Saturday, October 4, 2008

See A Pattern On Wall Street?

From The New York Times:

Take a look at the two blurry images below. Can you see an object hidden in each one?

Before I give the answers, here’s another question: Do you feel a certain lack of control over events right now?

These questions are not unrelated, according to a report in the new issue of Science by Jennifer Whitson and Adam Galinsky. The researchers found that when people were primed to feel out of control, they were more likely to see patterns where none exist. They would spot an object in each of the images above, even though only the image on the right contains one (the outline of Saturn and its rings). If you thought you saw something in the image on the left, don’t be too hard on yourself — your feeling may be perfectly understandable given the chaos on Wall Street.

Read more ....

Windfarms Of the Future

An illustration of what wind turbines would look like at different distances from the shore.
P.S.E.G (Photo: New York Times)

New Jersey Grants Rights to Build a Wind Farm About 20 Miles Offshore -- New York Times

Regulators in New Jersey awarded the rights on Friday for construction of a $1 billion offshore wind farm in the southern part of the state to Garden State Offshore Energy. The rights, which include access to as much as $19 million in state grants, is part of New Jersey’s Energy Master Plan, which calls for 20 percent of the state’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2020. The decision comes on the heels of decisions by Delaware and Rhode Island to allow the installation of offshore wind farms.

Energy experts say that these approvals could prompt regulators in New York to support projects off the south shore of Long Island and New York City.

Garden State Offshore Energy is a joint venture that includes P.S.E.G. Renewable Generation, a subsidiary of P.S.E.G. Global, which is a sister company of the state’s largest utility, Public Service Electric and Gas Company.

The proposal by Garden State Offshore Energy includes the installation of 96 turbines to produce as much as 346 megawatts of electricity, enough to power tens of thousands of houses, starting in 2013. The turbines would be arranged in a rectangle about a half-mile long by one-third of a mile wide and would be placed 16 to 20 miles off the coast of New Jersey’s Atlantic and Ocean Counties, much farther out and in much deeper water than other proposed wind farms. Deepwater Wind, which will work with P.S.E.G. to build the wind farm, said it could affordably build turbines in 100 feet of water with the same technology used to build oil and gas rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and other places.

Read more ....

China And Smoking Go Hand In Hand

China Lung Disease 'To Kill 83m' -- BBC News

A US study has suggested that more than 80 million people in China will die in the next 25 years as a result of lung disease.

The research says the vast majority of those premature deaths are preventable.

The study focused on the devastating impact of smoking and the widespread practice of burning wood or coal at home for cooking and heating.

The Harvard School of Public Health research looked at a 30-year period, spanning the last five and the next 25.

Respiratory disease is already a leading cause of deathChi in China, but this latest study suggests a startling rise.

In the 30-year period, it calculates, about 83 million Chinese people will die prematurely of lung disease.

Read more ....

Musicians Use Both Sides Of Their Brains More Frequently Than Average People

Supporting what many of us who are not musically talented have often felt, new research reveals that trained musicians really do think differently than the rest of us. (Credit: iStockphoto/Emre Ogan)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Oct. 3, 2008) — Supporting what many of us who are not musically talented have often felt, new research reveals that trained musicians really do think differently than the rest of us. Vanderbilt University psychologists have found that professionally trained musicians more effectively use a creative technique called divergent thinking, and also use both the left and the right sides of their frontal cortex more heavily than the average person.

The research by Crystal Gibson, Bradley Folley and Sohee Park is currently in press at the journal Brain and Cognition.

"We were interested in how individuals who are naturally creative look at problems that are best solved by thinking 'out of the box'," Folley said. "We studied musicians because creative thinking is part of their daily experience, and we found that there were qualitative differences in the types of answers they gave to problems and in their associated brain activity."

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Grief: The Price of Love

Old Man Crying (Photo from Trekearth)

From Live Science:

Years ago while observing a troop of Barbary macaques for behavioral research, I was surprised to see a new mother holding on to her obviously stillborn baby. She clutched the corpse to her chest and made soft cooing sounds, obviously in distress.

More remarkable, she held on to that dead baby for more than a week as it began to decompose.

