Saturday, February 14, 2009

New Artificial DNA Points to Alien Life

From Live Science:

CHICAGO — A strange, new genetic code a lot like that found in all terrestrial life is sitting in a beaker full of oily water in a laboratory in Florida, a scientist said today, calling it the first example of an artificial chemical system that is capable of Darwinian evolution.

The system is made of the four molecules that are the basic building blocks of our DNA along with eight synthetic modifications of them, said biochemist Steven A. Benner of the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Gainesville.

The main difference between the synthetic molecules and those that make up conventional DNA is that Benner's molecules cannot make copies of themselves, although that is just "a couple of years" away, he said.

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Wildlife Salute Valentines Day Of Their Own

Grizzly family. (Credit: Image courtesy of National Wildlife Federation)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Feb. 14, 2009) — While they might not be giving roses and writing love poems, wildlife have some pretty fascinating – and sometimes downright bizarre – courtship and mating rituals of their own. You won’t find singles bars or online dating sites for grizzly bears but our furry and feathered friends have some pretty interesting habits.

Here are some intriguing examples provided by the National Wildlife Federation:

* Female moths release a chemical called a pheromone into the air that male moths find irresistible. The males detect the females’ intoxicating perfume with their fuzzy, sensitive antennae. A single female moth can lure dozens of males. The bolas spider has figured out a way to mimic the pheromones of certain moths, thus luring unsuspecting male moths to an untimely death in her clutches. Talk about deadly perfume!

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Obama's BlackBerry Brings Personal Safety Risks

President Obama and his BlackBerry at the White House in late January.
(Credit: UPI Photo/Ron Sachs/Pool)

From CNET News:

When the mainstream media first announced Barack Obama's "victory" in keeping his BlackBerry, the focus was on the security of the device, and keeping the U.S. president's e-mail communications private from spies and hackers.

The news coverage and analysis by armchair security experts thus far has failed to focus on the real threat: attacks against President Obama's location privacy, and the potential physical security risks that come with someone knowing the president's real-time physical location.

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The Sweet Truth: Chocolate Can Be Healthy

From Live Science:

A bar of chocolate for your Valentine isn’t just a sweet treat, it can also be a boon to the body.

The ways in which the compounds in chocolate interact with our bodies' systems, from the stomach to the heart, have been an active area of research in recent years. Several studies have found that in small amounts, dark chocolate in particular can help prevent the blood from clumping up, keep the heart healthy and even provide some anti-cancer benefits.

Scientists caution that chocolate is far from being a cure-all, of course. But what could be better than knowing such an indulgence might be good for you?

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Scientists Discover Material Harder Than Diamond

Photo: A diamond ring. Scientists have calculated that wurtzite boron nitride and lonsdaleite (hexagonal diamond) both have greater indentation strengths than diamond. Source: English Wikipedia.

( -- Currently, diamond is regarded to be the hardest known material in the world. But by considering large compressive pressures under indenters, scientists have calculated that a material called wurtzite boron nitride (w-BN) has a greater indentation strength than diamond. The scientists also calculated that another material, lonsdaleite (also called hexagonal diamond, since it’s made of carbon and is similar to diamond), is even stronger than w-BN and 58 percent stronger than diamond, setting a new record.

This analysis marks the first case where a material exceeds diamond in strength under the same loading conditions, explain the study’s authors, who are from Shanghai Jiao Tong University and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The study is published in a recent issue of Physical Review Letters.

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Astronomers Unveiling Life's Cosmic Origins

The Cosmic Chemistry Cycle. (Credit: Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Feb. 13, 2009) — Processes that laid the foundation for life on Earth -- star and planet formation and the production of complex organic molecules in interstellar space -- are yielding their secrets to astronomers armed with powerful new research tools, and even better tools soon will be available.

Astronomers described three important developments at a symposium on the "Cosmic Cradle of Life" at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago, IL.

In one development, a team of astrochemists released a major new resource for seeking complex interstellar molecules that are the precursors to life. The chemical data released by Anthony Remijan of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) and his university colleagues is part of the Prebiotic Interstellar Molecule Survey, or PRIMOS, a project studying a star-forming region near the center of our Milky Way Galaxy.

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The Romantic Evolution of True Love

From Live Science:

True love is all about finding that one certain someone, and anthropologists have led us to believe that the quest for the perfect mate is evolutionarily based. Humans are, the researchers contend, a naturally pair-boded species.

The standard scenario goes like this: Human babies are born about three months too soon because upright walking changed the female pelvis and babies have to get out before their heads grow too big. As a result, human babies are born neurologically unfinished; they can’t sit up or grasp or do much of anything. By necessity, adult humans are designed to respond to the cries and babbles of infants; we rush to feed them and pick them up. The burden of this kind of child care is so intense, they say, that it takes two parents to bring up even one baby.

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Valentine’s Gifts For Your Science Geek

From Smithsonian Magazine:

Valentine’s Day quickly approaches, and you may be wondering what to buy for your own geeky Valentine (or what to request for yourself). You can start off by sending a Scientist Valentine. Darwin might be the best choice, since his 200th birthday is only two days before V-Day.

