Saturday, February 20, 2010

Scientists Image Brain At Point When Vocal Learning Begins

High resolution in vivo images of neurons and associated dendritic spines in the brain of a juvenile songbird during the initial stages of song learning. Images taken by Todd Roberts. (Credit: Todd Roberts/Duke University Medical Center)

From Science Daily:

Science Daily (Feb. 19, 2010) — Duke University Medical Center scientists crowded around a laser-powered microscope in a darkened room to peer into the brain of an anesthetized juvenile songbird right after he heard an adult tutors' song for the first time.

Specifically, they wanted to see what happened to the connections between nerve cells, or synapses, in a part of the brain where the motor commands for song are thought to originate.

Read more ....

Altitude Could Limit Some Olympic Performances

From Live Science:

For the athletes competing now in the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, altitude can be an important factor in making it to the medal stand, but not for the reasons you might think.

And the impact of altitude in the Vancouver Olympics could mean we won't see many records set in sports such as speed skating.

Read more ....

How Scientific Are Superheroes?

From CNN:

You've probably had moments watching science fiction films when you thought, "Naw, that couldn't happen." And it's true - sci-fi movies often contain elements that don't conform to the laws of physics.

But modern science can say a lot about the plausibility of such things as stopping an asteroid from destroying the planet, and these are teachable moments, experts said today at the annual meeting of the American Association of the Advancement of Science in San Diego, California.

Read more ....

Makeshift Shelter Of Future: Sewer Pipes, Balloons?

Michael DiTullo submitted a shelter design based on a giant umbrella. "It could ship easily in planes, trucks, or trains," he says. Click on the above image to see more contest submissions. (Credit: Michael DiTullo)

From CNET:

Picture a tent that could be dropped from a helicopter and kept aloft by balloons with computer-controlled rotors attached. It might sound like some kind of offbeat interactive media installation, but Canadian designer Richard Kuchinsky imagines his structure more practically: as a cheap, easy-to-deploy emergency shelter.

Kuchinksy's "balloon tent pop-up shelter" is just one submission to a contest by design site Core 77, which, in light of last month's Haiti earthquake, has tasked designers with creating innovative short-term shelters. Submissions for the site's latest "one-hour design challenge" will be accepted through February 28, but the Core 77 online submission forum is already hopping with some highly creative solutions to a pressing problem.

Read more ....

Microsoft Offers Web Browser Choice To IE Users

From The BBC News:

Millions of European Internet Explorer (IE) users will have the option to choose an alternative browser from 1 March, Microsoft has announced.

It follows a legal agreement between Microsoft and Europe's Competition Commission in December 2009.

Microsoft committed to letting Windows PC users across Europe install the web browser of their choice, rather than having Microsoft IE as a default.

Figures suggest that over half the world's internet users have IE.

Testing for the update is already underway in the UK, Belgium and France.

Read more ....

1st Medical Studies on Pot in 20 Years Find It Does Relieve Pain

From Discover Magazine:

Even as California sinks under a massive budget crisis, the $8.7 million the state used to research the use of marijuana for medical purposes now seems money well spent. The state-funded Center for Medical Cannabis Research at the University of California, San Diego has confirmed that pot is effective in reducing muscle spasms associated with multiple sclerosis and pain caused by certain neurological injuries or illnesses, according to a report issued Wednesday [The New York Times].

Read more ....

Even In The Virtual World, Men Judge Women On Looks

Pleading for empathy (Image: Indianna University School of Informatics)

From New Scientist:

HOW is a female avatar supposed to get a fair treatment in the virtual world? They should rely on human females - men can't help but be swayed by looks.

Thanks to video games and blockbuster movies, people are increasingly engaging with avatars and robots. So Karl MacDorman of Indiana University in Indianapolis, Indiana, decided to find out how people treated avatars when faced with an ethical dilemma. Does an avatar's lack of humanity mean people fail to empathise with them? The answer seems to depend on gender.

Read more ....

