Saturday, December 13, 2008

Supermassive Black Hole Dissected With Natural Magnifying Glasses: 1,000 Times Clearer Than Best Telescopes Can Do

Close-up of the Einstein Cross, as observed with the SINFONI instrument on ESO's Very Large Telescope. SINFONI makes use of the adaptive optics technique and so, allows astronomers to overcome the blurring effect of the atmosphere, thereby providing very sharp images. The central blob is the nucleus of the lensing galaxy, surrounded by the four mirage images of the distant quasar. (Credit: ESO/F. Courbin et al)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Dec. 13, 2008) — Combining a double natural "magnifying glass" with the power of ESO's Very Large Telescope, astronomers have scrutinised the inner parts of the disc around a supermassive black hole 10 billion light-years away. They were able to study the disc with a level of detail a thousand times better than that of the best telescopes in the world, providing the first observational confirmation of the prevalent theoretical models of such discs.

The team of astronomers from Europe and the US studied the "Einstein Cross", a famous cosmic mirage. This cross-shaped configuration consists of four images of a single very distant source. The multiple images are a result of gravitational lensing by a foreground galaxy, an effect that was predicted by Albert Einstein as a consequence of his theory of general relativity. The light source in the Einstein Cross is a quasar approximately ten billion light-years away, whereas the foreground lensing galaxy is ten times closer. The light from the quasar is bent in its path and magnified by the gravitational field of the lensing galaxy.

Read more ....

Dreams Imaged, Scientists Claim

From Live Science:

Japanese researchers say they've imaged thoughts and dreams and displayed them on a computer screen.

At the web site of the journal Neuron, where the findings are to be published, the researchers summarize their work: "The results suggest that our approach provides an effective means to read out complex perceptual states from brain activity."

Brain imaging is nothing new. And the images are reportedly very simple, but the researchers claim the technique could lead to the ability to unlock the secrets of dreams.

Read more ....

Friday, December 12, 2008

Hubble's Replacement Now Taking Shape

Technicians gingerly handle the honeycombed beryllium mirror segment that will eventually join 17 others to form the primary mirror of the James Webb Space Telescope. Axsys

From SKY Telescope:

Against a backdrop of the worst financial crisis since the 1930s, no one quite knows what will happen to NASA's future plans once Barack Obama becomes president. Will Michael Griffin remain the agency's chief? Will plans to return astronauts to the Moon be scrapped? Will space exploration in general — viewed by some as frivolous waste and by others as a ray of accomplishment amid all the bleakness — be slashed to a bare minimum?

We'll know soon enough. In the meantime, NASA continues to work toward assembling and launching the eventual replacement for the Hubble Space Telescope, currently the crown jewel of its astronomy program.

Read more ....

Year's Biggest Full Moon Friday Night


The full moon Friday night will be the biggest one of the year as Earth's natural satellite reaches its closest point to our planet.

Earth, the moon and the sun are all bound together by gravity, which keeps us going around the sun and keeps the moon going around us as it goes through phases. The moon makes a trip around Earth every 29.5 days. But the orbit is not a perfect circle.

The moon's average distance from us is about 238,855 miles (384,400 km). Friday night it will be just 221,560 miles (356,567 km) away. It will be 14 percent bigger in our sky and 30 percent brighter than some other full moons during the year, according to NASA.

Tides will be higher Friday night, too. Earth's oceans are pulled by the gravity of the moon and the sun. So when the moon is closer, tides are pulled higher. Scientists call these perigean tides, because the moon's closest point to Earth is called perigee. The farthest point on the lunar orbit is called apogee.

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Satellites Spy On Washington From On High [Slide Show]

OBAMA'S NEW ADDRESS: From its orbit 423 miles (681 kilometers) above Earth, the GeoEye 1 looks down on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The satellite, launched September 6, can capture natural and man-made features to within nine feet (three meters) of their actual location on Earth's surface.

From Scientific American:

A satellite imaging company provides clear new pix of features on Earth's surface as India mulls the role played by such imagery in the deadly Mumbai attacks

Washington, D.C., home of the CIA, National Security Administration (NSA) and FBI, is a well-known haven for spies and surveillance. But new satellite pictures of the White House, Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial show these government agencies aren't the only ones watching and being watched.