Let’s move on to the classic gifts of chocolate and candy. There’s a chocolate-colored tee with the molecule theobromine, the chemical that makes chocolate so fun. The molecule can also be found in the form of earrings or a necklace.

You can show your love with a gummy heart, an anatomical one, that is. But consider carefully—the cannibalism aspect might scare someone off.

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Goodbye Mr Nice Guy

From Scienceagogo:

Just in time for Valentine's Day, researchers have turned up some new answers to the age-old question of what we want in our partners. It turns out that "chastity" is unimportant and men are more interested in an educated woman who is a good financial prospect; and women are more interested in a man who wants a family and less picky about whether he's a "nice guy."

Sociologists Christine Whelan and Christie Boxer, from the University of Iowa (UI), arrived at their findings by analyzing a 2008 survey of more than 1,100 undergraduates from four different universities and comparing the results to past mate-preference research.

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The Most Tragic Love Stories in History

A painting of Antony and Cleopatra by Lawrence Alma-Tadema in 1885

From Live Science:

Nothing celebrates Valentine's Day quite like a good love story. And by good, we mean tragic, of course.

Though Shakespeare's plays are littered with doomed lovers — unrequited passion and death makes for good reading, apparently — couples equally as star-crossed can be found in the world's history books.

These five tragic historical tales from the ancient to more recent past are as sad as anything that has ever been conjured up in fiction:

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Cooking Helped Humans Evolve ... With Side Effects

From Wired Science:

CHICAGO — Raw-food devotees take note: Your diet is not in any way natural. Humans are as adapted to cooking our food as cows are to eating grass, or ticks are to sucking blood.

"Cooking is a human universal," said Harvard primatologist Richard Wrangham at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting here Friday. While cooking kills parasites and other pathogens, Wrangham believes this health benefit is not its primary contribution.

"The fundamental importance of cooking is that it provides increased sources of energy," he said.

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New Refrigeration System Based On Magnetics More Economical And Quieter Than Current Technology

A magnetocaloric material heats up when magnetized (b); if cooled and then demagnetized (c), its temperature drops dramatically (d). NIST scientists may have found a way to use magnetocalorics in your fridge. (Credit: Talbott, NIST)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Feb. 12, 2009) — Your refrigerator’s humming, electricity-guzzling cooling system could soon be a lot smaller, quieter and more economical thanks to an exotic metal alloy discovered by an international collaboration working at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)’s Center for Neutron Research (NCNR).

The alloy may prove to be a long-sought material that will permit magnetic cooling instead of the gas-compression systems used for home refrigeration and air conditioning. The magnetic cooling technique, though used for decades in science and industry, has yet to find application in the home because of technical and environmental hurdles—but the NIST collaboration may have overcome them.

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Saliva: Secret Ingredient In The Best Kisses

From Live Science:

CHICAGO — Go ahead. Kiss the girl. And you might make it a wet one, because scientists who are starting to understand the biochemistry of kisses say that saliva increases sex drive.

Those in the kissing-science field of philematology are finding links between kissing and the hormones that affect coupling, researchers said here today at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). And these hormones are one of the keys to our reproductive success, so there's a link to evolution and passing on our genes to the next generation.

"There is evidence that saliva has testosterone in it," said Rutgers University anthropologist Helen Fisher, and testosterone increases sex drive. "And there is evidence that men like sloppier kisses with more open mouth. That suggests they are unconsciously trying to transfer testosterone to stimulate sex drive in women."

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Scanner Reveals Details Of Egyptian Mummy Inside Casket

Scan shows coffin and details of Meresamun's skeleton,
including her eye sockets, jaw and shoulders

From The Independent:

Stunning images from within the unopened casket of a 3,000-year-old Egyptian mummy have been revealed using a hi-tech hospital scanner.

The elaborately decorated coffin contains the wrapped remains of Meresamun, a woman believed to have been a singer-priestess at a temple in Thebes in 800 BC.

Experts do not want to disturb the casket, which has remained sealed since Meresamun was laid to rest almost 1,000 years before the birth of Christ.

But now cutting edge X-ray technology has allowed scientists to peer through the coffin and obtain astonishing 3D images of the mummy, still wrapped in her linen bandages.

A state-of-the-art computed tomography CT scanner was used to peel away the layers and reveal Meresamun's skeleton.

The mummy's remaining internal organs can be seen, as well as what appear to be stones placed in her eye sockets.

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How Broken Arm Led Scientists To Genome Of Neanderthals

From McClatchy Newspapers:

WASHINGTON — It was an unfortunate accident, but a lucky break for modern science.

About 38,000 years ago, a Neanderthal man living in what's now Croatia broke his left arm, forcing him to use his other arm for most tasks. That increased the mass and density of the bone in the upper right arm, and preserved his DNA for researchers — using a dentist's drill — to recover many millennia later.

With that bit of material, along with scraps of DNA collected from half a dozen other Neanderthal fossils, scientists have now completed a rough partial draft of the genome of humans' prehistoric cousins.

The Neanderthals lived for hundreds of thousands of years in Europe and western Asia, but went extinct about 30,000 years ago. They were replaced by Cro-Magnons, the ancestors of modern humans.