Stray Hydrogen Atoms Become Deadly For Starships Traveling At Light Speed

USS Enterprise Watch out for stray hydrogen atoms Paramount Pictures

From Popular Science:

Science fiction writers may have to rethink how their starship crews survive travel near or beyond the speed of light. Even the occasional hydrogen atom floating in the interstellar void would become a lethal radiation beam that would kill human crews in mere seconds and destroy a spacecraft's electronics, New Scientist reports.

Read more ....

America’s Wind Energy Potential Triples In New Estimate

From Wired Science:

The amount of wind power that theoretically could be generated in the United States tripled in the newest assessment of the nation’s wind resources.

Current wind technology deployed in nonenvironmentally protected areas could generate 37,000,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity per year, according to the new analysis conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and consulting firm AWS Truewind. The last comprehensive estimate came out in 1993, when Pacific Northwest National Laboratory pegged the wind energy potential of the United States at 10,777,000 gigawatt-hours.

Read more ....

Great White Sharks Now More Endangered Than Tigers ith Just 3,500 Left In The Oceas

Great White Sharks were made infamous by the film Jaws,
but they rarely attack people and usually do by accident.

From The Daily Mail:

They are known as one of the deadliest creatures on Earth.

But according to a shocking new study, great white sharks are also one of the most endangered.

Wildlife experts say there are now fewer than 3,500 great whites left in the oceans, making them rarer than tigers.

Yesterday, marine biologists called for an end to mankind's long battle with sharks and demanded urgent action to prevent them going extinct.

Read more ....

Dolphins Can Turn Diabetes On … And Off

Bottlenose dolphins may gives scientists clues into how to shut off diabetes type II, and provide an insight into a range of other human ailments. Credit: U.S. National Parks Service

From Cosmos:

SAN DIEGO: Healthy bottlenose dolphins appear to turn on and off a diabetes-like state: a trick that may open to door to a treatment for the disease in humans.

The ‘switch’ mechanism, discovered by researchers at the non-profit National Marine Mammal Foundation, is likely driven by the dolphins’ high-protein, low-carbohydrate fish diet.

Read more ....

Scientists Unlock Mystery In Important Photosynthesis Step

This is Kevin Redding in his lab at Arizona State University. Together with coworkers from the Max Plank Institute, he has taken a significant step closer to unlocking the secrets of photosynthesis. (Credit: Mary Zhu)

From Science Daily:

Science Daily (Feb. 20, 2010) — An international team of scientists, including two from Arizona State University, has taken a significant step closer to unlocking the secrets of photosynthesis, and possibly to cleaner fuels.

Plants and algae, as well as cyanobacteria, use photosynthesis to produce oxygen and "fuels," the latter being oxidizable substances like carbohydrates and hydrogen. There are two pigment-protein complexes that orchestrate the primary reactions of light in oxygenic photosynthesis: photosystem I (PSI) and photosystem II (PSII). Understanding how these photosystems work their magic is one of the long-sought goals of biochemistry.

Read more ....

U.S. Bobsled Team Gets High-Tech Edge

Computer simulations of airflow and turbulence helped scientists redesign the U.S. bobsled.
Credit: Exa Corp.

From Live Science:

In Olympic bobsledding, hundredths of a second can mean the difference between winning and losing.

For the Vancouver Winter Olympics, the U.S. team might be just that much faster thanks to new sled designs based on complex models of airflow and turbulence.

Read more ....

Shuttle Leaves Station As NASA Plans Last Flights

British born astronaut Nicholas Patrick, who is a former Harrow school boy, waves as he works on the Cupola far above Earth. Photo from the Daily Mail

From Reuters:

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - The space shuttle Endeavour sailed away from the International Space Station on Friday after delivering a final connecting hub and an observation deck, completing U.S. assembly of the orbital complex.

Four more shuttle missions remain to stock the station and deliver science experiments before NASA retires its three-ship fleet later this year. The station, a $100 billion project of 16 nations, has been under construction 220 miles above Earth since 1998.

Read more ....

Cashing In On Internet Censorship

Photo: Scaling the wall: Firewall-breaching tools are booming in countries that are clamping down on Internet freedom.