These latest images from Dulles, Va., satellite-imaging company, GeoEye, are among the first to be collected by the GeoEye 1, a satellite launched into polar orbit on September 6 that can "see" objects on Earth as small as 16 inches (0.41 meter) in size in black-and-white mode or 64.6 inches (1.64 meters) in color. Images from the GeoEye 1, which stands 20 feet (6.1 meters) high and weighs more than 4,300 pounds (1,950 kilograms), so impressed Google that the Internet search giant plans to add the satellite's high-resolution, digital color photos to Google Earth next month.

Read more ....

The Shopping Mall: A 2,000-Year-Old Tradition

An archaeological team found the very first traces of an Illyrian trading post that is more than 2,000 years old, including more than 30 boats. Credit: University of Mostar

From Live Science:

At this time of the year, the pressure to shop, buy and wrap is overwhelming. And so we drag ourselves to the mall, a hopefully one-stop shopping place where any number of stores can accommodate any holiday shopping list. Checking that twice, we schlep up and down until our bags are full and our minds are empty.

And every year, it seems like the list grows longer, the schlep more tedious, and the time deciding on gifts endless. Eventually we sit down, have a holiday drink and thank our lucky stars for the mall, because without this modern market place, we'd be also be driving all over town and screaming.

Read more ....

Does Obama Want to Ground NASA's Next Moon Mission?

Barack Obama and NASA administrator Michael Griffin,
Charles Dharapak / AP; NASA; Matt Stroshane / Getty

From Time Magazine:

Getting into a shouting match with the HR rep is not exactly the best way to land a job. But according to the Orlando Sentinel, that's just what happened last week between NASA administrator Mike Griffin and Lori Garver, a member of Barack Obama's transition team who will help decide if Griffin keeps his post once the President-elect takes office. If the contretemps did occur, it could help doom not only the NASA chief's chances, but the space agency's ambitious plans to get Americans back to the moon.

Read more ....

Look Up Tonight For A Spectacular Treat In The Sky

From Times Online:

Biggest full moon for years enhanced by shooting stars

If the full moon tonight looks unusually large, it is not your imagination – it is the biggest and brightest full moon to be seen for 15 years.

Each month the Moon makes a full orbit around the Earth in a slightly oval-shaped path, and tonight it will swing by the Earth at its closest distance, or perigee. It will pass by 356,613km (221,595 miles) away, which is about 28,000km closer than average.

The unusual feature of tonight is that the perigee also coincides with a full moon, which will make it appear 14 per cent bigger and some 30 per cent brighter than most full moons this year – so long as the clouds hold off from blocking the view.

Read more ....

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Ancient Indian Ocean Coral Points To Another Disastrous Tsunami

From Times Online:

The eastern Indian Ocean could be due for another earthquake rivalling the one that caused the deadly tsunami in December 2004, according to research on ancient corals in the area.

It has long been said that earthquakes occur in cycles, yet until now evidence has been hard to come by. Now a pioneering study of the corals off the west coast of Sumatra has revealed that the region's earthquakes during the past 700 years occurred in series of shocks that spanned decades.

Corals lay down growth rings every year, just like trees, and these record environmental changes including upheavals of the seabed. They show that the region's earthquakes usually come in a sequence.

Read more ....

Hubble Finds Carbon Dioxide On An Extrasolar Planet

This is an artist's impression of the Jupiter-size extrasolar planet, HD 189733b, being eclipsed by its parent star. Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have measured carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide in the planet's atmosphere. The planet is a "hot Jupiter," which is so close to its star that it completes an orbit in only 2.2 days. Credit: ESA, NASA, M. Kornmesser (ESA/Hubble), and STScI

( -- NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has discovered carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of a planet orbiting another star. This is an important step along the trail of finding the chemical biotracers of extraterrestrial life as we know it.

The Jupiter-sized planet, called HD 189733b, is too hot for life. But the Hubble observations are a proof-of-concept demonstration that the basic chemistry for life can be measured on planets orbiting other stars. Organic compounds can also be a by-product of life processes, and their detection on an Earth-like planet may someday provide the first evidence of life beyond Earth.