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Lifeline for Renewable Power

Photo: Green lines: Tapping energy from remote wind and solar farms will require more high-voltage transmission lines like these, near Yermo, CA, which link southern Nevada with Los Angeles. Credit: Ewan Burns

Technology Review:

Without a radically expanded and smarter electrical grid, wind and solar will remain niche power sources.

Push through a bulletproof revolving door in a nondescript building in a dreary patch of the former East Berlin and you enter the control center for Vattenfall Europe Transmission, the company that controls northeastern Germany's electrical grid. A monitor displaying a diagram of that grid takes up most of one wall. A series of smaller screens show the real-time output of regional wind turbines and the output that had been predicted the previous day. Germany is the world's largest user of wind energy, with enough turbines to produce 22,250 megawatts of electricity. That's roughly the equivalent of the output from 22 coal plants--enough to meet about 6 percent of Germany's needs. And because Vattenfall's service area produces 41 percent of German wind energy, the control room is a critical proving ground for the grid's ability to handle renewable power.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

13 Facts About Friday The 13th

From Live Science:

If you fear Friday the 13th, then batten down the hatches. This week's unlucky day is the first of three this year.

The next Friday the 13th comes in March, followed by Nov. 13. Such a triple whammy comes around only every 11 years, said Thomas Fernsler, a math specialist at the University of Delaware who has studied the number 13 for more than 20 years.

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Wireless Electricity Is Here (Seriously)

Ryan Tseng holds his wirelessly lit lightbulb 3 inches above its power source.
Photograph by Phillip Toledano

From Fast Company:

I'm standing next to a Croatian-born American genius in a half-empty office in Watertown, Massachusetts, and I'm about to be fried to a crisp. Or I'm about to witness the greatest advance in electrical science in a hundred years. Maybe both.

Either way, all I can think of is my electrician, Billy Sullivan. Sullivan has 11 tattoos and a voice marinated in Jack Daniels. During my recent home renovation, he roared at me when I got too close to his open electrical panel: "I'm the Juice Man!" he shouted. "Stay the hell away from my juice!"

He was right. Only gods mess with electrons. Only a fool would shoot them into the air. And yet, I'm in a conference room with a scientist who is going to let 120 volts fly out of the wall, on purpose.

"Don't worry," says the MIT assistant professor and a 2008 MacArthur genius-grant winner, Marin Soljacic (pronounced SOLE-ya-cheech), who designed the box he's about to turn on. "You will be okay."

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Crash Of US, Russian Satellites A Threat In Space

NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office has counted about 17,000 objects larger than 10 centimeters, and it estimates that there are more than 200,000 particles between one and 10 centimeters. The debris objects shown here are an artist's impression based on actual density data. The objects are shown at an exaggerated size to make them visible at the scale shown. (European Space Agency)

From Yahoo News/AP:

MOSCOW – U.S. and Russian officials traded shots Thursday over who was to blame for a huge satellite collision this week that spewed speeding clouds of debris into space, threatening other unmanned spacecraft in nearby orbits.

The smashup 500 miles (800 kilometers) over Siberia on Tuesday involved a derelict Russian spacecraft designed for military communications and a working satellite owned by U.S.-based Iridium, which served commercial customers as well as the U.S. Department of Defense.

A prominent Russian space expert suggested NASA fell down on the job by not warning of the collision. But U.S. space experts said the Russian has the wrong agency.

Read more ....

More News On The U.S./Russian Satellite Collision

Satellite collision highlights space-junk threat -- Christian Science Monitor
PHOTOS: Satellite Collision Creates Dangerous Debris -- National Geographic
Pentagon fails to anticipate satellite collision -- AFP
Space-collision debris poses risk to satellites, experts say -- CBC
U.S. warns of space "dodgeball" after satellite crash -- Reuters
U.S. to release update regarding satellite debris in 72 hours: spokeswoman -- China View

Common Cold DNA Deciphered, Congestion Continues

Structure of the human rhinovirus capsid. Credit: of J.-Y. Sgro, UW-Madison

From Live Science:

Snifflers of the world rejoice: Scientists are one step closer to finding effective treatments for the common cold now that researchers have deciphered the genetic code of the ubiquitous virus.

While a full-blown cure for the common cold is not expected anytime soon, the mapping of the human rhinovirus's genetic blueprint will help scientists better understand and combat this highly contagious pathogen. In the meantime, there are always ways to help keep yourself from succumbing to the coughs and congestion.

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“We’ve Lost Two People In My Family Because You Dickheads Won’t Cut Trees Down…”

After suffering court action that cost the family $100,000, Liam Sheahan believes clearing trees saved his home and his family. Photo: Paul Rovere

From Watts Up With That?:

I’m no stranger to wildland fires. Longtime readers may recall that my own home had the threat of wildfires here in Chico, California this past summer, as did many Butte County residents who not only were threatened, but lost homes.