Eventually, the mother showed up alone, but then it got even sadder. She began to haunt other mothers, those with live babies. She would sit close to them and try to grab those babies and hug them, as if to make up for her loss.

I was clearly witnessing a mother in deep grief, and I felt great empathy.

After all, she had been stuck in an evolutionarily dilemma that all of us, at one time or another, experience. Monkey, apes, humans and all other social animals are born to attach to others because those connections help keep us alive and up the chances of passing on genes. But at the same time, we pay dearly for that advantage when our loved ones leave.

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Earliest Known Human Had Neanderthal Qualities

This map shows the Kibish Formation site, where the fossils of the earliest modern human were found. The site is located in southwest Ethiopia. (Photo from Discover)

From Discover:

Aug. 22, 2008 -- The world's first known modern human was a tall, thin individual -- probably male -- who lived around 200,000 years ago and resembled present-day Ethiopians, save for one important difference: He retained a few primitive characteristics associated with Neanderthals, according to a series of forthcoming studies conducted by multiple international research teams.

The extraordinary findings, which will soon be outlined in a special issue of the Journal of Human Evolution devoted to the first known Homo sapiens, also reveal information about the material culture of the first known people, their surroundings, possible lifestyle and, perhaps most startling, their probable neighbors -- Homo erectus.

"Omo I," as the researchers refer to the find, would probably have been considered healthy-looking and handsome by today's standards, despite the touch of Neanderthal.

Read more ....

French Bees Find A Haven In Paris

From The International Herald Tribune:

Corinne Moncelli offers guests at her Eiffel Park Hotel more than a view of the Paris landmark. She serves them honey from bees she keeps on the rooftop.

There are more than 300 known colonies in the French capital, up from about 250 five years ago, according to the National Beekeepers' Association. Hives have appeared on the roof of the Opéra Garnier, on balconies and in parks.

Bees are thriving in cities because "flowers and plants are changed constantly and there aren't pesticides," said Moncelli, who co-owns the hotel with her husband, Pascal.

Read more ....

Old Violins Reveal Their Secrets

(Photo from Nashville Violins)

From Nature:

Acoustic measurements identify the signature of a Stradivarius.

Why do the violins made by Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesù sound so good? Countless theories have been proposed for the secret of these eighteenth-century Italian instrument-makers, but attempts to identify a unique acoustic signature have proved fruitless. Now a study has finally identified a measurable sound quality that distinguishes these old violins from cheap, factory-made instruments.

After spending ten years painstakingly measuring the acoustics of violins rated from "bad" to "excellent" by professional musicians, George Bissinger of East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, says that the 'excellent' old Italian violins in his sample show a significantly stronger acoustic response in the lower octaves than do the 'bad' violins, whereas those rated merely 'good' have intermediate values1. The high-quality tone is caused by a single mode of vibration of air inside the body, which radiates sound strongly through the violin's f-holes.

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Friday, October 3, 2008

The Beginning of E-Paper?

Liquavista device (Photo from the Guardian)

Scientists Aim To Deliver E-Paper In Full
Computerised Colour -- The Guardian

Scientists in Cambridge have launched a £12m three-year project to create the next generation of e-paper, which may herald the arrival of fully interactive, all-colour computerised newspapers and magazines.

Liquavista, spun out of the Philips Research Labs in Eindhoven two years ago, has won part of the backing from the government-funded Technology Strategy Board. The project is also backed by Plastic Logic. The US technology company last month unveiled a prototype e-paper that looks much more like a sheet of A4 than the offerings of rivals such as Amazon's Kindle and Sony eReader, which resemble paperback books.

But Plastic Logic's device is only black and white, not very flexible and its screen updates quite slowly. Liquavista is working on a full-colour flexible screen that would allow newspapers and other publications to give their audience a much more interactive product that could include video.

Read more ....

