Saturday, August 1, 2009

Sahara Desert Greening Due to Climate Change?

Villagers herd goats near windblown sand dunes in the Sahel region of Niger, North Africa. Vast swaths of North Africa are getting noticeably lusher due to warming temperatures, new satellite images show, suggesting a possible boon for people living in the driest part of the continent. Photograph by Pascal Maitre/NGS

From National Geographic:

Desertification, drought, and despair—that's what global warming has in store for much of Africa. Or so we hear.

Emerging evidence is painting a very different scenario, one in which rising temperatures could benefit millions of Africans in the driest parts of the continent.

Scientists are now seeing signals that the Sahara desert and surrounding regions are greening due to increasing rainfall.

Read more ....

Honeybees Warn Of Risky Flowers

From The BBC:

Honeybees warn each other to steer clear of dangerous flowers where they might get killed by lurking predators.

Scientists made the discovery by placing dead bees upon flowers and then watching how newly arriving bees react to the danger.

Not only do the bees avoid the flowers, they then communicate the threat when they return to the hive via their well known waggle dance.

The discovery is published in the journal Animal Behaviour.

Read more ....

Scientists Drill a Mile Into Active Deep Sea Fault Zone

From Wired Science:

In the first deep sea drilling expedition designed to gather seismic data, scientists have successfully drilled nearly a mile beneath the ocean floor into one of the world’s most active earthquake zones.

Researchers aboard the drilling vessel Chikyu — meaning “planet Earth” in Japanese — used a special technology called riser drilling to penetrate the upper portion of the Nankai Trough, an earthquake zone located about 36 miles southeast of Japan. By collecting rock samples and installing long-term monitoring devices, the geologists hope to understand how stress builds up in subduction zones like Nankai, where the Philippine Sea plate plate is sliding beneath the island of Japan.

Riser drilling involves encasing a deep sea drill in a giant metal tube, called a riser, that extends from the ship down to the drilling site, effectively bolting the ship to the sea floor. The researchers circulate lightly pressurized mud down through the drilling tube and back up through the riser.

Read more ....

Large Hadron Collider 'Atom Smasher' Restart Delayed Yet Again

A large dipole magnet is lowered ito the tunnel in April last year marking the end of a crucial phase of the installation of the LHC. CERN/AFP/Getty Images

From The Independent:

Repairs to two small helium leaks in the world's largest atom smasher will delay the restart of the giant machine another month until November, a spokesman for the operator said.

James Gillies said an additional setback to the timing could result if some other problem is found, but the European Organisation for Nuclear Research is taking pains to make sure it avoids another major shutdown like the electrical failure of Sept. 19.

Read more ....

Web Use Flattens As Behaviors Change

From CBS News/CNET:

The amount of time people spend online has not increased since last year, according to a report released by Forrester on Monday. Perhaps more interesting, however, is the reason for the trend: people's online behavior has changed.

"Engagement with the online channel has deepened," writes Forrester analyst Jackie Anderson. "Web users are becoming savvier and are better multi-taskers. Many know exactly where they want to go when they log in."

Read more ....

From Sand to Silicon: the Making of a Chip

From Intel:

Illustrations - Making of a Chip

View this graphic presentation offering a high-level demonstration of the process for manufacturing a central processing unit (CPU), which operates in every PC today. Here you can catch a glimpse of some of the amazingly sophisticated work going on daily inside Intel's cutting-edge silicon manufacturing fabs.

Read more

Actions Taken Over Next Decade To Demonstrate And Deploy Key Technologies Will Determine US Energy Future

From Science Digest:

ScienceDaily (Aug. 1, 2009) — With a sustained national commitment, the United States could obtain substantial energy-efficiency improvements, new sources of energy, and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions through the accelerated deployment of existing and emerging energy technologies, according to America's Energy Future: Technology And Transformation, the capstone report of the America's Energy Future project of the National Research Council.

Read more

Mammals Beat Reptiles in Battle of Evolution

Crocodiles, and their cousins, alligators, were shown to be less diversified than certain groups of mammals, birds and fish. Credit: Michael Alfaro

From Live Science:

Mammals, birds and fish are among evolution’s "winners," while crocodiles and other reptiles have ended up on the losing end, a new study suggests.

"Our results indicate that mammals are special," said study leader Michael Alfaro of UCLA.