The recent fires in Australia and the loss of life and property were apparently compounded by a draconian policy that prevented people who lived in the fire threat zones from cutting trees and brush near their properties. We witnessed something equally tragic in Lake Tahoe fire in 2007, owing to similar eco driven government stupidity forcing heavy handed policies there. Residents couldn’t get permits to cut down brush and trees, the result was a firestorm of catastrophic proportions.

Read more ....

Unseen Dark Comets 'Could Pose Deadly Threat To Earth'

'Dark' comets happen when the water on their surface has evaporated,
causing them to reflect less light Photo: GETTY

From The Telegraph:

Unseen "dark" comets could pose a deadly threat to earth, astronomers have warned.

The comets, of which there could be thousands, are not currently monitored by observatories and space agencies.

Most comets and asteroids are monitored in case they start to travel towards earth.

But Bill Napier, from Cardiff University, said that many could be going by unnoticed.

"There is a case to be made that dark, dormant comets are a significant but largely unseen hazard," he said

Scientists estimate that there should be around 3,000 comets in the solar system, but only 25 have so far been identified.

"Dark" comets happen when the water on their surface has evaporated, causing them to reflect less light.

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Why Sleep Is Needed To Form Memories

The world as the brain sees it. Optical 'polar' maps of the visual cortex are generated by measuring micro-changes in blood oxygenation as the left eye (left panel) or right eye is stimulated by bars of light of different orientations (0-180 degrees). The cortical response to each stimulus is pseudo-colored to represent the orientation that best activates visual cortical neurons. If vision is blocked in an eye (the right eye in this example) during a critical period of development, neurons no longer respond to input from the deprived eye pathway (indicated by a loss of color in the right panel) and begin to respond preferentially to the non-deprived eye pathway. These changes are accompanied by alterations in synaptic connections in single neurons. This process, known as ocular dominance plasticity, is enhanced by sleep via activation of NMDA receptors and intracellular kinase activity. Through these mechanisms, sleep strengthens synaptic connections in the non-deprived eye pathway. (Credit: Marcos Frank, PhD University of Pennsylvania)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Feb. 12, 2009) — If you ever argued with your mother when she told you to get some sleep after studying for an exam instead of pulling an all-nighter, you owe her an apology, because it turns out she's right. And now, scientists are beginning to understand why.

In research published recently in Neuron, Marcos Frank, PhD, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience, at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, postdoctoral researcher Sara Aton, PhD, and colleagues describe for the first time how cellular changes in the sleeping brain promote the formation of memories.

"This is the first real direct insight into how the brain, on a cellular level, changes the strength of its connections during sleep," Frank says.

The findings, says Frank, reveal that the brain during sleep is fundamentally different from the brain during wakefulness.

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Could Someone Really Teleport Out of Jail?: Fringe Fact vs. Fiction

From Popular Mechanics:

David Robert Jones is back causing mayhem. In last night's episode of Fringe, "Ability," the villainous mystery man tries to kill with an affliction that causes hyperactive scar tissue, which closes all the victim's orifices, so they can't breathe. But to execute his murderous plan, he needs to first spring himself from a German prison using a fantastically sci-fi weapon (a stolen design from our mad scientist, Walter Bishop): a disintegration-reintegration ray. This scenario may be equal to the standard of truth-stretching that we know and love in Fringe—neither Mr. Jones nor any other person will be teleported from place to place anytime soon. But there is a bizarre real-life analogue for this Star Trek tech. Just as when bank robbers walked through walls in "Safe," four episodes ago, Fringe borrows from weird phenomena that actually happen at the quantum level. Then, it was quantum tunneling, but this week it's something just as odd: quantum teleportation.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Biggest Solar Deal Ever Announced — We're Talking Gigawatts

The new solar thermal power plant in Spain stands at 40 storeys high and looks as if it was being hosed with giant sprays of water from afar. Upon closer inspection, one realizes that this tower is reflected by a field of 600 gigantic mirrors, generating up to 11 Megawatts of electricity without emitting a single bit of greenhouse gas. That's enough juice to power up to 6,000 homes as the focused rays turn water into steam that subsequently generate power by turning the turbines. When the sun goes down, enough heat has already been stored in the form of steam to continue power generation for approximately an additional hour, although future advances hope to increase that time. (Image from Ubergizmo)

From Wired:

The largest series of solar installations in history, more than 1,300 megawatts, is planned for the desert outside Los Angeles, according to a new deal between the utility Southern California Edison and solar power plant maker, BrightSource.

The momentous deal will deliver more electricity than even the largest nuclear plant, spread out among seven facilities, the first of which will start up in 2013. When fully operational, the companies say the facility will provide enough electricity to power 845,000 homes — more than exist in San Francisco — though estimates like that are notoriously squirrely.

Read more ....

Could ‘Liquid Wood’ Replace Plastic?

Image from The Christian Science Monitor (Scott Wallace/Staff)

From Christian Science Monitor:

Germans engineer an organic alternative from a paper waste product.

Almost 40 years ago, American scientists took their first steps in a quest to break the world’s dependence on plastics.

But in those four decades, plastic products have become so cheap and durable that not even the forces of nature seem able to stop them. A soupy expanse of plastic waste – too tough for bacteria to break down – now covers an estimated 1 million square miles of the Pacific Ocean.

