the nation's stockpile of W76 warheads—the variety often carried by Ohio-class submarines—officials at the National Nuclear Security Administration realized they couldn't produce an essential material known as "Fogbank." What purpose this substance actually serves is classified, but outside experts have suggested that it's a sort of exploding foam that sits between the fission and fusion portions of hydrogen bombs. The Government Accountability Office reported in March that NNSA's effort to recover its Fogbank-making ability had resulted in a yearlong, $69 million delay in the refurbishment project. And a government official with knowledge of the situation tells Mother Jones that further Fogbank-related delays are imminent.

Read more ....

How Nanotech Can Meet The Poor's Water Needs


From SciDev.net:

Nanotechnology holds huge potential for supplying clean water to the world's poor, but many challenges must be overcome to realise it.

When the economist Fritz Schumacher coined the phrase "small is beautiful" more than 30 years ago, he was hoping to promote "intermediate technologies" that focus on local techniques, knowledge and materials, rather than high-tech solutions to problems facing the world's poor.

But more recently, the phrase has taken on a different meaning as scientists and engineers develop nanotechnology — processes to control matter at an atomic or molecular level — and show that this field, too, can promote sustainable development.

Read more ....

The Frontiers of Astronomy



From Discover Magazine:

DISCOVER's panel of top astronomers and astrophysicists discuss some of the biggest questions in the universe.

What lies beyond the edge of the solar system? Does life exist on other planets? Why is the universe constructed the way it is? Drawing on new insights and technologies, scientists are probing these unknowns in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago. This month, DISCOVER presents a three-part investigation of the astonishing results. First up: In conjunction with the National Science Foundation, Caltech, and the Thirty Meter Telescope, DISCOVER brought together four leading astronomers to describe their studies of wayward comets, alien worlds, black holes, and the expanding universe. The panel discussion was held at Caltech’s Beckman Auditorium and moderated by DISCOVER’s Bad Astronomy blogger, Phil Plait. The four-part video from the panel is included in the two-page article below; to see video interviews with the four panelists, see the homepage for the event.

Read more ....

Our Planet's Leaky Atmosphere

Photo: Loss of certain gases, especially hydrogen, has transformed Earth. It is one of the reasons that oxygen built up in the atmosphere. In the future, the depletion of hydrogen will dry out our oceans and all but shut down geologic cycles that stabilize the climate. Life may still be able to hold out in the polar regions. Earth past: 3 billion years ago (left) Earth present (center) Earth future: 3 billion years from now (right) Alfred T. Kamajian

From Scientific American:

As Earth's air slowly trickles away into space, will our planet come to look like Venus?

Key Concepts

* Many of the gases that make up Earth’s atmosphere and those of the other planets are slowly leaking into space. Hot gases, especially light ones, evaporate away; chemical reactions and particle collisions eject atoms and molecules; and asteroids and comets occasionally blast out chunks of atmosphere.
* This leakage explains many of the solar system’s mysteries. For instance, Mars is red because its water vapor got broken down into hydrogen and oxygen, the hydrogen drifted away, and the surplus oxygen oxidized—in essence, rusted—the rocks. A similar process on Venus let carbon dioxide build up into a thick ocean of air; ironically, Venus’s huge atmosphere is the result of the loss of gases.

Read more ....

Mars Rover May Not Escape Sand Trap For Weeks

Photo: Engineers will try to recreate the terrain that Spirit is stuck in at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, where similar tests were performed in 2005 (above) to help extricate Opportunity from a sand trap (Image: NASA/JPL)

From New Scientist:

NASA's Spirit Mars rover is so deeply stuck in the sand that its belly may be resting on underlying rocks, which could hamper efforts to extricate it. Mission members say it will probably take weeks before they make any headway in freeing the rover.

Spirit began to have trouble driving around 1 May, says John Callas, the rover project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Its wheels are now buried about halfway in the soil, which is so loose "it's like flour", says Callas. Mission managers have temporarily stopped trying to drive the rover as they consider how best to proceed.

Read more
....

Swine Flu Data 'Very Consistent' With Early Stages Of A Pandemic

Swine flu data so far is very consistent with what researchers would expect to find in the early stages of a pandemic. (Credit: iStockphoto/Henrik Jonsson)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (May 12, 2009) — Early findings about the emerging pandemic of a new strain of influenza A (H1N1) in Mexico are published in the journal Science.

Researchers from the MRC Centre for Outbreak Analysis and Modelling at Imperial College London, working in collaboration with the World Health Organisation and public health agencies in Mexico, have assessed the epidemic using data to the end of April. Their key findings are as follows:

* The data so far is very consistent with what researchers would expect to find in the early stages of a pandemic.

Read more ....

Powerful Ideas: Fusing Atoms Just Might Work

Artist's rendering of a NIF target pellet being struck by multiple laser beams, which inside compress and heat the target to the necessary conditions for nuclear fusion to occur. Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and the Department of Energy

From Live Science:

This occasional series looks at powerful ideas — some existing, some futuristic — for fueling and electrifying modern life.