From CNN:

(CNN) -- A growing number of software companies are capitalizing on an unexpected business opportunity: Internet censorship.

In countries where governments continue to ramp up Web filtering systems, more people are searching for tools that will allow them to access inaccessible information -- and they are willing to pay for them.

Such tools include virtual private networks (VPN), proxy servers and other workarounds that enable users to breach barriers to blocked information online.

Read more ....

Pay For Hulu On The iPad? It May Be Your Only Choice

(Credit: All Things Digital)

From CNET:

Will Hulu come to the iPad? Probably. One day. But you had better get ready to pay for it.

Hulu and its owners, three of the big broadcast TV networks, want to bring some version of the Web video service to Apple's device.

But the most likely scenario is one in which access to Hulu on the iPad comes as part of a subscription package, multiple people familiar with the company tell me.

Read more ....

Science Damaged By Climate Row Says NAS Chief Cicerone

Photo: NAS chief Ralph Cicerone says crisis is a 'wake-up call' for researchers

From The BBC:

Leading scientists say that the recent controversies surrounding climate research have damaged the image of science as a whole.

President of the US National Academy of Sciences, Ralph Cicerone, said scandals including the "climategate" e-mail row had eroded public trust in scientists.

His comment came at the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in San Diego.

Dr Cicerone joined other renowned scientists on a panel at the event.

Read more ....

Olympic Tech: Bobsled Aerodynamics, Curling Science, and More

From Discover Magazine:

We’re a week into the Vancouver Olympics, and if you haven’t had your fill of world-class athletes frolicking on the ice in frilly clothing, playing ice shuffleboard with 4o-plus-pound stones, or hurtling downhill at terrifying speed, don’t worry: There’s more than a week left to go. And there will be feats of dizzying daring and velocity, since Olympians don’t settle for just terrifying speed when there’s a chance to attain ridiculous speed, or even ludicrous speed. Thankfully, the Olympics are a bastion of technology, not just sport.

Read more ....

Long-Promised Cancer Revolution Begins

From New Scientist:

A personalised blood test that can identify tumour DNA could be the first step towards a long-promised revolution in the way cancer is treated.

In the short term, the test - reported by Victor Velculescu of Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center in Baltimore, Maryland, and his colleagues in Science Translational Medicine - could be used to spot cancer recurrence before tumour growth shows up on scans, meaning that treatment could be started earlier.

Read more ....

Video: Half-Kilometer-Long Explosive Whip Clears IEDs The Explode-y Way

From Popular Science:

Clearing battlefield obstacles has pitted trapper against sapper since Roman times. But whereas the minefields and dragon teeth of previous conflicts merely slowed advancing armies, the IEDs favored by today's insurgents have become the number one killer in the Long War. Now, to ensure safe passage through trap laden Afghan paths, the British Army is fighting fire with even bigger fire in the form of their newly developed Python explosive whip.

Read more ....

My Comment: Expect more "boom-booms" when this mine clearing platform is used.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Did Apple Just Undercut Amazon On E-Books?

From PC World:

The $10 bestseller e-book might not be dead yet: Apple reportedly can sell e-books on the iPad for the same prices Amazon once offered.

The New York Times reports that Apple worked a provision into its agreement with publishers, requiring them to occasionally sell bestselling books at a discount, possibly as low as $10 per book.

Read more ....

Photosynthesis: A New Source of Electrical Energy? Biofuel Cell Works in Cactus

Photo: Biofuel cell inserted in a cactus and graph showing the course of electrical current as a function of illumination of the cactus (black: glucose, red: O2).

From Science Daily:

Science Daily (Feb. 18, 2010) — Scientists in France have transformed the chemical energy generated by photosynthesis into electrical energy by developing a novel biofuel cell. The advance offers a new strategy to convert solar energy into electrical energy in an environmentally-friendly and renewable manner. In addition, the biofuel cell could have important medical applications.

Read more ....