Love personal electronics? Link up with the like minded at PEbuzz
Previous observations of HD 189733b by Hubble and the Spitzer Space Telescope found water vapor. Earlier this year, Hubble astronomers reported that they found methane in the planet's atmosphere.

Read more ....

Wind, Water And Sun Beat Biofuels, Nuclear And Coal For Clean Energy

Wind power is the most promising alternative source of energy, according
to Mark Jacobson. (Credit: LM Glasfiber)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Dec. 11, 2008) — The best ways to improve energy security, mitigate global warming and reduce the number of deaths caused by air pollution are blowing in the wind and rippling in the water, not growing on prairies or glowing inside nuclear power plants, says Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford.

And "clean coal," which involves capturing carbon emissions and sequestering them in the earth, is not clean at all, he asserts.

Read more ....

The Energy Debates: Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion

From Live Science:

The Facts

Most of the planet is covered by the oceans, and they absorb a staggering amount of energy from the sun each day. Ocean thermal energy conversion, or OTEC, taps into this energy to produce electricity.

Ocean thermal energy conversion relies on the fact that water near the surface is heated by sunlight while seawater deep in the dark is much colder. OTEC plants use warm surface water to heat ammonia or some other fluid that boils at a low temperature. The resulting gas is used to drive turbines that produce electricity. The gas is then cooled by cold water pumped up from the ocean depths and the resulting fluid is recycled to help generate power.

Read more ....

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Dirty Side Of Clean Coal

DIRTY COAL Mountaintop removal mining pollutes communities in Appalachia.
Courtesy of Douglas Fischer, The Daily Climate

From Scientific American:

DOROTHY, W. Va. – Larry Gibson lives on an island in the sky.

It didn’t start that way: His land was once a low hill in a rugged hardwood forest – cherry, oak, hickory – skipping from ridge to ridge across one of the poorest, most rural areas of the Lower 48.

Then came the mining companies with their dynamite and trucks. They clear-cut the forest, blew the tops off the ridges and scraped the rocks into the hollows, pushing hundreds of feet of mountains into the valleys below.

They came for the coal – energy that provides half of the nation’s electricity and has been touted as a major plank in the United State’s bid for energy independence. They left, in Gibson’s view, a swale of extirpation and death.

Read more ....

1/5 Of Coral Reefs Lost Due To Acid-Filled Oceans

From National Geographic:

The world has lost nearly one-fifth of its coral reefs, and much of the rest could be destroyed by increasingly acidic seas if climate change continues unchecked, a conservation group warned Wednesday.

Rising temperatures from greenhouses gases are the latest and most serious threats to coral, which are already being damaged by destructive fishing methods and pollution, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

About 19 percent of coral reefs have disappeared during the last 20 years, said IUCN's director general, Julia Marton-Lefèvre.

"If current trends in carbon dioxide emission continue, many of the remaining reefs will be lost in the next 20 to 40 years," Marton-Lefèvre said at Wednesday's U.N. talks, which are focused on creating a new climate change treaty.

Read more ....

Henry M. Dies At 82; Victim Of Brain Surgery Accident Offered Doctors Key Insights Into Memory

From The L.A. Times:

For 55 years, he was known to the world at large only as HM or Henry M., the survivor of brain surgery that went catastrophically wrong, leaving him with a form of amnesia that prevented him from collecting any new memories and living in a pre-1953 world.

But when he died Dec. 2 of respiratory failure at a nursing home in Windsor Locks, Conn., his tightly guarded identity was finally revealed to the world. His name was Henry Gustav Molaison and he was 82.

The ill-conceived surgery was a personal disaster, but it was a major boon to the scientific community, providing researchers with the first window into how and where memories are formed in the brain.

Read more ....

The Physics Every President Should Know

BROOKS KRAFT/CORBIS (Photo from Businessweek)

From NPR:

From gravity to the greenhouse effect, Richard Muller, a physicist at University of California at Berkeley, details the basic physics President-elect Barack Obama should know. Muller is author of Physics for Future Presidents and teaches a class at Berkeley by the same name.

Read more ....

What's Inside A Black Hole?

Image from NASA

From The Guardian:

At the centre of the Milky Way lies a giant black hole, but can we shed light on what lurks in the darkness?