Sensing a hazard, researchers started hunting for a substitute for plastic’s main ingredient, petroleum. They wanted something renewable, biodegradable, and abundant enough to be inexpensive.

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Marijuana May Disrupt Brain Development

Yellow areas in the brain of a heavy marijuana user show brain regions with the most significant abnormalities. These areas correspond with those under development during normal adolescent years. Credit: Ashtari et al., Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

From Live Science:

The term pot-head takes on new meaning with a study that suggests adolescents and young adults who smoked a lot of marijuana are more likely than non-users to have disrupted brain development.

Using brain scans, researchers found abnormalities in areas of the brain that interconnect brain regions involved in memory, attention, decision-making, language and executive functioning skills.

The findings are of particular concern because adolescence is a crucial period for brain development and maturation, the researchers note.

"Studies of normal brain development reveal critical areas of the brain that develop during late adolescence, and our study shows that heavy cannabis use is associated with damage in those brain regions," said study leader Manzar Ashtari of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

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2 Satellites Collide In Space: A First For The Space Program

2 Big Satellites Collide 500 Miles Over Siberia -- Yahoo News/AP

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Two big communications satellites collided in the first-ever crash of two intact spacecraft in orbit, shooting out a pair of massive debris clouds and posing a slight risk to the international space station.

NASA said it will take weeks to determine the full magnitude of the crash, which occurred nearly 500 miles over Siberia on Tuesday.

"We knew this was going to happen eventually," said Mark Matney, an orbital debris scientist at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

NASA believes any risk to the space station and its three astronauts should be low. It orbits about 270 miles below the collision course. There also should be no danger to the space shuttle set to launch with seven astronauts on Feb. 22, officials said, but that will be re-evaluated in the coming days.

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More News On This Satellite Collision

U.S. And Russian Satellites Collide -- CBS News
U.S., Russian satellites collide in space -- Reuters
U.S. Satellite Destroyed in Space Collision --
Space crash: Commercial and Russian satellites collide in orbit -- Scientific American
Two satellites collide in orbit -- Spaceflight Now
2 big satellites collide 500 miles over Siberia -- Houston Chronicle
Russian satellite collides with Iridium phone comm satellite, debris effects unknown --

Biofuels Can Provide Viable, Sustainable Solution To Reducing Petroleum Dependence, Study Shows

In a joint study with General Motors Corp., Sandia researchers examined the full range of biofuels supply chain components, including production of biomass feedstocks, storage and tranportation of those feedstocks, construction of conversion plants, and conversion of feedstocks to ethanol at these plants. (Credit: Photo by Randy Wong)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Feb. 11, 2009) — An in-depth study by Sandia National Laboratories and General Motors Corp. has found that plant and forestry waste and dedicated energy crops could sustainably replace nearly a third of gasoline use by the year 2030.

The goal of the "90-Billion Gallon Biofuel Deployment Study" was to assess whether and how a large volume of cellulosic biofuel could be sustainably produced, assuming technical and scientific progress continues at expected rates. The study was conducted over a period of nine months.

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Blowing Smoke Is Clean Coal Technology Fact Or Fiction?

This coal-fired plant in western Pennsylvania is one of the 12 biggest carbon dioxide polluting power plants in the U.S. emitting 17.4 million tons annually. Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

From Newsweek:

In the elusive search for the reliable energy source of the future, the prospect of clean coal is creating a lot of buzz. But while the concept—to scrub coal clean before burning, then capture and store harmful gases deep underground—may seem promising, a coalition of environment and climate groups argue in a new media campaign that the technology simply doesn't exist.

The Alliance for Climate Protection and several other prominent organizations—including the Sierra Club and National Resources Defense Council—launched a multipronged campaign to "debrand" the clean part of clean coal, pointing out that there's no conclusive evidence to confirm the entire process would work the way it's being marketed. In the campaign's TV ad, a technician sarcastically enters the door of a clean coal production plant, only to find there's nothing on the other side. "Take a good long look," he says, standing in a barren desert, "this is today's clean coal technology."

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A Major Advancement In Controlling Artificial Limbs

Amanda Kitts was fitted with a bionic arm after she lost her arm in an automobile accident in 2006. (Shawn Poynter for The New York Times)

From International Herald Tribune:

Amanda Kitts lost her left arm in a car accident three years ago, but these days she plays American football with her 12-year-old son, and changes diapers and bear-hugs children at the three Kiddie Cottage day care centers she owns in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Kitts, 40, does this all with a new kind of artificial arm that moves more easily than other devices and that she can control by using only her thoughts.

"I'm able to move my hand, wrist and elbow all at the same time," she said. "You think, and then your muscles move."

Her turnaround is the result of a new procedure that is attracting increasing attention because it allows people to move prosthetic arms more automatically than ever before, simply by using rewired nerves and their brains.

Read more ....

Senate Passes Stimulus Bill Containing $1.3 Billion for NASA

From Yahoo News/

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate passed an $838 billion economic stimulus package Tuesday that includes $1.3 billion for NASA - more than double the amount the House approved Jan. 28 for the U.S. space agency in its version of the bill.