The Continual Existance Of Tuberculosis

(Click To Enlarge)
World TB incidence. Cases per 100,000; Red => 300, orange = 200–300, yellow = 100–200, green = 50–100, blue =< grey =" n/a." href="">Photo of world map is from Wikipedia)

Tuberculosis: An Ancient Disease Continues to Thrive
-- Time Magazine

The Church of Scotland Hospital in Tugela Ferry, South Africa, sits in an arid valley among the mountains of KwaZulu-Natal. Occupying a dozen or so tin-roofed, low-slung buildings, the hospital serves its rural patients well: Women come to have babies, H.I.V. patients register to receive their medications, and those infected with tuberculosis check in for a chance to recover from an ancient scourge.

But in 2005 a physician noticed that some of those TB patients, many of whom were H.I.V.-positive, were not getting any better, despite being on anti-TB medications. Nothing he provided them seemed to control the tubercle bacillus flourishing in their bodies. Of the 53 who were sickest, 52 died, most within a month of entering the hospital.

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This Will Completely Change The Wine industry

Proud: Entrepeneur and inventor Casey Jones, 53, shows off the revolutionary ultrasonic wine ager in a vinyard (Photo from the Daily Mail)

The Miracle Machine That Turns Cheap Plonk Into Vintage Wine - In Just Half An Hour -- The Daily Mail

A device that claims to turn cheap supermarket plonk into vintage wine and banish hangovers is set to hit the high street.

Inventors say a bottle of any bargain booze can be transformed in just 30 minutes, using space-age ultrasound technology.

The £350 gadget - which looks like an ordinary ice bucket - recreates the effects of decades of aging by colliding alcohol molecules inside the bottle.

Dragons Den veteran, entrepreneur and inventor Casey Jones, 53, is the man behind the machine, which is yet to be given a retail name.

He said: 'This machine can take your run-of-the-mill £3.99 bottle of plonk and turn it into a finest bottle of vintage, tasting like it's hundreds.

'It works on any alcohol that tastes better aged. Even a bottle of paint-stripper whisky can taste like an 8-year-aged single malt.'

Mr Jones is now in talks with leisure chain Hotel Du Vin about marketing the working-titled 'Ultrasonic Wine Ager'.

Read more ....

Warming To Spur Potato Famine In The Andes?

From National Geographic:

When Tito Guillen Rosales was a young boy, his grandfather was a rich man, growing 50 bags of potatoes a year and sharing his surplus with community members who didn't have enough.

"But now his potatoes are covered with worms and plagues and he barely has enough to feed himself," said Rosales, 27, a farmer himself and the mayor of a Peruvian village at 11,000 feet (3,353 meters) in the Cordillera Blanca range of the Andes mountains.

"We are all becoming desperate to find a solution to the changes in the weather and climate that have brought these new pests," Rosales said.

Here in the Andean highlands scientists attribute warmer temperatures and shifting precipitation patterns to global climate change. These shifts are seriously affecting the health of tuber, or root, crops such as the potato.

Late blight, a fungus responsible for the Irish potato famine in the 1800s, appeared for the first time in Coyllurqui sometime in the last 20 years, surprising and flummoxing farmers such as Rosales and his grandfather.

Read more ....

Carnival of Space: October 2, 2008


Alice's Astro Info is the host for todays Space Carnival. The link is HERE:

Branson Wants to Help Science Save Earth

(Photo: Wired Magazine)

From Wired News:

Richard Branson has slapped the Virgin name on everything from airlines and space travel to record stores and comic books, and now he wants to add scientific research into global climate change.

The flamboyant British entrepreneur says his fledgling Virgin Galactic enterprise will use the Space Ship Two and White Knight Two (pictured) vehicles to carry research equipment to the highest levels of the atmosphere for a research project planned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The instruments will provide vast quantities of data regarding atmospheric conditions, particularly the level of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases, and allow the agency to calibrate measurements made by satellites.

"We need data and observations to understand how our climate changes," Conrad Lautenbacher, the agency's administrator, said in a statement. "This affords us a new and unique opportunity to gather samples and measurements at much higher altitudes than we can usually achieve."

Such a partnership would solve one of the NOAA's biggest challenges with atmospheric research -- it doesn't have anything capable of reaching such lofty altitudes.

Read more ....

Ask the Brains: Why Do We Laugh When Someone Falls?