Thanks to German astronomers, we now have the most accurate measurements yet of the giant black hole that sits at the centre of our galaxy.

And what a beast it is: as wide as Earth's orbit around the sun and 4.3 million times more massive than our home star. Lucky, then, that it is 27,000 light years away.

Read more ....

Unprecedented 16-Year-Long Study Tracks Stars Orbiting Milky Way Black Hole

This is the central parts of our galaxy, the Milky Way, as observed in the near-infrared with the NACO instrument on ESO's Very Large Telescope. By following the motions of the most central stars over more than 16 years, astronomers were able to determine the mass of the supermassive black hole that lurks there. (Credit: ESO/S. Gillessen et al.)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Dec. 10, 2008) — By watching the motions of 28 stars orbiting the Milky Way's most central region with admirable patience and amazing precision, astronomers have been able to study the supermassive black hole lurking there. It is known as "Sagittarius A*" (pronounced "Sagittarius A star"). The new research marks the first time that the orbits of so many of these central stars have been calculated precisely and reveals information about the enigmatic formation of these stars — and about the black hole to which they are bound.

"The centre of the Galaxy is a unique laboratory where we can study the fundamental processes of strong gravity, stellar dynamics and star formation that are of great relevance to all other galactic nuclei, with a level of detail that will never be possible beyond our Galaxy," explains Reinhard Genzel, leader of the team from the Max-Planck-Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching near Munich.

Read more .....

Sugar Can Be Addictive, Study Suggests

From Live Science:

A study of rats finds they show all the signs of addiction to sugar. The finding could help better understand eating disorders in humans.

Professor Bart Hoebel and his team in the Department of Psychology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute have been studying signs of sugar addiction in rats for years. They had previously demonstrated a behavioral pattern of increased intake and then showed signs of withdrawal.

New experiments captured craving and relapse to complete the picture.

"If bingeing on sugar is really a form of addiction, there should be long-lasting effects in the brains of sugar addicts," Hoebel said. "Craving and relapse are critical components of addiction, and we have been able to demonstrate these behaviors in sugar-bingeing rats in a number of ways."

Read more ....

Google Doubles Street View Coverage

US coverage by Google Maps Street View. (Google)

From The Christian Science Monitor:

Memphis, Maine, Birmingham, Charleston: Google’s been watching.

The search giant on Tuesday rolled out the biggest update ever to its mapping feature that lets visitors take a virtual stroll down the Champs Elysees, the National Mall, or their (well, in this case, my) old street.

This update includes parts of some states that hadn’t yet gotten the Google treatment, including Maine, West Virginia, and the Dakotas (yes, you can click your way through downtown Fargo, but the pictures were taken in the summertime.)

Besides being fun to play with, the feature makes it easy to get to know an area before going there. Street View was also recently added to the mobile version of Google Maps to enhance driving directions.

Read more ....

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Black Hole Found In Milky Way

From BBC:

There is a giant black hole at the centre of our galaxy, a study has confirmed.

German astronomers tracked the movement of 28 stars circling the centre of the Milky Way, using the European Southern Observatory in Chile.

The black hole is four million times heavier than our Sun, according to the paper in The Astrophysical Journal.

Black holes are objects whose gravity is so great that nothing - including light - can escape them.

According to Dr Robert Massy, of the Royal Astronomical Society, the results suggest that galaxies form around giant black holes in the way that a pearl forms around grit.

Read more ....

NASA Delays Mars Science Laboratory Launch To 2011

In a rare astronomical occurrence, called planetary conjunction, planets Venus (top l.), and Jupiter (top r.), were seen with a crescent moon. The three orbs created a momentary smiley face in the sky over Asia on Monday. Bullit Marquez/AP

From Christian Science Monitor:

For folks looking forward to the launch of another ground-breaking Mars mission next year, you’ll have to wait. Top officials with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration announced today that they have pushed back the launch of the Mars Science Laboratory by two years.

In the process, the agency’s green-eye-shade crew will have to come up with an extra $400 million for the project. That’s the delay’s cost on a mission whose price tag already is estimated at $1.88 billion before all is said and done.

The delay is the second in a year, with the project currently running about two months behind schedule.

Read more ....