Memory-Erasing Drugs Could Result From New Brain Discovery

From Live Science:

A newfound brain mechanism erases memories on purpose to help make way for new ones. Scientists suggest it could lead to the development of memory-erasing drugs that make a person forget certain things.

Researchers have often debated about the reasons we forget — for instance, why newly acquired short-term memories are fleeting. One theory suggests that such memories are simply unstable, fading over time. Others contend interference causes short-term memories to be overridden as new data comes in.

Read more ....

WHO: Combine H1N1, Regular Flu Vaccines

Natalie Matutschovsky for

From Time Magazine:

(LONDON) — The World Health Organization is recommending that swine flu be added to regular flu vaccines next season.

The swine flu pandemic virus, or H1N1, emerged too late last year to be added to the regular flu vaccine, and a separate vaccine was needed.

For this year's northern hemisphere flu season, however, the two vaccines should be combined, WHO flu chief Keiji Fukuda said Thursday after the agency met this week to decide which strains should be recommended to drug makers for vaccines.

Read more ....

Astronomers Discover Secret Of The Supernova

Supernovas are often used by astronomers as 'cosmic mile markers' to measure the expansion of the universe Photo: AFP/GETTY IMAGES

From The Telegraph:

Nasa astronomers may have finally discovered what initially sparks a cosmic explosion, according to new research.

Scientists used Nasa's Chandra X-Ray laboratory to study supernovas in five nearby elliptical galaxies and the central region of the Andromeda galaxy, a spiral galaxy closest to our own, the Milky Way.

Marat Gilfanov of the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Germany said: "It was a major embarrassment that we did not know how they worked. Now we are beginning to understand what lights the fuse of these explosions."

Read more ....

Half The Planet's Primates In Peril Due To The Destruction Of Their Habitat And Trade In Bushmeat

From The Daily Mail:

Half the world's species of monkey, gorilla and chimpanzee could soon disappear, experts have warned.

The destruction of their habitats and a thriving trade in bushmeat have pushed many to the brink of extinction, according to a report spearheaded by Bristol Zoo.

In parts of the Far East the proportion of primates at risk is as high as 90 per cent.

Read more ....

Coming Without Warning

From Discovery News:

Since the recent discovery of abrupt climate change -- that big changes can come quickly -- researchers have been looking for "warning signs" to help us avert "regime shifts" that could suddenly alter things we take for granted, such as storm tracks and weather patterns, sea levels and water supplies.

Greenland temperature profile, from Climate Crash: Abrupt Climate Change and What It Means for Our Future, Joseph Henry Press, 2005. Recognizing a warning sign is tricky, though, because in a system that is subject to abrupt change, small variations can lead to impacts that are all out of proportion. A widely recognized warning sign or "tipping point" is the recent unexpectedly high loss of Arctic sea ice, which could trigger major reorganizations of ocean and atmospheric circulation. This temperature profile derived from ice cores in Greenland (taken from a book I wrote on the subject), shows numerous abrupt climate changes during the past 100,000 years.

Read more ....

Inside The Olympics' 'Mission Control'

Magnus Alvarsson, chief integrator for technology consultant Atos Origin, says that he is practically bored with all the computer systems running so smoothly. Photo by Ina Fried/CNET

From CNET:

VANCOUVER, British Columbia--While the Winter Olympics have brought many headaches for organizers, the computing systems haven't been one of them.

In fact, things have been pretty quiet inside the low-rise building in east Vancouver where the technology operations are headquartered.

Read more ....

Moon Dreams The Americans May Still Go To The Moon Before The Chinese

From The Economist:

WHEN America’s space agency, NASA, announced its spending plans in February, some people worried that its cancellation of the Constellation moon programme had ended any hopes of Americans returning to the Earth’s rocky satellite. The next footprints on the lunar regolith were therefore thought likely to be Chinese. Now, though, the private sector is arguing that the new spending plan actually makes it more likely America will return to the moon.

Read more ....

What Happens At Absolute Zero?