The research allowed scientists to calculate for the first time which animal lineages have exceptional rates of success. The so-called "winners" have more species in their group, which means they have successfully evolved and diversified into many types of environments. The losers have diversified less, even over the course of millions of years.

Read more ....

Can the World's Fisheries Survive Our Appetites?

Photo: Scottish fisherman Mike Nichol on board the trawler Carina in the North Atlantic helps haul in the catch. Chris Furlong / Getty

From Time Magazine:

Boris Worm, a marine biologist at Dalhousie University in Canada, made a startling prediction in the pages of Science in 2006: if overfishing continued at then-current rates, he said, the world would essentially run out of seafood by 2048. Worm's bold analysis whipped up controversy in the usually pacific world of marine science — one colleague, Ray Hilborn of the University of Washington, called the Science study "mindbogglingly stupid." But Worm held fast to his predictions: that the oceans had limits, and that marine species were declining so fast that they would eventually disappear.

Read more ....

Firefox Surpasses 1 Billion Downloads

From The L.A. Times:

The free, open-source browser gets high marks for speed, efficiency, adaptability and user-friendliness. It is an achievement for a browser backed not by a corporation but a small nonprofit group.

The popular Firefox Web browser, developed by a grass-roots group, reached a major milestone Friday -- its billionth download.

The download counter rolled over the 1-billion mark early Friday, marking a feat for a browser that, unlike Microsoft's Internet Explorer or Apple's Safari, is run by a nonprofit organization, Mozilla, with fewer than 250 employees.

Read more ....

Update: Firefox Hits 1 Billion Downloads -- So What's Next? -- PC World

This Year's Mild Season In Tornado Alley Frustrates Scientists

From Yahoo News/AP:

DES MOINES, Iowa – This has been an unusually mild year in Tornado Alley, which is good news, of course, for the people who live here, but a little frustrating to scientists who planned to chase twisters as part of a $10 million research project.

"You're out there to do the experiment and you're geared up every day and ready. And when there isn't anything happening, that is frustrating," said Don Burgess, a scientist at the University of Oklahoma. But he was quick to add that he is pleased the relative quiet has meant fewer injuries and less damage.

Read more ....

Swiss Boat Aims To Be First To Circumnavigate The Globe Under Solar Power

Planet Solar courtesy Planet Solar, via CNN

From Popular Science:

In 2007, the first solar electric boat crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Now a Swiss group wants to cover that distance and keep going, circling the globe on nothing but the sun's power for the first time.

The team of engineers and scientists has embarked on the building of its 98-foot long vessel, dubbed Planet Solar, in Kiel, Germany. The boat's power will come from the 5,000 square feet of solar panels, about the size of two tennis courts, covering its broad deck. When the sun is shining bright above, they will convert 23 percent of the sun's rays to energy -- six percent more than average solar panels.

Read more ....

Sharpest Ever Images Of Betelgeuse reveal How Explosive Red Supergiant Loses Mass

Superstar: An artist's impression of red giant Betelgeuse based on combined images from the European Space Agency's Very Large Telescope

From The Daily Mail:

It looks like a catastrophic explosion in the latest sci-fi action thriller but this awe-inspiring image is actually based on the latest state-of-the-art space imaging.

The artist’s impression, inspired by the sharpest ever views of the supergiant star Betelgeuse, reveals an enormous plume of gas almost as big as our own Solar System blasting outwards.

The discoveries, revealed by the latest techniques on the European Space Agency’s Very Large Telescope, could help unravel why the mammoth plasma ball spews out material at such an incredible speed.

Read more ....

Comet Likely Culprit In Tunguska Blast

Tunguska Blast

From Science News:

Night-shining clouds created after space shuttle launches may offer clues into the cause of the Tunguska event, a mysterious blast which rocked southern Siberia more than a century ago.

Thin clouds have appeared at abnormally high altitudes over polar regions following space shuttle launches on several occasions in the past decade. These noctilucent, or night-shining, clouds typically occur in summer and lie at altitudes of about 85 kilometers, in a layer of the atmosphere called the thermosphere, says Michael C. Kelley, an atmospheric physicist at Cornell University. Kelley and his colleagues suggest in the July 28 Geophysical Research Letters that data gleaned from analyses of these high-flying clouds, as well as knowledge about the speed at which shuttle exhaust wafted to polar regions, now hint that the Tunguska blast of June 1908 (SN: 6/21/08, p. 5) resulted from a comet slamming into Earth’s atmosphere.

Read more ....