Alexander Hafemann/iStockPhoto

From Scientific America:

Why do we find it funny when some­one falls down?
—William B. Keith, Houston

William F. Fry, a psychiatrist and laughter researcher at Stanford University, explains:

Every human develops a sense of humor, and everyone’s taste is slightly different. But certain fundamental aspects of humor help explain why a misstep may elicit laughter.

The first requirement is the “play frame,” which puts a real-life event in a nonserious context and allows for an atypical psychological reaction. Play frames explain why most people will not find it comical if someone falls from a 10-story building and dies: in this instance, the falling person’s distress hinders the establishment of the nonserious context. But if a woman casually walking down the street trips and flails hopelessly as she stumbles to the ground, the play frame may be established, and an observer may find the event amusing.

Read more ....

The Element That Could Change The World

Schematic depicts the inner workings of a vanadium battery, now in use in a Utah plant, that can supply 250 kilowatts for eight hours. VRB Power Systems

From Discover Magazine:

Making green energy work may depend on three unlikely heroes: an Australian engineer, a battery, and the element vanadium.

February 27, 2008, was a bad day for renewable energy. A cold front moved through West Texas, and the winds died in the evening just as electricity demand was peaking. Generation from wind power in the region rapidly plummeted from 1.7 gigawatts to only 300 megawatts (1 megawatt is enough to power about 250 average-size houses). The sudden loss of electricity supply forced grid operators to cut power to some offices and factories for several hours to prevent statewide blackouts.

By the next day everything was back to normal, but the Texas event highlights a huge, rarely discussed challenge to the adoption of wind and solar power on a large scale. Unlike fossil fuel plants, wind turbines and photovoltaic cells cannot be switched on and off at will: The wind blows when it blows and the sun shines when it shines, regardless of demand. Even though Texas relies on wind for just over 3 percent of its electricity, that is enough to inject uncertainty into the state’s power supplies. The problem is sure to grow more acute as states and utilities press for the expanded use of zero-carbon energy. Wind is the fastest-growing power source in the United States, solar is small but also building rapidly, and California is gearing up to source 20 percent of its power from renewables by 2017.

Read more ....

The Power Of Pond Scum

From CBS:

(CBS) Set amid cornfields and cow pastures in eastern Holland is a shallow pool that is rapidly turning green with algae, harvested for animal feed, skin treatments, biodegradable plastics - and with increasing interest, biofuel.

In a warehouse 120 miles southwest, a bioreactor of clear plastic tubes is producing algae in pressure-cooker fashion that its manufacturer hopes will one day power jet aircraft.

Experts say it will be years, maybe a decade, before this simplest of all plants can be efficiently processed for fuel. But when that day comes, it could go a long way toward easing the world's energy needs and responding to global warming.

Algae is the slimy stuff that clouds your home aquarium and gets tangled in your feet in a lake or ocean. It can grow almost everywhere there is water and sunlight, and under the right conditions it can double its volume within hours. Scientists and industrialists agree that the potential is huge.

Read more ....

Thursday, October 2, 2008

UK Urged To Fund Climate Project

From The BBC:

The UK government has been urged to fund the next stage of a major European programme to monitor the effects of global climate change from space.

The trade body UKspace made the call ahead of a key ministerial meeting.

Britain entered Kopernikus, the world's biggest environmental monitoring project, at a quarter of the funding level preferred by industry.

UK companies are understood to have lost out on lucrative contracts as a result.

The programme will combine data from state-of-the-art satellites and hundreds of other sources to provide an accurate understanding of the land, oceans and atmosphere.

Read more ....

10 Future Shocks For The Next 10 Years

From InfoWorld:

As InfoWorld turns 30, a look back at the changes wrought by technology since 1978 boggles the mind. The extended InfoWorld family predicts the shocking developments we can expect between now and 2018

The past 30 years of InfoWorld's existence have seen a series of future shocks, from the ascent of the personal computer to horrifying strains of malware to the sizzling sex appeal of the iPhone. In honor of InfoWorld's 30th anniversary, we've decided to take a playful look ahead at the future shocks that could occur in the next 10 years (30 years seemed a little too sci-fi).