Hubble Finds Carbon Dioxide on Extrasolar Planet

From Wired Science:

The Hubble Space Telescope has detected carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of a planet outside of the solar system, a significant step in the search for extraterrestrial life.

Though the planet is more similar to Jupiter than Earth and is too hot to harbor life, the ability to identify organic compounds on other planets is key to being able to find other habitable worlds, and potentially life.

"The carbon dioxide is kind of the main focus of the excitement, because that is a molecule that under the right circumstances could have a connection to biological activity as it does on Earth," astronomer Mark Swain of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a press release. "The very fact that we're able to detect it, and estimate its abundance, is significant for the long-term effort of characterizing planets both to find out what they're made of and to find out if they could be a possible host for life."

Read more ....

Top 100 Innovations of 2008

From Popsci:

The 100 fastest, biggest, safest, greenest and most powerful innovations of the year

For decades, we've fantasized about watching paper-thin TVs, soaring hundreds of feet with personal jetpacks, riding in cars that drive themselves, and re-growing organs.

The 21st annual Best of What's New celebrates all of those dreams coming true. Now we've collected them all into one single slideshow. Launch it here to learn about these achievements and 96 other breakthroughs that, whether long awaited or completely unexpected, are equally amazing.

Please click here to launch the list.

What Is Truth Serum?

From Scientific American:

Indian officials plan to inject captured Mumbai terrorist with the "truth serum," sodium pentothal, but history tells us that the technique isn't up to the task

The baby-faced gunman of Mumbai, Azam Amir Kasab, now in the custody of Indian police, is the sole surviving attacker in the three-day rampage that began on the night of November 26 and left more than 170 people dead and scores of others injured.

After the attacks, Indian officials immediately began pointing fingers at longtime rival, Pakistan, as the source of the 10 militants—a charge that Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari disputed last night on CNN. During police interrogations, Kasab himself claimed to hail from the Punjab region of Pakistan and to have trained with the Pakistan-based extremist group, Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Read more ....

Global Cancer Deaths to Double by 2030

Breast Cancer Cell (Photo from Alernative Treatments)

From WebMD:

Dec. 9, 2008 -- Cancer deaths are projected to more than double worldwide over the next two decades, largely from a dramatic increase in cancer incidence in low- and middle-income countries driven by tobacco use and increasingly Westernized lifestyles.

A new report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) explores the global burden of cancer, which is poised to become the leading cause of death worldwide by 2010.

The report predicts that:

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Never Say Die

William Finch, 96, gets ready to play Badminton in Greenville, N.C. At right, 97-year-old June McCann enjoys a game of Bocce ball. Photos: Michael Edwards for Newsweek

From Newsweek:

Step aside, quacks. The search for longer life is a real science now.

By the time it reaches the age of 18 days, the average roundworm is old, flabby, sluggish and wrinkled. By 20 days, the creature will likely be dead—unless, that is, it's one of Cynthia Kenyon's worms. Kenyon, director of the Hillblom Center for the Biology of Aging at the University of California, San Francisco, has tinkered with two genes that turn simple worms into mini-Methuselahs, with life spans of up to 144 days. "You can beat them up in ways that would kill a normal worm—exposing them to high heat, radiation and infectious microbes—and still they don't die," she says. "Instead, they're moving and looking like young worms. It's like a miracle—except it's science."

Read more ....

Pavlov's Neurons: Brain Cells That Are A Key To Learning Discovered

Researchers have found individual neurons in the amygdalas of rat brains that are activated when the animals are given an associative learning task. (Credit: iStockphoto/Kiyoshi Takahase Segundo)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Dec. 9, 2008) — More than a century after Ivan Pavlov's dog was conditioned to salivate when it heard the sound of a tone prior to receiving food, scientists have found neurons that are critical to how people and animals learn from experience.

Using a new imaging technique called Arc catFISH, researchers from the University of Washington have visualized individual neurons in the amygdalas of rat brains that are activated when the animals are given an associative learning task.

Read more ....

No Batteries Required: Future Devices Could Power Themselves

Photo From Green Optimistic

From Live Science:

A dying battery on a cell phone or iPod is usually a simple inconvenience, but it can potentially ruin lives. Research now shows that high-tech devices will be able to power themselves in the future by converting pressure waves into energy. No recharge needed.