Friday, July 31, 2009

Laser Propulsion: Wild Idea May Finally Shine


New laser propulsion experiments are throwing light on how to build future hypersonic aircraft and beam spacecraft into Earth orbit.

Indeed, a "Lightcraft revolution" could replace today's commercial jet travel. Passengers would be whisked from one side of the planet to the other in less than an hour - just enough time to get those impenetrable bags of peanuts open. Furthermore, beamed energy propulsion can make flight to orbit easy, instead of tenuous and dangerous.

That's the belief of Leik Myrabo an aerospace engineering professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. He's an expert in directed energy applications, aerospace systems, space prime power, and advanced propulsion.

Read more ....

Collision Course: The Need for Better Space Junk Regulations

From Popular Mechanics:

With 3000 satellites and a growing arsenal of space junk, Earth’s orbit is a crowded area. If debris continues to accumulate, low Earth orbit could eventually become too congested for safe satellite use and space travel. Unfortunately, space junk is hard to regulate and even harder to clean up. Here’s an overview of existing space junk laws and some proposals for addressing the problems with debris in space.

Close calls in orbit happen all the time—scientists estimate that launch vehicles and other objects come within striking distance of one other over 1000 times a day. So when tracking reports on Feb. 10, 2009, predicted that Iridium 33, a 12-foot-long, 1200-pound communications satellite, and a 1-ton Russian military sat, Kosmos 2251, would pass within less than half a mile of each other, no one was alarmed. It wasn’t the closest call predicted for that day, or even the closest pass for any of the 66 Iridium satellites that coming week. But at the time of the predicted approach, Iridium 33 fell silent.

Read more ....

Fermi Paradox Points to Fewer Than 10 Extraterrestrial Civilizations

From Technology Review:

The absence of alien probes visiting the solar system places severe limits on the number of advanced civilizations that could be exploring the galaxy.

The Fermi paradox focuses on the existence of advanced civilizations elsewhere in the galaxy. If these civilizations are out there--and many analyses suggest the galaxy should be teeming with life--why haven't we seen evidence of them?

Today Carlos Cotta and Álvaro Morales from the University of Malaga in Spain add another angle to the discussion. One consideration is the speed at which a sufficiently advanced civilization could colonize the galaxy. Various analyses suggest that using spacecraft that travel at a tenth of the speed of light, a colonization wave could take some 50 million years to sweep the galaxy. Others have calculated that it may be closer to 13 billion years, which may explain why we have yet to spot extraterrestrials.

Read more ....

Mercury Released By Dental Amalgam Fillings Are Not High Enough To Cause Harm, FDA Finds

The FDA has found that while elemental mercury has been associated with adverse health effects at high exposures, the levels released by dental amalgam fillings are not high enough to cause harm in patients. (Credit: iStockphoto)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (July 31, 2009) — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today issued a final regulation classifying dental amalgam and its component parts – elemental mercury and a powder alloy—used in dental fillings. While elemental mercury has been associated with adverse health effects at high exposures, the levels released by dental amalgam fillings are not high enough to cause harm in patients.

Read more ....

Skype Could Be Cut Off For Good Over Dispute

(Paul Rogers/The Times)

From Times Online:

Skype might have to shut down because of a dispute over the core technology used to make the internet telephone system work.

EBay, which paid $2.6 billion (£1.6 billion) for the voice-over-the-internet system in 2005, is facing a court battle with the original founders of the company who retained the rights to the technology at the heart of the system.

EBay admitted in a regulatory filing that it might have to close down the company. It said it was trying to develop alternative software but if that did not work, or if eBay lost the right to the original software: "Skype would be severely and adversely affected and the continued operation of Skype's business as currently conducted would likely not be possible."

Read more ....

Nap Time! One-Third Of Americans Do It

From Live Science:

A mid-day nap is more common than you might think in America.

One-third of U.S. adults nap on a typical day, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center.

Naps are more common among men than women, and more common among the poor than the rich.

Naps can be good for you. A study last year in the journal Nature Neuroscience found a 90-minute daytime nap helped test subjects remember things better.

And naps are natural. Humans are bi-phasic sleepers, experts say, which means we're meant to sleep in bouts, not long stretches.

The new survey of 1,488 adults was released this week.

Read more ....

My Comment: I am one of the guilty nappers.

Why Does Coke From a Glass Bottle Taste Different?