The Senate voted 61-37 on its version of the bill, which proposes spending $450 million to narrow the five-year gap between the scheduled 2010 retirement of the space shuttle and 2015 debut of its successor. The House put no money into addressing the gap.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Big Particle Collider To Restart In September

CERN Large Hadron Collider: Photo from Curious Cat

From Yahoo News/AP:

GENEVA – Additional safety features being added to the world's largest atom smasher will postpone its startup until the end of September, a year after the $10 billion machine was sidelined by a simple electrical fault, the operator said Tuesday.

The cost of the repairs and added safety features has yet to be determined, but it will be covered by the regular budget of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, spokeswoman Christine Sutton said.

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Wind Turbines In Europe Do Nothing For Emissions-Reduction Goals

Under current EU law, German wind turbines aren't helping to reduce CO2 emissions. They simply allow Eastern European countries to pollute more. REUTERS

From Spiegel Online:

Despite Europe's boom in solar and wind energy, CO2 emissions haven't been reduced by even a single gram. Now, even the Green Party is taking a new look at the issue -- as shown in e-mails obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE.

Germany's renewable energy companies are a tremendous success story. Roughly 15 percent of the country's electricity comes from solar, wind or biomass facilities, almost 250,000 jobs have been created and the net worth of the business is €35 billion per year.

But there's a catch: The climate hasn't in fact profited from these developments. As astonishing as it may sound, the new wind turbines and solar cells haven't prohibited the emission of even a single gram of CO2.

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Twitter Fast Growing Beyond Its Messaging Roots

From Wired:

Thanks to its open-ended design and a thriving user community, Twitter is fast outgrowing its roots as a simple, easy-to-use messaging service. Enterprising hackers are creating apps for sharing music and videos, to help you quit smoking and lose weight -- spontaneously extending the text-based service into one of the web's most fertile (and least likely) application platforms.

Hardware hackers have set up household appliances to send status alerts over Twitter, like a washing machine that tweets when the spin cycle is through, or a home security system that tweets whenever it senses movement inside the house. Others have incorporated Twitter into their DIY home automation systems. Forgot to turn off the lights? Send a tweet to flip the switch by remote control.

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A Unique View of Egypt

The Pyramid of Giza: GeoEye

From Popsci:

The GeoEye satellite continues its stunning photo series

Here are a couple more from our favorite eye in the sky.

Both half-meter resolution images were snapped from space by the GeoEye-1 satellite, which also took those fantastic pics of the National Mall on Inauguration Day.

First, the Great Pyramid in Giza, Egypt, the tomb constructed around 1560 BC for the Fourth dynasty King Khufu. Sitting just in front of the Great Pyramid is the Great Sphinx of Giza. Built a few decades later, it is the world’s oldest known monumental sculpture.

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Teens Spend Average Of 87 Hours A Year Looking At Porn Online

Teenagers are spending more than eight hours a week browsing the internet for soft porn, plastic surgery and family planning websites

From The Daily Mail:

The average teenager spends one hour and 40 minutes a week browsing sites for pornography, according to new research.

That equates to 87 hours a year spent surfing for porn. A further hour and 35 minutes is spent looking at dieting and weight loss websites.

The study of 1,000 youngsters found the average teenager was online 31 hours each week looking at soft pornography, plastic surgery, dieting, family planning and emotional support.

Another hour and eight minutes is dedicated to exploring cosmetic surgery websites, to learn about breast surgery, bum lifts and collagen implants.

The research was conducted by, a computer software that enables parents to block websites and monitor use of the internet.

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Biologists Find Gene Network That Gave Rise To First Tooth

Malawi cichlids exhibit toothed oral and pharyngeal jaw. (Credit: From: An Ancient Gene Network Is Co-opted for Teeth on Old and New Jaws Fraser GJ, Hulsey CD, Bloomquist RF, Uyesugi K, Manley NR, et al. PLoS Biology Vol. 7, No. 2, e31 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000031)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Feb. 10, 2009) — A new paper in PLoS Biology reports that a common gene regulatory circuit controls the development of all dentitions, from the first teeth in the throats of jawless fishes that lived half a billion years ago, to the incisors and molars of modern vertebrates, including you and me.

"It's likely that every tooth made throughout the evolution of vertebrates has used this core set of genes," said Gareth Fraser, postdoctoral fellow at Georgia Tech's School of Biology.

The first vertebrates to have teeth were a group of eel-like jawless fish known as the conodonts that had teeth not in their mouth, but lining the throat. This particular group is long since extinct, but some modern fish retain teeth in the throat (pharynx). Dr. Fraser and colleagues studied tooth formation in a group of fish known for their rapid rate of evolution, the cichlids of Africa's Lake Malawi. The cichlids have teeth both in their oral jaws, like humans, and deep in their throats on a pharyngeal jaw. A co-author of the paper, Darrin Hulsey, first identified a surprising positive correlation between the number of teeth in the oral jaw and in the throat in these fish.

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Mythic Birthplace of Zeus Said Found

The Chariot of Zeus image is from the 1879
"Stories from the Greek Tragedians" by Alfred Church.