The Boomerang Nebula is the coldest natural object known in the universe, seen here by the Hubble Space Telescope (Image: ESA/NASA)

From The New Scientist:

The curious things that happen at low temperatures keep on throwing up surprises. Last week, scientists reported that molecules in an ultra-cold gas can chemically react at distances up to 100 times greater than they can at room temperature.

In experiments closer to room temperature, chemical reactions tend to slow down as the temperature decreases. But scientists found that molecules at frigid temperatures just a few hundred billionths of a degree above absolute zero (−273.15°C or 0 kelvin) can still exchange atoms, forging new chemical bonds in the process, thanks to weird quantum effects that extend their reach at low temperatures.

Read more ....

The Amazing View From The International Space Station's Brand New Window

Sahara from Space: The world beneath your feet Soichi Noguchi

From Popular Science:

Twitpics from space just got even more interesting with the addition of a brand new cupola window aboard the International Space Station. Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi has accordingly updated his Twitter feed with a fresh Twitpic of the Sahara desert framed within the cupola.

"Let there be light! Cupola windows open toward Sahara desert. Priceless!" Noguchi tweeted.

Read more ....

Thursday, February 18, 2010

New Type of Genetic Variation Could Strengthen Natural Selection

Scanning electrograph image of Saccharomyces cerevisiae. (Credit: Image courtesy of NASA)

From Science Daily:

Science Daily (Feb. 18, 2010) — The unexpected discovery of a new type of genetic variation suggests that natural selection -- the force that drives evolution -- is both more powerful and more complex than scientists have thought.

"We have discovered that natural selection can act not only on whole organisms and individual genes, but also on gene networks," says Antonis Rokas, assistant professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt University and senior author of the paper reporting the discovery that was published in the February 18 issue of the journal Nature.

Read more ....

Tiger Woods And Sex Addiction: Real Disease Or Easy Excuse?

From Live Science:

Tiger Woods is scheduled to break his months-long silence about the sex scandal that has plagued the world's most famous athlete. It's not clear how he will explain himself, though according to some reports Woods has been attending a private rehabilitation clinic in Mississippi that treats addictions — including sex addiction.

Infidelity is not uncommon among men (and women) all over the world. Plenty of people cheat on their spouses: according to one survey, 25 percent of men and 17 percent of women have been unfaithful. That, of course, doesn't make them sex addicts.

Read more ....

Origin Of Cosmic Explosions Discovered

This is from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory and shows evidence from Nasa's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Magellan telescopes suggesting a star has been torn apart by an intermediate mass black hole in a globular cluster. Photo: AFP/Getty

From The Telegraph:

Astronomers who have long used supernovas as cosmic markers to help measure the expansion of the universe now have an answer to the nagging question of what causes the massive stellar explosions.

"These are such critical objects in understanding the universe," said Marat Gilfanov of the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Germany, describing his team's study.

"It was a major embarrassment that we did not know how they worked. Now we are beginning to understand what lights the fuse of these explosions."

Read more ....

The Secret Of A Film's Success Is All Down To Mathematics, Claim Scientists

Formulaic: A scene from Star Wars: Revenge Of The Sith, which fits the mathematical formula perfectly

From The Daily Mail:

Ever left the cinema feeling the film you have just seen is more than a little formulaic? You could be right.

Research shows that many modern blockbusters follow a mathematical formula that ensures they grab our attention.

It seems that they key to their success is not a stunning lead actor or a tear-jerking strip, but ensuring that camera shots of a certain length regularly recur.

Read more ....

Extreme Breath-Holding: How It's Possible

Photo: Peter Colat, a Swiss freediver, held his breath underwater for 19 minutes and 21 seconds, breaking the world record in breath-holding. AP

From Discovery News:

The new record in breath-holding recently went to a Swiss man who didn't breathe for nearly 20 minutes. Scientists explain how he did it.


* The new record for breath-holding is 19 minutes and 21 seconds.
* There are tricks to holding your breath for long periods of time, but the practice can be dangerous.
* There may be long-lasting health consequences to extreme breath-holding.

Read more ....