The Usual Suspects: Various container materials might impart slight changes to Coke's flavor. Courtesy The Coca-Cola Company

From Popular Science:

It doesn’t. That’s what Coca-Cola’s spokespeople say, anyway. “The great taste of Coca-Cola is the same regardless of the package it comes in,” they insist. Rather, they say, “the particular way that people choose to enjoy their Coke can affect their perception of taste.” Sure, most people would agree that the cola is indeed delicious and refreshing, and pouring it into a glass or serving it over ice could influence the sensation of its flavor. But is it possible that the subtle variation in taste that some notice among aluminum cans, plastic bottles and glass bottles is more than just a psychological effect of their soda-consumption rituals?

Read more ....

Space Shuttle Endeavour Successfully Lands Back At Florida -- News Roundups

This NASA image taken by the crew aboard the International Space Station shows the space shuttle Endeavour shortly after the shuttle and station began their post-undocking separation on July 28, 2009. Endeavor is scheduled to land Friday at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The STS-127 crew was on a 13-day service mission to the International Space Station. (UPI Photo/Kevin Dietsch)

Shuttle Back After 16-Day Mission -- New York Times

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — The shuttle Endeavour closed out a grueling 16-day space station assembly mission with a smooth Florida landing on Friday, bringing Japan’s first long-duration astronaut back to Earth after four and one-half months in orbit.

Approaching from the south after a high-speed computer-orchestrated descent, the mission commander, Mark Polansky, took over manual control 50,000 feet above the Florida spaceport, banked to line up on runway 15 and guided the 110-ton shuttle to a picture-perfect touchdown at 10:48 a.m. Eastern time.

“Welcome home. Congratulations on a superb mission from beginning to end,” astronaut Alan Poindexter radioed from mission control in Houston. “Very well done.”

Read more ....

Space Shuttle Endeavour lands at the shuttle landing facility at Kennedy Space Center.
Photo AFP

More News On Today's Landing Of The Space Shuttle Endeavour

Space shuttle Endeavour lands safely after 16-day mission -- AFP
Shuttle Endeavour, 7 astronauts return to Earth -- AP
Space shuttle Endeavour returns home to Florida -- Reuters
Shuttle Endeavour Lands Safely -- FOX News
Space shuttle Endeavour returns home -- UPI
Space shuttle touches down safely -- BBC
Endeavour lands safely -- CBC
Cdn astronaut Julie Payette lands aboard shuttle Endeavour after 16-day mission -- Canadian Press
Astronaut Koichi Wakata didn't change underwear for a month -- Times Online

Italian Archaeologists Find Lost Roman City Of Altinum Near Venice

From Times Online:

The bustling harbour of Altinum near Venice was one of the richest cities of the Roman empire. But terrified by the impending invasion of the fearsome Germanic Emperor Attila the Hun, its inhabitants cut their losses and fled in AD452, leaving behind a ghost town of theatres, temples and basilicas.

Altinum was never reoccupied and gradually sunk into the ground. The city lived on in Venetian folk tales and historical artefacts but its exact position, size and wealth gradually faded into obscurity.

Now, using aerial photography of the region, Italian archaeologists have not only located the city, but have produced a detailed map revealing its remarkably intact infrastructure and showing it to be slightly larger than Pompeii.

Read more ....

Panel Wants Deep Space, Not Landings as U.S. Goal

From The New York Times:

A panel examining the future of the United States’ human spaceflight program will suggest that the Obama administration may want to skip the part about landing on other worlds.

That could, panel members said Thursday, enable the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to send astronauts to more corners of the solar system more quickly while keeping within a limited budget. But it would also eliminate the possibility of astronauts leaving new iconic footprints on the Moon or Mars for a couple of decades.

At a public meeting in Cocoa Beach, Fla., the 10-member panel discussed at length the possibilities of where NASA might go next and how it might get there.

Read more ....

Crew Inspects Shuttle And Preps For Landing Friday

From Space Daily:

Twin satellite deployments and a check of the systems that will control Endeavour's return home to the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, are on tap today as the shuttle leads the International Space Station in orbit.

The crew was awakened at 1:03 a.m. CDT to the sounds of "I Got You Babe," performed by Sonny and Cher. The song was a special request for Koichi Wakata, the first Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut to serve as a long-duration resident of the station. Wakata spent 133 days as an Expedition 18, 19 and 20 crewmember, and will be returning home after 138 days in space.

Read more ....