The findings, detailed in this fall in the journal Physical Review B, could have potentially profound effects for low-powered electronic devices such as laptops, personal communicators and a host of other computer-related devices used by everyone from the average consumer to law enforcement officers and even soldiers in the battlefield.

Read more ....

Honeybee CSI: Why Dead Bodies Can’t Be Found

Healthy hives (top) have worker bees covering most combs, but in hives with colony collapse disorder (bottom), a lot of bees leave the hive and don’t return.Credit: Custom Life Science Images

From Science News:

Virus could explain one symptom of colony collapse

There’s bad news for diehards still arguing that honeybees are getting abducted by aliens.

Beehives across North America continue to lose their workers for reasons not yet understood, a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder. But new tests suggest how a virus nicknamed IAPV might be to blame for one of the more puzzling aspects of the disorder—the impression that substantial numbers of bees vanish into thin air.

In tests on hives in a greenhouse, bees infected with IAPV (short for Israeli acute paralytic virus) rarely died in the hive. Sick bees expired throughout the greenhouse, including near the greenhouse wall, Diana Cox-Foster of Pennsylvania State University in University Park reported November 18 in Reno, Nev., at the annual meeting of the Entomological Society of America.

Read more .....

New Malaria Vaccine More Than 50 Percent Effective

(Photo from Foreign Policy Passport)

From Foreign Policy Passport:

Results of the latest malaria vaccine trials will be published today in The New England Journal of Medicine, and from the looks of it, the news is good -- fantastic, in fact. "We are closer than every before to having a malaria vaccine for use by children in Africa, says Christian Lucq, director of the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative.

First, some background: The new trials use a vaccine candidate known as RTSS, the most clinically advanced malaria vaccine in development. The two tests took place in Kenya and Tanzania, and included 340 and 894 children, respectively. After vaccination, children were visited in their homes to follow up on their health and most importantly, their contraction (or not) of malaria.

Here are some highlights from the results:

Read more .....

Monday, December 8, 2008

Making Vinegar At Home

Maple Vinegar: Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot

From Popsci:

Turn sour old wine into a beautiful holiday gift -- thanks to science.

Vinegar is one of those ingredients that people don't think of as often as they should. It is mostly just seen in salad dressings and pickles, which is a shame, because there is a whole world of flavor there just waiting to be tapped into. There are often times, especially during the holidays, when there is leftover wine after a festive dinner. Many of us will cork the bottle, with or without various safeguards to preserve the contents, and set it aside for the next day. Occasionally the bottles are forgotten, and when you finally open them again you find that the wine has evolved into something quite a bit different from what you were expecting. In these moments the change is often viewed with disappointment, as a delicate beverage has transformed into something sharper and edgier. Frankly, though, a smart cook will see the change as an opportunity. Good wine makes good vinegar and good vinegar is a stellar cooking ingredient.

Read more ....

Why Do Men Buy Sex?

Photo: iStockphoto

From Scientific Magazine:

* In the U.S., police officers detained about 78,000 people in 2007 for prostitution-related crimes, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Only about 10 percent of these arrests are of the sex patrons, who almost exclusively are men.
* A considerable proportion of men worldwide buy sex from female prostitutes, with most estimates of lifetime prevalence ranging from 7 to 39 percent, depending on the country and study. Many experts argue that it is a male appetite—and not the choices of prostitutes—that fundamentally drives the sex trade.
* Men’s motives for buying sex are hotly contested among researchers. Some believe the practice serves as a salve for common psychological afflictions, such as an unfulfilled craving for sex or romance. Others, meanwhile, paint a dimmer portrait of johns, believing they are driven by chauvinistic motives, such as a desire to dominate and control women.

Read more ....

Large Hadron Collider Repairs To Cost £14million

Extensive work will be needed to fix the Large Hadron Collider after a problem thought to be related to a faulty electrical connection Photo: GETTY IMAGES

From The Telegraph:

Repairs to the Large Hadron Collider, dubbed the biggest experiment in history, will cost almost £14m and take until at least next summer to be completed.

A faulty electrical connection between magnets was likely to blame for a large helium leak which caused the £4.4m LHC to be shut down in September.