An all-points bulletin went out to InfoWorld contributors, the replies to which we culled into 10 future shocks -- ranging from radical changes in IT's responsibility to "1984"-ish scenarios where privacy is a quaint notion. No doubt you've considered many of these possibilities yourself. Even more likely, you have just as many interesting scenarios to bring to the party, and we urge you to share them in the comments section of this article. Dream big -- given the drama of the past 30 years, the next 10 are anyone's guess.

Read more ....

Sunspot Activity At Its Lowest Level Since The Space Age Started

Table From Watts Up With That

NASA: Sun Is “Blankety Blankest” It’s Been In The Space Age -- Watts Up With That?

From NASA Science News h/t to John-X

Spotless Sun: 2008 is the Blankest Year of the Space Age

Sept. 30, 2008: Astronomers who count sunspots have announced that 2008 is now the “blankest year” of the Space Age.

As of Sept. 27, 2008, the sun had been blank, i.e., had no visible sunspots, on 200 days of the year. To find a year with more blank suns, you have to go back to 1954, three years before the launch of Sputnik, when the sun was blank 241 times.

“Sunspot counts are at a 50-year low,” says solar physicist David Hathaway of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. “We’re experiencing a deep minimum of the solar cycle.”

Read more ....

HIV/AIDS Is Not A New Disease

HIV-infected T cells. (Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Tom Folks, NIAID)

HIV/AIDS Pandemic Began Around 1900, Earlier Than Previously Thought; Urbanization In Africa Marked Outbreak -- Science Daily

ScienceDaily (Oct. 2, 2008) — New research indicates that the most pervasive global strain of HIV began spreading among humans between 1884 and 1924, suggesting that growing urbanization in colonial Africa set the stage for the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

The estimated period of origin, considerably earlier than the previous estimate of 1930, coincides with the establishment and rise of urban centers in west-central Africa where the pandemic HIV strain, HIV-1 group M, emerged. The growth of cities and associated high-risk behaviors may have been the key change that allowed the virus to flourish.

The research, led by Michael Worobey, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at The University of Arizona in Tucson, was co-sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. The findings are published in the current issue of the journal Nature.

Read more ....

Why Will It Take So Long to Fix the Large Hadron Collider?


From Live Science:

After all the hooplah over firing up the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the party turned out to be short-lived. On Sept. 20, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland announced that a large helium leak, likely due to a faulty electrical connection, would require at least a two-month delay for repairs. A week later, scientists said they would not restart the machine until next spring.

This lengthy shutdown is necessary because scientists need to warm up the faulty area of the machine from its standard operating temperature of minus 456 degrees Fahrenheit — that’s a few degrees colder than outer space and only 3 degrees above absolute zero, the temperature where all molecules stop moving. It will take weeks to warm this errant area back up to room temperature so engineers can venture in and fix it. Then, assuming they can quickly detect and remedy the problem, scientists would need to lower the temperature again before turning the LHC back on.

Read more ....

Japan's Tsunami History Shows What's In Store

December 28, 2004


Tsunami from huge quake could destroy 5,600 homes, kill 850 people

Newly discovered tsunami deposits suggest the Japanese coastline was hammered by a series of massive waves thousands of years ago. The finding adds to growing evidence that the region is regularly pounded by killer waves, and could help in planning for future inundations.

The northern Japanese island of Hokkaido is nestled up against the Kuril-Kamchatka trench, a place where the Pacific tectonic plate dives beneath the Eurasian plate, and home to terrible earthquakes in excess of magnitude 8.0.

Now Wesley Nutter and a team of researchers say nine waves, each at least 33 feet high, battered the coastline before the dawn of civilization on the island.

Read more ....

During Exercise, Human Brain Shifts Into High Gear On 'Alternative Energy'

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Oct. 1, 2008) — Alternative energy is all the rage in major media headlines, but for the human brain, this is old news. According to a study by researchers from Denmark and The Netherlands, the brain, just like muscles, works harder during strenuous exercise and is fueled by lactate, rather than glucose.