Human Activity Is Driving Earth's 'Sixth Great Extinction Event'

The leatherback turtle is endangered - but scientific reports expose worrying signs of mass extinctions among other wildlife species. Photograph: Frans Lemmens/Getty Images

From The Guardian:

Population growth, pollution and invasive species are having a disastrous effect on species in the southern hemisphere, a major review by conservationists warns.

Earth is experiencing its "sixth great extinction event" with disease and human activity taking a devastating toll on vulnerable species, according to a major review by conservationists.

Much of the southern hemisphere is suffering particularly badly, and Australia, New Zealand and neighbouring Pacific islands may become the extinction hot spots of the world, the report warns.

Read more ....

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Mysterious Bright Spot Found On Venus

A new, bright spot in the clouds of Venus was found by amateur astronomer Frank Melillo on 19 July (Illustration: Melillo/Maxson/ESA/University of Wisconsin-Madison/ALPO)

From New Scientist:

A strange spot emerged on Venus last week, and astronomers are not sure what caused it. They hope future observations will reveal whether volcanic activity, turbulence in the planet's atmosphere, or charged particles from the sun are to blame.

Amateur astronomer Frank Melillo of Holtsville, New York, first spotted the new feature, which is brighter than its surroundings at ultraviolet wavelengths, on the planet's southern hemisphere on 19 July. That same day, an amateur observer in Australia found a dark spot on Jupiter that had been caused by a meteoroid impact.

Read more ....

Red Hot: Ferrari Previews F430 Successor

Ferrari 458 Italia Set for Frankfurt Debut this Fall: Ferrari today revealed its latest V8-powered sports car, the Pininfarina-designed 458 Italia. A successor to the current F430, the 458 gets a new, high-compression 4.5-liter V8 producing 570 horsepower and 398 pounds-feet of torque. Top Speed: 202 mph. Ferrari


There's nothing like the curves of a new Ferrari to bring optimism back to the table. Ferrari today revealed its latest V8-powered sports car, the 458 Italia. The new model will succeed the current V8 hottie, the F430. Sporting a sexy new design by long-time Ferrari styling partner Pininfarina, the 458 Italia gets a new, high-compression 4.5-liter V8 producing 570 horsepower and 398 pounds-feet of torque. Top Speed: 202 mph. That makes it the first stock V8 Ferrari to break the 200-mph mark.

Read more ....

Will Comets Wipe Out Life On Planet Earth? -- News Roundup

According to scientists Jupiter and Saturn have protected life on Earth for hundreds of millions of years by catching and batting away dangerous comets Photo: PA

Comet 'Unlikely To Wipe Out Earth' -- The Telegraph

The Earth is being protected from comets, thanks to the gravitational pulls of Saturn and Jupiter, according to new research

It is the plot of many a Hollywood science fiction thriller - a comet on a direct collision course with Earth destined to wipe out all known life.

But the producers of Deep Impact and other blockbusters might be wide of the mark, scientists have found, as new evidence suggests comets pose less of a threat to life on earth than previously imagined.

Read more ....

More News On Comets And Striking The Earth

Comets probably won't destroy life on Earth, researchers say -- National Post
Comets probably won't cause the end of life as we know it: study -- AFP
Comets Not So Likely to Smash Into Earth and Kill Us All -- Discover Magazine
Comets From Edge of Solar System Unlikely to Hit Earth --
Comet Collisions Won’t Spark The End Of The World -- Red Orbit
Doomsday Comet Less Likely, Calculations Show -- Discovery
Crashing Comets Not Likely The Cause Of Earth's Mass Extinctions -- Science Daily

White Roofs Catch On as Energy Cost Cutters

A Wal-Mart store in Chino, Calif., has both a cool roof and solar panels to cut its energy use. J. Emilio Flores for The New York Times

From The New York Times:

SAN FRANCISCO — Returning to their ranch-style house in Sacramento after a long summer workday, Jon and Kim Waldrep were routinely met by a wall of heat.

“We’d come home in the summer, and the house would be 115 degrees, stifling,” said Mr. Waldrep, a regional manager for a national company.

He or his wife would race to the thermostat and turn on the air-conditioning as their four small children, just picked up from day care, awaited relief.

All that changed last month. “Now we come home on days when it’s over 100 degrees outside, and the house is at 80 degrees,” Mr. Waldrep said.

Their solution was a new roof: a shiny plasticized white covering that experts say is not only an energy saver but also a way to help cool the planet.