Solar power captures sunlight to create renewable energy, but recreating the sun on Earth holds even greater energy potential. Nuclear fusion — the power source inside the sun — will be attempted in new and soon-to-be-built facilities around the world.

"Fusion is a carbon-free and a virtually limitless supply of energy," said Ed Moses, project manager for the Department of Energy's recently commissioned National Ignition Facility (NIF) in Livermore, Calif.

Read more ....

Bad Luck Bimbos: Intelligent Women Have Better Sex, Study Reveals

From Daily Mail:

Beauty may bag you a man - but brains will bring you more fun in the bedroom.

Women blessed with 'emotional intelligence' - the ability to express their feelings and read those of others - have better sex lives, research shows.

Those most in touch with their feelings have twice as many orgasms as inhibited sorts, the study found.

The finding could lead to new ways of counselling the 40 per cent of women who find it difficult or impossible to enjoy sex fully.

Researcher Tim Spector of King's College London said there were definite advantages to being a touchy-feely type.

He said: 'These findings show that emotional intelligence is an advantage in many aspects of your life, including the bedroom.'

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Monday, May 11, 2009

The Truth Is Out There, And The Nation's Maddest Scientists Are After It


From Wired:

Paranormal phenomena aren't just for Fox Mulder, Melinda Gordon, and Rod Serling. Even top academics can't resist a good ghost story. And maybe that's for the better: Brilliant ideas often seem crazy at first. Scientific American dubbed the Wright Brothers "the Lying Brothers" despite test flights witnessed by trainloads of startled onlookers. More obscure findings can fare worse: Germs, quarks, black holes, and continental drift were all once considered laughable. Still, impeccably credentialed scientists persist, as Lewis Carroll's White Queen says, in trying to believe a few impossible things before breakfast—or after they've received tenure.

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Planck: The Future Of Probing The Past

Photo: The Planck satellite will enable us to find out what happened just fractions of a second after the big bang (Image: Plnck / LBNL / SSC)

From The New Scientist:

WE ARE poised to peer further back in time than ever before. Next week, cosmology's biggest experiment in nearly a decade is due to blast into space. The European Space Agency's Planck satellite will enable us to find out what happened just fractions of a second after the big bang, when the universe is thought to have blown up to cosmic proportions from a speck of space-time.

The probe, which is fuelled and ready for launch in French Guiana, will examine in exquisite detail the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the relic radiation of the big bang. It is "like a surgical instrument", says Andrei Linde of Stanford University.

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The Day The Universe Froze: New Model For Dark Energy

The ultimate fate of the universe depends on the exact nature of dark energy. Depending on its properties, the universe may fly apart (the big rip) or the current expansion might reverse into contraction (the big crunch) or anything in between. (Credit: NASA/CXC/M. Weiss)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (May 11, 2009) — Imagine a time when the entire universe froze. According to a new model for dark energy, that is essentially what happened about 11.5 billion years ago, when the universe was a quarter of the size it is today.

The model, published online May 6 in the journal Physical Review D, was developed by Research Associate Sourish Dutta and Professor of Physics Robert Scherrer at Vanderbilt University, working with Professor of Physics Stephen Hsu and graduate student David Reeb at the University of Oregon.

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Shuttle Atlantis Blasts Off On List Hubble Mission

The space shuttle Atlantis lifts off Monday May 11, 2009 at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Seven astronauts are beginning a 12-day mission that includes the fifth and final servicing of the Hubble Space Telescope. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

From Yahoo News/AP:

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Space shuttle Atlantis and a crew of seven thundered away Monday on one last flight to the Hubble Space Telescope, setting off on a daring repair mission that NASA hopes will lift the celebrated observatory to new scientific heights.

Atlantis rose from its seaside pad about 2 p.m. and arced out over the Atlantic, ducking through clouds. The Hubble was directly overhead, 350 miles up.

For the first time ever, another shuttle was on a nearby launch pad, primed for a rescue mission if one is needed because of a debris strike.

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Is Hubble Worth The Upgrade Mission's Risk And Cost?

This new Hubble image of the Orion Nebula shows dense pillars of gas and dust that may be the homes of fledgling stars, and hot, young, massive stars that have emerged from their cocoons and are shaping the nebula with powerful ultraviolet light. Credit: NASA, ESA, M. Robberto (Space Telescope Science Institute/ESA) and the Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team

From Live Science:

Years ago, you could walk into any bar and ask the crowd to name a telescope, and they'd likely respond with a Cheers-like-greeting-to-Norm, "Hubble!" Not sure why you'd want to do that, but if you want to try it today, it'll still work. No telescope has ever engaged the public imagination so effectively.

After an eye operation to fix its blurred vision in 1993, Hubble has been sending back gorgeous, scientifically priceless images that have become NASA's best publicity, the most tangible and colorful justification for a space agency that spends billions on less glamorous endeavors such as circling the Earth for decades in shuttles and the space station.