Not only does this finding help explain why the brain is able to work properly when the body's demands for fuel and oxygen are highest, but it goes a step further to show that the brain actually shifts into a higher gear in terms of activity. This opens doors to entirely new areas of brain research related to understanding lactate's specific neurological effects.

"Now that we know the brain can run on lactate, so to speak, future studies should show us when to use lactate as part of a treatment," said Gerald Weissmann, MD, Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. "From an evolutionary perspective, the result of this study is a no-brainer. Imagine what could have or did happen to all of the organisms that lost their wits along with their glucose when running from predators. They were obviously a light snack for the animals able to use lactate."

Read more ....

In Baseball, Head-First Slides Are Best

Seattle Mariners' Luis Valbuena, right, slides into third base as Oakland Athletics' Daric Barton waits for the ball in the ninth inning of a baseball game Saturday, Sept. 20, 2008, in Oakland, Calif. Valbuena was called out. Credit: AP Photo/Ben Margot

From Live Science:

A player's slide to beat the throw at home plate is one of baseball's big thrills, especially during the postseason, which begins today. But of the two sliding styles — head-first and feet-first — which is faster?

Head-first, says David A. Peters of Washington University in St. Louis, an engineer and avid baseball fan.

The reasons that it's faster to lead off with your noggin all have to do with physics, Peters said.

Specifically, it's a matter of the player's center of gravity (or center of mass) — essentially the point where gravity exerts its tug. For most people, their center of gravity is right around the stomach area, Peters said.

Whenever you leave the ground, no matter which end of your body you lead with, your center of gravity will move forward with the speed (and momentum) you left the ground with, Peters explained.

Read more ....

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

20 Things You Didn't Know About... Genius

From Discover Magazine:

1 The latest winners of the Nobel Prize—the big kahuna of genius awards—will be announced this month. Were you nominated? To find out, you’ll have to either win or wait 50 years, which is how long the Nobel committee keeps secret the list of also-rans.

2 Nyah, nyah. William Shockley, who won the 1956 Nobel in physics for inventing the transistor, was excluded as a child from a long-term study of genius because his I.Q. score wasn’t high enough.

3 History repeated itself in 1968 when Luis Alvarez won a Nobel for his work on elementary particles. He had been excluded from the same research program as Shockley. Who set up that study, anyway?

4 The genius study was created in 1928 by Louis Terman at Stanford University, who pioneered the use of I.Q. tests to identify geniuses, defined by him as those with an I.Q. greater than 140.

5 None of the children (known as “Termites”) in the study has won a Nobel.

Read more ....

New Thinking On When The Arctic Froze

Courtesy: NASA

From Live Science:

The Arctic may be a frigid, ice-covered area today, but it hasn't always been quite so cold.

Scientists have long wondered when the Arctic first transitioned to its ice-covered state; a new study suggests this could have happened millions of years earlier than was previously thought.

The standard view of the formation of the huge ice sheets that cover Earth's poles was that continental-scale glaciation of Antarctica occurred about 34 million years ago, while the Arctic wasn't covered by ice until some 31 million years later — much more recently geologically-speaking.

But the new findings hint that Arctic ice may not have taken quite as long to form, with evidence placing its formation closer in time to that of Antarctic ice. Now researchers say Arctic ice could have formed about 23 million years ago.

A group of U.S. and U.K. climatologists, led by Robert DeConto of the University of Massachusetts, used a model to test the idea that Arctic ice formed much earlier than thought. Their work was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, and the results are detailed in the Oct. 2 issue of the journal Nature.

Read more ....

Galileo Satellite Knocked Offline

Artist's view of a Galileo satellite. Crédits : ESA-J. Huart

From the BBC News:

A test spacecraft for Europe's future satellite-navigation system has been rocked by a surge of space radiation.

The incident forced the Giove-B satellite to adopt a "safe mode" for two weeks in which only essential power systems were kept running.

European Space Agency (Esa) engineers have brought the satellite back up and are now studying what happened.

Giove-B carries the technologies that will be incorporated into the Galileo network when it becomes operational.

These include the atomic clocks which provide the precise timing that underpins all sat-nav applications.