Relying on the centuries-old principle that white objects absorb less heat than dark ones, homeowners like the Waldreps are in the vanguard of a movement embracing “cool roofs” as one of the most affordable weapons against climate change.

Read more ....

Fiery Images As Killer Volcano That Claimed 36,000 Lives Stirs Once More

Ticking timebomb: Islanders thought they had avoided
another disaster after things went quiet last year

From The Telegraph:

An amateur photographer has captured new images of the re-awakening of the world's most famous volcano.

In a breathtaking series Marco Fulle, who specialises in shots of comets, has photographed the Anak Krakatoa against a backdrop of constellations such as the Big Dipper.

These stunning pictures show the latest activity during the rebirth of the infamous volcano which holds a long-standing record for causing the highest number of human deaths ever - a staggering 36,000 in 1883.

Read more ....

Who Should Get the H1N1 Vaccine First?

A doctor at the Centers for Disease Control examines specimens in an effort to develop new influenza vaccines. James Gathany / CDC / Reuters

From Time Magazine:

World health officials are carefully watching the H1N1/09 swine flu virus as it makes it way through the Southern Hemisphere, which is currently in the thick of its flu season. They are particularly interested in seeing how severely the virus affects infected people in parts of Africa, South America and Australia, since their illnesses could be a good predictor of how aggressive the virus will be when flu season returns to the rest of the world in the fall.

Read more ....

Adult Brain Can Change Within Seconds

The human brain can adapt to changing demands even in adulthood, but MIT neuroscientists have now found evidence of it changing with unsuspected speed. Their findings suggest that the brain has a network of silent connections that underlie its plasticity. (Credit: iStockphoto/Sebastian Kaulitzki)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (July 30, 2009) — The human brain can adapt to changing demands even in adulthood, but MIT neuroscientists have now found evidence of it changing with unsuspected speed. Their findings suggest that the brain has a network of silent connections that underlie its plasticity.

The brain’s tendency to call upon these connections could help explain the curious phenomenon of “referred sensations,” in which a person with an amputated arm “feels” sensations in the missing limb when he or she is touched on the face. Scientists believe this happens because the part of the brain that normally receives input from the arm begins “referring” to signals coming from a nearby brain region that receives information from the face.

Read more ....

WD-40: Strange Facts and Myths

From Live Science:

John S. Barry, the man "who masterminded the spread of WD-40," as The New York Times puts it, has died at age 84. The product he promoted is more popular than an iPod.

WD-40 can be found in 4 out of 5 American households, the company claims. Its ingredients are a secret, and it has generated its share of myths and strange applications over the years.

Barry didn't invent the stuff. "Norm Larsen, founder of Rocket Chemical Company, is considered the original founder of WD-40," according to

Read more ....

Beyond The Solar System

Far out: Pluto’s methane ice boils off into its thin atmosphere in a misty scene no human has observed. In the background are Pluto moons Charon and tiny Nix (upper left). Beyond lies the Kuiper Belt, one of the solar system’s most mysterious regions. (Illustration by Ron Miller

Where the Wild Things Are -- Air & Space

We’re about to get a peek at the solar system’s final frontier.

Twenty years ago, the existence of a distant wilderness beyond Neptune—seeded with tiny planets, dormant comets, and bits of ice and rock —was mere conjecture. There was Pluto, discovered practically by luck in 1930, and that was it. Astronomers photographed squares of the night sky and compared the images to see if anything was moving, but either their technology was not good enough, or they were searching in the wrong place. Or there was nothing more to find.

Read more ....

Can The Military Find The Answer To Alternative Energy?

From Business Week:

DARPA, the Defense Dept. agency that helped invent the Internet, is setting its sights on cleantech.

Nine years ago, Robert J. Nowak, an electro-chemicals expert for the Defense Dept., learned that senior generals weren't happy with their troops' electronic gear. While the night-vision, laser, and GPS devices worked well, the batteries that powered them weighed some 25 pounds per soldier, heavy enough to hurt some of the troops.

So Nowak, who worked at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Defense Dept.'s famous research branch, solicited bids for a new device that would power a soldier's gear at a tenth of the weight and a fraction of the $100 cost of the batteries. Today, the original 18 companies that took up Nowak's challenge have been whittled down to two: Livermore (Calif.)-based UltraCell and Adaptive Materials of Ann Arbor, Mich. Their solution: small, sturdy fuel cells that can power a soldier's clutch of mobile devices for a week on a gallon or so of methanol or propane. Battle-ready versions of the fuel cells will be available this year.