Yahoo, Microsoft Make Search Pact Official (FAQ)

Yahoo is ready to turn over the indexing and ranking of search results (on the left) to Microsoft, emphasizing its work on presenting those results (on the right). (Credit: Yahoo)

From CNET:

It took eight months, but the search strategy that Microsoft and Yahoo settled on after years of flirting is about to get started.

The U.S. Department of Justice and European Union gave their blessing to the deal early on Thursday, paving the way for Microsoft to take over the business of providing search results to Yahoo while Yahoo will get to sell search ads on both Yahoo and Bing. Yahoo is busy reminding anyone who will listen that it will still control the way search results are presented on its pages, while Microsoft thinks it can improve its search algorithms with access to Yahoo's massive audience.

Read more ....

New Role For Robot Warriors

Airmen roll out a Predator unmanned aircraft in Indian Springs, Nev. Such aircraft are tightly controlled by remote human operators. Some artificial-intelligence proponents believe next-generation robots could function more autonomously. Tony Avelar/The Christian Science Monitor/File

From The Christian Science Monitor:

Drones are just part of a bid to automate combat. Can virtual ethics make machines decisionmakers?

Science fiction sometimes depicts robot soldiers as killing machines without conscience or remorse. But at least one robotics expert today says that someday machines may make the best and most humane decisions on the battlefield.

Guided by virtual emotions, robots could not only make better decisions about their own actions but also act as ethical advisers to human soldiers or even as observers who report back on the battlefield conduct of humans and whether they followed international law.

Read more ....

The Writing On The Cave Wall

Time to look around the paintings (Image: Dozier Marc/Photolibrary)

From New Scientist:

THE first intrepid explorers to brave the 7-metre crawl through a perilously narrow tunnel leading to the Chauvet caves in southern France were rewarded with magnificent artwork to rival any modern composition. Stretching a full 3 metres in height, the paintings depict a troupe of majestic horses in deep colours, above a pair of boisterous rhinos in the midst of a fight. To the left, they found the beautiful rendering of a herd of prehistoric cows. "The horse heads just seem to leap out of the wall towards you," says Jean Clottes, former director of scientific research at the caves and one of the few people to see the paintings with his own eyes.

Read more ....

The World's 18 Strangest Airports

(Photograph by Tdk)

From Popular Mechanics:

Engineers tasked with building an airport are faced with countless challenges: The ideal location needs ample space, endless flat ground, favorable winds and great visibility. But spots in the real world are rarely ideal, and engineers are forced to work with what they have, making sure that the end product is the safest possible structure for pilots. A survey of airports around the world turns up a mixed bag, ranging from dangerous and rugged landing strips to mega-size facilities that operate like small cities. Here, PM explores the world's most remarkable airports and why they stand out.

Read more ....

Robots To Clear Baltic Seabed Of WWII Mines

Retro Sea Mine via Bactec

From Popular Science:

In a dangerous legacy of the world's deadliest conflict, 150,000 World War Two-era sea mines litter the Baltic Sea. The danger these bombs pose to a proposed gas pipeline has prompted Russia to hire the British firm Bactec International to clear the sea of unexploded ordnance. And for Bactec, that means it's time to bring out the robots.

Read more ....

Google Digital Library Faces Outcry At NYC Hearing

From My Way News:

NEW YORK (AP) - Google's effort to create the world's largest library by scanning millions of books for use on the Internet faces a courtroom fight as authors, foreign governments, corporate rivals and even the U.S. Department of Justice line up to challenge it.

U.S. District Judge Denny Chin already has read more than 500 submissions about a $125 million settlement aimed at ending a pair of 2005 lawsuits brought by authors and publishers and clearing legal obstacles to a gigantic online home for digital books.

Read more ....

Upside-Down Answer For Deep Mystery: What Caused Earth To Hold Its Last Breath?