At first the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) thought it would only be out of action until last month but the damage was worse than expected.

Now it is hoped repairs will be completed by May or early June with the machine restarted at the end of June or later.

James Gillies, a CERN spokesman, said: "If we can do it sooner, all well and good. But I think we can do it realistically (in) early summer.

Read more ....

Early Snowfalls In Europe Hit Historic Levels

From Watts Up With That?:

Early snowfalls in Europe hit Historic Levels
Posted Wednesday 3rd December 2008, 2:15 pm by Dunx

* 20 year record snowfall in Dolomites enough to last all season
* Some Swiss train services cancelled due to excess snow
* Still more heavy snow in the Pyrenees
* More snow for Scotland is following still more heavy snowfalls across Europe over the past 48 hours, with much more snow in other parts of Europe and many areas of North America too.

The snowfall has been so great that it has closed roads, brought down power lines and even led to the cancellation of some Swiss rail services this week.

Read more ....

Is Einstein The Last Great Genius?

From Live Science:

Major breakthroughs in science have historically been the province of individuals, not institutes. Galileo and Copernicus, Edison and Einstein, toiling away in lonely labs or pondering the cosmos in private studies.

But in recent decades — especially since the Soviet success in launching the Sputnik satellite in 1957 — the trend has been to create massive institutions that foster more collaboration and garner big chunks of funding.

And it is harder now to achieve scientific greatness. A study of Nobel Prize winners in 2005 found that the accumulation of knowledge over time has forced great minds to toil longer before they can make breakthroughs. The age at which thinkers produce significant innovations increased about six years during the 20th century.

Read more ....

Dogs Can Feel Envy, Study Suggests

Dogs can feel envy, a December 2008 study suggests. In experiments with 43 dogs, an Austrian research team showed that dogs reacted to inequity. One dog watched another dog receive a reward for a trick. When the watcher dog performed the same trick and was not rewarded, that dog refused to do the trick again. Photograph by William Albert Allard/NGS

From National Geographic:

The first scientific study to find envy in non-primates affirms what many already know: dogs can get jealous.

"Everybody who has a dog at home probably [suspects] that dogs can be very jealous of other dogs and also of people," said lead author Friederike Range of the University of Vienna, Austria.

In experiments with 43 dogs, Range's team showed that the canines reacted to inequity.

The team had one dog watch another dog receive a reward for doing a trick. When the watching dog performed the same trick and was not rewarded, that dog refused to do the trick again, Range said.

Read more ....

Will Solar Power Ever Be As Cheap As Coal?

Wafer handlers: Senior photovoltaic engineer Adam Lorenz works on some solar wafers. The company he works for, 1366 Technologies, aims to convert sunshine into power as cheaply as coal-burning power plants do. (Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff)

From The Christian Science Monitor:

Some predict that within five years, it could rival fossil-fuel energy.

Lexington, Mass.

“Solar power is the energy of the future – and always will be.”

That tired joke, which has dogged solar-generated electricity for decades due to its high cost, could be retired far sooner than many think.

While solar contributes less than 1 percent of the energy generated in the United States today, its costs are turning sharply downward.

Whether using mirrors that focus desert sunlight to harvest heat and spin turbines or rooftop photovoltaic panels that turn sunshine directly into current, solar is on track to deliver electricity to residential users at a cost on par with natural gas and perhaps even coal within the next four to seven years, industry experts say.

Read more ....

Carbon Dioxide Helped Ancient Earth Escape Deathly Deep Freeze

Researchers speculate that during the Cryogenian Period, about 840 to 635 million years ago, advancing ice was stalled by the interaction of the physical climate system and the carbon cycle of the ocean, with carbon dioxide playing a key role in insulating the planet. (Credit: iStockphoto)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Dec. 8, 2008) — The planet’s present day greenhouse scourge, carbon dioxide, may have played a vital role in helping ancient Earth to escape from complete glaciation, say scientists in a paper published online today.

In their review for Nature Geoscience, UK scientists claim that the Earth never froze over completely during the Cryogenian Period, about 840 to 635 million years ago.

This is contrary to the Snowball Earth hypothesis, which envisages a fully frozen Earth that was locked in ice for many millions of years as a result of a runaway chain reaction that caused the planet to cool.