Read more ....

My Comment: The military are the biggest consumers of energy. If they can find a way to provide alternative energy, this will go a long way to help the everyday consumer.

Organic 'Has No Health Benefits'

From The BBC:

Organic food is no healthier than ordinary food, a large independent review has concluded.

There is little difference in nutritional value and no evidence of any extra health benefits from eating organic produce, UK researchers found.

The Food Standards Agency who commissioned the report said the findings would help people make an "informed choice".

But the Soil Association criticised the study and called for better research.

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine looked at all the evidence on nutrition and health benefits from the past 50 years.

Read more ....

Humans Time Blinks So They Don't Miss Information

From The Telegraph:

Humans subconsciously time their blinks so not to miss useful information, scientists have found.

A study of eighteen volunteers found they synchronized their blinks while watching video clips taken from the comedy TV show Mr Bean.

But the same phenomenon did not occur when they viewed a background video or listened to an audio recording of a Harry Potter book.

Dr Tamami Nakano, of Tokyo University, said: "We seem to be unconsciously searching for a good timing for a blink to minimize the chance of losing critical information during the blink."

Read more ....

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Neuroscientist's Research Holds Clues About Short-Term Memory

George Mason graduate student John Fedota, right, takes the kind of memory test that helped identify Subject 7 at Raja Parasuraman's lab. "Ninety percent of neuroscience work has been done on animals. The techniques are all invasive and cannot be used on humans. But in the last 20 years we’ve developed noninvasive techniques to study human brain functions," says Parasuraman.

From Popular Mechanics:

What is a cognitive superstar? One grad student's exceptional brain could help settle the debate of nature versus nurture. For a full interview with neuroscientist Raja Parasuraman.

Last year, Raja Parasuraman was conducting a study of brain function among 650 participants at George Mason University in Virginia, when he stumbled across what he calls a “cognitive superstar.” The university professor studies neuroergonomics—a merger of neuroscience, the study of the brain, with ergonomics, the study of how to design systems and tech-nologies to be more compatible with users. Parasuraman hooks subjects to MRI, EEG and other brain scanners while conducting memory and attention tests to see what parts of the brain activate.

Read more ....

Why Those Nigerian Scam Emails Have Decreased In Frequency

Damaged Cable Causes Internet Blackout In Four West African Countries -- Open Net Initiative

Five days ago, the Appfrica tech blog reported an Internet blackout in Benin, a West African country roughly the size of Ohio. The outage, which also affected neighboring Togo, Niger and Nigeria, was caused by damage to the SAT-3 submarine communications cable, which links Portugal and Spain to South Africa via the West African coastline.

The Internet blackout left Benin, Togo and Niger without an optical fiber link to the outside world, meaning Internet users in these countries have been forced to rely on rare, expensive satellite connections to get online. Appfrica managing editor Theresa Carpenter Sondjo, who is based in Benin, writes:

Read more ....

The Long And Short Of How Men And Women See

Eye for the ladies: Women are better at short-range focusing, says a study

From The Daily Mail:

If your husband accuses you of missing the bigger picture or your wife says you have no eye for detail, there may be more than an element of truth to it.

Scientists have shown that men are better at processing distant targets, while women
are good at short-range focusing.

The finding reflects the way men and women’s brains evolved thousands of years
ago. Hunters, traditionally the men, needed an ability to spot targets from afar.

Read more ....

World's First Computer May Be Even Older Than Thought

From New Scientist:

From Swiss Army knives to iPhones, it seems we just love fancy gadgets with as many different functions as possible. And judging from the ancient Greek Antikythera mechanism, the desire to impress with the latest multipurpose must-have item goes back at least 2000 years.

This mysterious box of tricks was a portable clockwork computer, dating from the first or second century BC. Operated by turning a handle on the side, it modelled the movements of the Sun, Moon and planets through the sky, sported a local calendar, star calendar and Moon-phase display, and could even predict eclipses and track the timing of the Olympic games.

Read more ....

First Photos Inside Virgin Galactic's Mothership Cockpit

WhiteKnight Two Left Seat copyright Flightglobal/Reed Business Information


We previously showed you construction of Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnight Two, the mothership that will help launch SpaceShipTwo into sub-orbit. However, Flight Global was able to sneak in some exclusive photos and video from inside the cockpit.