From Live Science:

The Greek god of thunder and lightning had Earthly beginnings, and scientists think they finally know where.

Ancient Greeks first worshipped the omnipotent Zeus at a remote altar on Mount Lykaion, a team of Greek and American archaeologists now think. During a recent dig at the site, the researchers found ceremonial goods commonly used in cult activity and dated at over three millennia old, making them the earliest known "appearance" of Zeus in Greece.

The discovery challenges the idea that Zeus worship began on the Greek island of Crete, which at least one classical historian names as the god's mythic birthplace. The latest finds on Mount Lykaion, in the mainland province of Arcadia, are as old as the idea of Zeus himself, said the project's senior research scientist David Romano, of the University of Pennsylvania.

"This new evidence strongly suggests that there were drinking (and perhaps feasting) parties taking place on the top of the mountain in the Late Helladic period, around 3,300 or 3,400 years ago," Romano said.

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Televisions 'To Be Fitted In Contact Lenses Within Ten Years'

Channels could be changed by voice, making remote controls a thing of the past

From The Telegraph:

Televisions could be fitted into contact lenses within ten years, according to analysts.

The sets would be powered by the viewer's body heat, according to Ian Pearson, a so-called "futurologist" who has advised leading companies including BT on new technologies.

Mr Pearson told the Daily Mail he believed that channels could be changed by voice command or via a wave of the hand.

Meanwhile "emotional viewing" could be another development in television technology, according to a report commissioned by the technology retailer Comet.

A "digital tattoo" fitted to the viewer would pick up on the feelings of characters on screen and create impulses causing them to feel the same way.

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Monday, February 9, 2009

The European Space Agency's Herschel Observatory Is Finished And Ready To Go Into Orbit

Key features on the Herschel space observatory. The inset compares Herschel with Hubble and the future James Webb Space Telescope.

From The BBC:

Stare into the curve of Herschel's mirror too long and you get a slightly giddy feeling that comes from not being able to judge where its surface really starts.

It is enchanting, spectacular and - at 3.5m in diameter - it will soon become the biggest telescope mirror in space, surpassing that of Hubble.

The great 18th Century astronomer William Herschel would have been astonished by the silver sensation that now bears his name.

The European Space Agency (Esa) is certainly very proud of its new observatory. It has been working on the venture for more than 20 years.

"The mirror is an enormous piece of hardware," enthused Thomas Passvogel, Esa's programme manager on the Herschel space observatory.

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Bacteria, Not Flu, Cause Of 1918 Pandemic

The 1918 flu pandemic is estimated to have caused the death of between 50 million and 100 million people in approximately 18 months (Source: US National Archives)

From ABC News/Reuters:

Strep infections and not influenza may have killed most people during the 1918 influenza pandemic, which suggests predictions about a new pandemic could be exaggerated, say US researchers.

The findings suggest that amassing antibiotics to fight bacterial infections may be as important as stockpiling antiviral drugs to battle flu, they say.

Professor Keith Klugman of Emory University, Atlanta and colleagues report their findings in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

The team looked at information available about the 1918 flu pandemic, which killed between 50 million and 100 million people globally in the space of about 18 months.

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Mummies Found In Newly Discovered Tomb In Egypt

In this photo released Monday, Feb. 9, 2009 by Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, the remains of a newly-discovered Egyptian mummy and sarcophagus are seen in a tomb at Saqqara, south of Cairo, in Egypt, Sunday, Feb. 8, 2009. A storeroom housing about two dozen ancient Egyptian mummies has been unearthed inside a 2,600-year-old tomb during the latest round of excavations at the vast necropolis of Saqqara south of Cairo, archaeologists said Monday. (AP Photo/Supreme Council of Antiquities)

From Yahoo News/AP:

CAIRO – A storeroom housing about two dozen ancient Egyptian mummies has been unearthed inside a 2,600-year-old tomb during the latest round of excavations at the vast necropolis of Saqqara south of Cairo, archaeologists said Monday.

The tomb was located at the bottom of a 36-foot deep shaft, said Egypt's top archaeologist, Zahi Hawass. Twenty-two mummies were found in niches along the tomb's walls, he said.

Eight sarcophagi were also found in the tomb. Archaeologists so far have opened only one of the sarcophagi — and found a mummy inside of it, said Hawass' assistant Abdel Hakim Karar. Mummies are believed to be inside the other seven, he said.

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Digital Overload Is Frying Our Brains

From Wired News:

Paying attention isn't a simple act of self-discipline, but a cognitive ability with deep neurobiological roots — and this complex faculty, says Maggie Jackson, is being woefully undermined by how we're living.

In Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age, Jackson explores the effects of "our high-speed, overloaded, split-focus and even cybercentric society" on attention. It's not a pretty picture: a never-ending stream of phone calls, e-mails, instant messages, text messages and tweets is part of an institutionalized culture of interruption, and makes it hard to concentrate and think creatively.