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Stephen Wolfram Reveals Radical New Formula For Web Search


From Wired:

The home page is nearly blank. At the center, just below a colorful logo, you’ll find an empty data field. Type in a phrase, hit Return, and knowledge appears.

No, it’s not Google. It’s Wolfram|Alpha, named after its creator, Stephen Wolfram, a 49-year-old former particle physics prodigy who became bewitched by the potential of computers. He invented a powerful computational software program (Mathematica), built a company around it (Wolfram Research), and wrote a massive book (A New Kind of Science) that claims to redefine the universe itself in terms of computation.

So when Wolfram asked me, “Do you want a sneak preview of my most ambitious and complex project yet?” he had me at “Do.”

The product of four years of development, Alpha is an engine for answers. Its ambition is to delve into “all the knowledge in the world,” Wolfram says, to find and calculate information. Though Alpha’s interface evokes Google ― whose co-founder Sergey Brin once spent a summer interning for Wolfram ― it’s more like the anti-Google.

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Hubble Telescope Mission, Nasa's Most Dangerous Endeavour, Is Ready For Launch


From The Daily Mail:

Nasa is set to dispatch seven astronauts on its most dangerous ever shuttle mission as it attempts to rescue the $7 billion Hubble Space Telescope from meltdown.

Led by former US Navy fighter pilot Scott Altman, 49, a one-time stunt flier for actor Tom Cruise in the film Top Gun, the crew of Atlantis will repair and upgrade the orbiting observatory, risking a potentially deadly space-junk collision that could leave them stranded 350 miles above Earth.

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Brain Has "Moving" Parts

From Scientific American:

A study in the journal Science reveals that the brain region responsible for the intention to move the body also experiences the movement--but a distinct brain region controls the actual movement. Karen Hopkin reports.

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

For every action, there’s a reaction. And for many movements we make, there’s an intention: we think about moving, and we move. Now a study published in the May 8th issue of the journal Science suggests that the experience of moving is all in your mind. Because the part of the brain that’s active when you intend to move is the same part that lets you feel like you did.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Out Of Africa, The Tribe That Populated The World... Thanks To Climate Change

Olduvai Gorge in the Rift Valley, Tanzania, is often referred to as the cradle of humankind

From The Daily Mail:

Human life outside Africa can be traced to a tribe of 200 people who crossed the Red Sea after climate change made their journey possible.

Falling sea levels allowed the small band to venture across to Arabia 70,000 years ago, a BBC2 documentary claims.

Their descendants then continued the journey that culminated in the colonisation of the world.

Presenter Dr Alice Roberts said it appeared that modern man had a climate change - and luck - to thank for his success.

She said: 'People ask why did man migrate out of Africa at that point? Had they developed a new way of life or particular abilities and attributes?

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Solar Cycle Will Be Weakest Since 1928, Forecasters Say

The sun is thought to have reached the lowest point in its activity in December 2008, but the new solar cycle has gotten off to a slow start. This week, however, two active regions (bright regions in upper-left corner) - whose knotty magnetic fields often coincide with eruptions and flares - appeared on the far side of the sun. One of NASA's twin STEREO probes snapped this image on Thursday (Image: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center)

From New Scientist:

The sun's new solar cycle, which is thought to have begun in December 2008, will be the weakest since 1928. That is the nearly unanimous prediction of a panel of international experts, some of whom maintain that the sun will be more active than normal.

But even a mildly active sun could still generate its fair share of extreme storms that could knock out power grids and space satellites.

Solar activity waxes and wanes every 11 years. Cycles can vary widely in intensity, and there is no foolproof way to predict how the sun will behave in any given cycle.

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World’s Oldest Manufactured Beads Are Older Than Previously Thought

Archaeologists have uncovered some of the world's earliest shell ornaments. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Oxford)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (May 7, 2009) — A team of archaeologists has uncovered some of the world’s earliest shell ornaments in a limestone cave in Eastern Morocco. The researchers have found 47 examples of Nassarius marine shells, most of them perforated and including examples covered in red ochre, at the Grotte des Pigeons at Taforalt.

The fingernail-size shells, already known from 82,000-year-old Aterian deposits in the cave, have now been found in even earlier layers. While the team is still awaiting exact dates for these layers, they believe this discovery makes them arguably the earliest shell ornaments in prehistory.

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Increased Food Intake Alone Explains Rise In Obesity In United States, Study Finds

New research finds that the rise in obesity in the United States since the 1970s was virtually all due to increased energy intake. (Credit: iStockphoto/Michael Krinke)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (May 8, 2009) — New research that uses an innovative approach to study, for the first time, the relative contributions of food and exercise habits to the development of the obesity epidemic has concluded that the rise in obesity in the United States since the 1970s was virtually all due to increased energy intake.

How much of the obesity epidemic has been caused by excess calorie intake and how much by reductions in physical activity has been long debated and while experts agree that making it easier for people to eat less and exercise more are both important for combating it, they debate where the public health focus should be.

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