WhiteKnightTwo flew for the public on Tuesday at Wisconsin's massive Oshkosh AirVenture show, complete with head honcho Sir Richard Branson strapped into the jump seat. Without knowing it's a custom-fabbed Rutan space tourism mothership, it may look like any other new airliner's all-glass cockpit. But if you're thinking of dropping millions on one of Virgin Galactic's first seats, it's good to know everything about what will carry you into the heavens.

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World Temperatures Set For Record Highs

From The Telegraph:

World temperatures are set to rise much faster than expected as a result of climate change over the next ten years, according to meteorologists.

In the last few years the world has experienced a "cooler period" since record high temperatures in summer 1998.

This has been used by global warming sceptics as proof that greenhouse gases are not causing a rise in temperatures.

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My Comment: Temperatures go up .... temperatures go down .... golly gee, this has been going on for billions of years. But the idea that "experts" can figure out the weather a few years from now when they have trouble predicting the weather for next week .... sighhhh .... you get the picture.

'Brain-Reading' Methods Developed

Scientists have developed a highly accurate way to peer into the brain to uncover a person's mental state and what sort of information is being processed before it reaches awareness. (Credit: iStockphoto)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (July 28, 2009) — It is widely known that the brain perceives information before it reaches a person’s awareness. But until now, there was little way to determine what specific mental tasks were taking place prior to the point of conscious awareness.

That has changed with the findings of scientists at Rutgers University in Newark and the University of California, Los Angeles who have developed a highly accurate way to peer into the brain to uncover a person’s mental state and what sort of information is being processed before it reaches awareness. With this new window into the brain, scientists now also are provided with the means of developing a more accurate model of the inner functions of the brain.

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Why We Get Lost in Books

From Live Science:

Any avid reader knows the power of a book to transport you into another world, be it the wizard realm of "Harry Potter" or the legal intrigue of the latest John Grisham.

Part of the reason we get lost in these imaginary worlds might be because our brains effectively simulate the events of the book in the same way they process events in the real world, a new study suggests.

The new study, detailed in the July 21 issue of the journal Psychological Science, builds on previous work that links the way our brains process images and written words to the way they process actions we perform ourselves.

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Abu Dhabi Firm Takes Stake In Virgin Galactic, Plans Spaceport

SpaceShip Two and Mothership Virgin Galactic


Space tourism is coming to the Middle East, as Abu Dhabi-based Aabar investments announced today it has taken a $280 million, 32 percent stake in Virgin Galactic. As part of the deal, which is still pending regulatory approval, Aabar plans to build a spaceport in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, and will have rights to all Virgin Galactic traffic in that region. Aabar is also setting aside $100 million to build a small satellite launching facility, suggesting that the team plans to use the spaceport as a base for scientific research as well as space tourism.

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Space Shuttle Endeavour Readies Return To Earth

This image provided by NASA, shows a partial view of Space Shuttle Endeavour

From AFP:

WASHINGTON — The space shuttle Endeavour undocked from the International Space Station on Tuesday to take photographs of the orbiting research facility before final maneuvers to prepare its return home.

Endeavour separated from the ISS 1:26 pm (1726 GMT), NASA said.

"After completing a fly-around of the space station, shuttle Endeavour will perform a maneuver to separate from the station," it added.

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Panel Backs NASA Bid For Bigger Shuttle Budget

From Yahoo News/Reuters:

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) – The United States needs to boost NASA's budget by $1.5 billion to fly the last seven shuttle missions and should extend International Space Station operations through 2020, members of a presidential panel reviewing the U.S. human space program said on Tuesday.

A subcommittee of the 10-member board also proposed adding an extra, eighth shuttle flight to help keep the station supplied and narrow an expected five- to seven-year gap between the time the shuttle fleet is retired and a new U.S. spaceship is ready to fly.

A third option would keep the shuttle flying through 2014 as part of a plan to develop a new launch system based on existing shuttle rockets and components.

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Longer Life For The Space Station Is Advised

From The New York Times:

Members of the government panel reviewing NASA’s human spaceflight program said Tuesday that the life of the International Space Station should be extended past its planned demise in 2016.

After the shuttle Endeavour, which undocked from the space station Tuesday afternoon, returns to Earth, NASA has seven flights left on its schedule before the shuttle fleet is to be retired in September 2010. At that point the space station, under construction since 1998, would finally be complete, but current plans call for operating it only through 2015 before it is deliberately disposed of in the ocean the following year.

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