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New Google Earth Tools Let Us Explore The Land Use Changes Around Climate Stations Over Time

The yellow dot is the location of the USHCN MMTS thermometer, and the white arrows arrows in the more recent view point to some things that have changed around the sensor over a six year period from 1999 to 2005. You can view the individual larger images also: Aurora in 1999 and Aurora in 2005

From Watts Up With That?

This past week Google introduced the latest iteration of their popular earth visualization program - Google Earth Version 5.0

In it was something I had been hoping for for months: a way to display historical aerial imagery and thus land use change around a climate monitoring station in an interactive timeline timeline.

The best part: it’s easy, and its’ free.

for example, here is my first effort, a simple two frame blink comparator showing changes around the USHCN station MMTS sensor at the water treatment plant in Aurora, IL, a suburb of Chicago:

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Newborn Brain Cells 'Time-Stamp' Memories

Image from Impact Lab

From E! Science News:

LA JOLLA, CA—"Remember when…?" is how many a wistful trip down memory lane begins. But just how the brain keeps tabs on what happened and when is still a matter of speculation. A computational model developed by scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies now suggests that newborn brain cells—generated by the thousands each day—add a time-related code, which is unique to memories formed around the same time. "By labeling contemporary events as similar, new neurons allow us to recall events from a certain period," speculates Fred H. Gage, Ph.D., a professor in the Laboratory for Genetics, who led the study published in the Jan. 29, 2009, issue of the journal Neuron. Unlike the kind of time stamp found on digital photographs, however, the neuronal time code only provides relative time.

Ironically, Gage and his team had not set out to explain how the brain stores temporal information. Instead they were interested in why adult brains continually spawn new brain cells in the dentate gyrus, the entryway to the hippocampus. The hippocampus, a small seahorse-shaped area of the brain, distributes memory to appropriate storage sections in the brain after readying the information for efficient recall.

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Motivating Minds -- Why People Procrastinate

From The Economist:

People procrastinate when asked to think in the abstract

TO SOME there is nothing so urgent that it cannot be postponed in favour of a cup of tea. Such procrastination is a mystery to psychologists, who wonder why people would sabotage themselves in this way. A team of researchers led by Sean McCrea of the University of Konstanz, in Germany, reckon they have found a piece of the puzzle. People act in a timely way when given concrete tasks but dawdle when they view them in abstract terms.

Dr McCrea and his colleagues conducted three separate studies. First they recruited 34 students who were offered €2.50 ($3.30) for completing a questionnaire within the subsequent three weeks. Half of the students were then sent an email asking them to write a couple of sentences on how they might go about various activities, such as opening a bank account or keeping a diary. The others were asked to write about why someone might want to open a bank account or keep a diary.

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Meet The First Commercial Rocketship Pilots.

Rick Searfoss, former space shuttle commander, now XCOR’s chief test pilot, has helped make the desert town of Mojave the world capital of civilian manned rocket vehicle flight. (Chad Slattery)

From Air And Space Smithsonian Magazine:

In the old days it was straightforward enough. The planet had two corps of astronauts, Soviet and U.S., and to join one, you had to be a military test pilot. But now the rules have changed. You don’t have to be an American or a Russian anymore, and you don’t even have to be a government employee.

In 2004, Burt Rutan and his small company in Mojave, California, Scaled Composites, broke the government monopoly on human spaceflight. The company built SpaceShipOne using the same carbon fiber molding techniques used by airplane homebuilders everywhere, at the ridiculously paltry cost of $25 million. At the controls on its first flight into space sat not a steely-eyed missile man forged in the cold war but a 63-year-old high school dropout from South Africa. “I’m just a guy,” Mike Melvill exulted after SpaceShipOne’s inaugural flight into space. “An old guy!” The implication was inescapable. If he could drive a spaceship, so could anyone.

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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Space Telescope To Boost Hunt For Alien Earths

Kepler Telescope (Image from Nasa)

From The New Scientist:

HOW common are alien Earths - small, rocky planets orbiting at the right distance to be not so hot that water boils and not so cold that it stays frozen? Till now clues have been hard to come by, because surveys have not been sensitive enough to find many such planets.

That should soon change thanks to the Kepler space telescope, which NASA is expecting to launch on 5 March. Its unique positioning in the solar system and unprecedented sensitivity mean that for the first time we will be able to see Earth-size planets in the "habitable zone" of their stars - the region where the temperature on the planet should be right for liquid water to exist at its surface.

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Inner Workings Of Photosynthesis Revealed By Powerful New Laser Technique

The laser light source used in this study was developed in the Physics Department at Imperial College and the technology transferred to RAL. It is capable of producing ultra-short pulses of light of very high intensity which are made up of a broad range of colours. (Credit: Image courtesy of Imperial College London)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Feb. 7, 2009) — Instant pictures showing how the sun's energy moves inside plants have been taken for the first time, according to research out February 6 in Physical Review Letters.

The images unravel some of the inner workings of the most efficient solar energy process on earth - photosynthesis. Inside a photosynthetic protein, the sun's energy is efficiently guided across the molecule to drive a chemical reaction that stores energy as food and takes in carbon dioxide. Scientists would very much like to harness this process as they search for new energy solutions to replace fossil fuels. To do this, they need to understand this energy transport process in more detail.

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