Volcano eruption (Reunion island, Indian Ocean).
(Credit: iStockphoto)

From Science Daily:

Science Daily (Feb. 18, 2010) — When Earth was young, it exhaled the atmosphere. During a period of intense volcanic activity, lava carried light elements from the planet's molten interior and released them into the sky. However, some light elements got trapped inside the planet. In the journal Nature, a Rice University-based team of scientists is offering a new answer to a longstanding mystery: What caused Earth to hold its last breath?

Read more ....

New Transistors Mimic Human Brain's Synapses

From Live Science:

A new transistor designed to mimic structures in the human brain could pave the way for increasingly efficient computer systems that "think" like humans, scientists say.

The transistor is the first to mimic a crucial process used by brain cells, or neurons, when the cells signal one another.

Read more ....

Scientists Shed Light On Supernova Origins

Type Ia supernovae are thought to result when a white dwarf star in a binary system accumulates enough matter from its larger companion. When the white dwarf reaches the critical Chandrasekhar mass, about 1.4 times the mass of our Sun, high internal density and temperature ignite a thermonuclear explosion. Because the masses of Type Ia supernovae are similar, their brightnesses are similar. Berkeley Lab

From The L.A. Times:

The so-called Type 1a supernovae are key to measuring celestial distances. Astronomers find evidence that they're formed by the collision of two white dwarfs.

German astronomers using a U.S. telescope have provided scientists with at least a partial answer to a vexing question: What is the origin of the so-called Type 1a supernovae, which are widely used as celestial mileage markers?

Type 1a supernovae are of special significance to astronomers because all are believed to have essentially the same intrinsic brightness, and because they can be observed from great distances. Thus, by comparing the brightness of any one of them to what it is expected to be, researchers can estimate its distance from Earth and thereby judge the distance of objects near it.

Read more ....

Two Languages In Womb Makes Bilingual Babies

Being bilingual starts in the womb. Credit: iStockphoto

From Cosmos/AFP:

WASHINGTON: Babies who hear two languages regularly when they are in their mother's womb are more open to being bilingual, a study published this week in Psychological Science shows.

Psychological scientists from the University of British Columbia and a researcher from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in France tested two groups of newborns, one of which only heard English in the womb and the others who heard English and Tagalog, which is spoken in the Philippines.

Read more ....

Fertilizer Overuse Destroying Chinese Soil

From Fabius Maximus:

As usual with cutting edge research, the timing and significance of this is impossible for a layman to accurately access. But this could be bad for China. Yields have already dropped 30-50% in some places.

1. A summary of the research by Reuters
2. More detailed summaries, in ScienceNow and Nature
3. The research, in Science
4. For more information from the FM site, and an Afterword

Read more .....

DARPA Wants To Build The Ultimate Language Traslator

Darpa Looks to Build Real-Life C3P0 -- The Danger Room

Right now, troops trying to listen in on enemy chatter rely on a convoluted process. They tune into insurgency radio frequencies, then hand the radio over to local interpreters, who translate the dialogues. It’s a sloppy process, prone to garbled words and missed phrases.

What troops really need is a machine that can pick out voices from the noise, understand and translate all kinds of different languages, and then identify the voice from a hit list of “wanted speakers.” In other words, a real-life version of Star Wars protocol droid C3PO, fluent “in over 6 million forms of communication.”

Read more ....

Northern Hemisphere Snow Extent Second Highest On Record

Source : Rutgers University Global Snow Lab

From Watts Up With That?:

According to Rutgers University Global Snow Lab, last week’s Northern Hemisphere winter snow extent was the second highest on record, at 52,166,840 km2. This was only topped by the second week in February, 1978 at 53,647,305 km2. Rutgers has kept records continuously for the last 2,227 weeks, so being #2 is quite an accomplishment.

Read more ....

United States' Drought Has 'Extraordinary' Reversal

From USA Today:

What a difference a rain makes. The nationwide drought that had farmers, communities and entire states fighting to conserve water has reversed in the most dramatic turnaround since federal scientists began keeping records.

More than 92% of the country is drought-free — the nation's best showing since 1999.

"The lack of drought is extraordinary," said Douglas Le Comte, a meteorologist with the federal Climate Prediction Center.

Read more ....