Read more ....

My Comment: I live half of the time up north in the Laurentians of Quebec. It is -22C. outside right now. Hmmmm .... more carbon dioxide please.

The Energy Debates: Solar Farms

From Live Science:

The Facts

The amount of energy from the sun that falls on Earth is staggering. Averaged over the entire surface of the planet, roughly each square yard collects nearly as much energy each year as you’d get from burning a barrel of oil. Solar farms seek to harness this energy for megawatts of power.

There are two ways solar power is used to generate electricity. Solar thermal plants — also known as concentrating solar power systems — focus sunlight with mirrors, heating water and producing steam that drives electric turbines, while photovoltaic cells directly convert sunlight to electricity.

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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Making Computers Based On The Human Brain

Nigel Buchanan

From Business Week:

How the biology of gray matter is having an increasing influence on computer design

When Lloyd Watts was growing up in Kingston, Ont., in the 1970s he had a knack for listening to songs by Billy Joel and Elton John and plunking out the melodies on the family piano. But he wondered, wouldn't it be great to have a machine that could "listen" to songs and immediately transcribe them into musical notation? Watts never built the gizmo, but his decades-long quest to engineer such a machine has finally resulted in one of the first commercial technologies based on the biology of the brain.

Microchips designed by Audience, the Silicon Valley company Watts launched, are now being used by mobile handset makers in Asia to improve dramatically the quality of conversations in noisy places. Even a truck passing right by someone using the technology won't be heard at the other end of the phone line. The chip is modeled on functions of the inner ear and part of the cerebral cortex. "We have reverse-engineered this piece of the brain," declares Watts.

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Unhappy People Watch TV, Happy People Read/Socialize, Says Study

From E! Science News:

A new study by sociologists at the University of Maryland concludes that unhappy people watch more TV, while people who describe themselves as very happy spend more time reading and socializing. The study appears in the December issue of the journal Social Indicators Research. Analyzing 30-years worth of national data from time-use studies and a continuing series of social attitude surveys, the Maryland researchers report that spending time watching television may contribute to viewers' happiness in the moment, with less positive effects in the long run.

"TV doesn't really seem to satisfy people over the long haul the way that social involvement or reading a newspaper does," says University of Maryland sociologist John P. Robinson, the study co-author and a pioneer in time-use studies. "It's more passive and may provide escape - especially when the news is as depressing as the economy itself. The data suggest to u

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The Science Of The Future Of War

(Photo from Infowars)

From Blog Science:

TODAY'S MOST BRUTAL WARS are also the most primal. They are fought with machetes in West Africa, with fire and rape and fear in Darfur, and with suicide bombs and improvised explosive devices in Israel, Iraq, and elsewhere. But as horrifying as these conflicts are, they are not the greatest threat to our survival as a species. We humans are a frightening animal. Throughout our species’s existence, we have used each new technology we have developed to boost the destructive power of our ancient predisposition for killing members of our own species. From hands and teeth tearing at isolated individuals, to coordinated raids with clubs and bows and arrows, to pitched battles, prolonged sieges, and on into the age of firearms, the impulse has remained the same but as the efficiency of our weapons has increased, the consequences have grown ever more extreme.

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My Comment: A long essay .... but a fascinating one to read. Grab a cup of coffee, and take your time reading it.

Mass Testing Plan To Tackle Aids

Intervention with anti-Aids drugs before symptoms appear could reduce HIV rates to under 1% in 50 years, a study claims. Photograph: Adrees Latif/Reuters

From The Guardian:

• Radical WHO strategy aimed at halting epidemic
• Preventive use of drugs raises human rights issues

A radical new strategy to stop the Aids epidemic in its tracks was proposed yesterday by World Health Organisation scientists but ran into immediate controversy over its implications for human rights.

The plan involves testing everybody for HIV every year in hard-hit areas like
sub-Saharan Africa and immediately putting those who are positive on Aids drugs. It could slash dramatically the number of new infections, because Aids drugs lower the levels of virus in the body, making HIV transmission through unprotected sex much less likely.

But the strategy, expounded in a paper published online today by the Lancet medical journal, raises major issues both over implementation and over ethics.

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