Read more ....

50 Highlights of Space Travel -- 50 Years Of NASA

NASA Mission Apollo 16
Photo NASA No AS16-114-18422 - Mission Apollo 16 on the Moon.
View of Plum crater photographed by Apollo 16 crew during EVA.

From National Geographic:

From Sputnik to Apollo 11 to Saturn's moons, click through our time line to tour 50 highlights from 50 years of space exploration.

The link is HERE.

Happy Birthday NASA!

From Popular Science:

The space agency celebrates it's 50th anniversary today and PopSci is on hand for the occasion. Find out the science behind space food, the history of the Apollo hoax and more.

The Link is HERE.

In The Language Of Love, Money Talks

From ABC News:

New Study Finds Women are More Likely to Marry Men with Money.

Money can't buy love, but it seems to earn you more babies. Rich men sire more children than paupers, according to a new study of thousands of middle-aged British men.

Women are more likely to marry men who can provide for them and their children than penniless men, says Daniel Nettle, a behavioural scientist at Newcastle University, UK, who led the new study.

"It's not that if you're richer you'll have more children – if you're richer you're less likely to be childless," he says.

For much of civilization, females have tended to mate with better providers, but many sociologists argue that the industrial and sexual revolutions have immunised people in developed countries such evolutionary pressures.

Read more ....

Unknown Earth: Our Planet's Seven Biggest Mysteries

From The New Scientist:

It's the place we call home, but there is much about planet Earth that remains frustratingly unknown. How did it form from a cloud of dust? How did it manage to nurture life? And just what is going on deep within its core? New Scientist investigates these and other fundamental questions about our beautiful, enigmatic world.

How come Earth got all the good stuff?

What happened during Earth's dark ages?

Where did Earth's life come from?

Why does Earth have plate tectonics?

What is at the centre of the Earth?

Why is Earth's climate so stable?

Can we predict earthquakes and volcanic eruptions?

Explore an interactive map of our Unknown Earth

Read more ....

'Hub' Of Fear Memory Formation Identified In Brain Cells

From Science Blog:

A protein required for the earliest steps in embryonic development also plays a key role in solidifying fear memories in the brains of adult animals, scientists have revealed. An apparent "hub" for changes in the connections between brain cells, beta-catenin could be a potential target for drugs to enhance or interfere with memory formation.

The results are published online this week and appear in the October issue of Nature Neuroscience.

The protein beta-catenin acts like a Velcro strap, fastening cells' internal skeletons to proteins on their external membranes that connect them with other cells. In species ranging from flies to frogs to mice, it also can transmit early signals that separate an embryo into front and back or top and bottom.

During long-term memory formation, structural changes take place in the synapses – the connections between neurons in the brain, says Kerry Ressler, MD, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University School of Medicine. Ressler is a researcher at Emory University's Yerkes National Primate Research Center, where the research was conducted, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.

Read more ....

Melamine Contaminated Milk

From Science Base:

A brief summary and update to the Sciencebase original posts on Melamine in Milk and Melamine Scandal Widens.

Dairy farmers have been feeling the squeeze for years, particularly in parts of the world where technological advancement has been slow in coming and so their profit margins on their milk output have not been lifted by improved efficiency. In order to boost profits milk has been diluted. However, this brings with it the problem of falling quality - dilute with water and measurable concentrations of milk proteins, fats, and sugars fall. Dilution by up to 30% has not been uncommon, which is where melamine (as I’ve mentioned) comes in. Melamine is a small organic molecule with a high nitrogen content that can easily fool the quality control equipment into thinking that nitrogen (from protein) is present at normal levels and so the milk is passed as good.

Unfortunately, it is possible that melamine accumulates in the body and causes toxicity problemsmelamine accumulates in the body and causes toxicity problems - basically damaging the kidneys and forming stones (solid deposits within the kidneys or bladder). Infants fed regularly with milk containing melamine will be particularly susceptible to these effects. As we have seen tens of thousands have been affected and several have died in China. Why this problem is not more widespread, given the rather large number of infants potentially having been drinking contaminated formula-milk for months is unclear.

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World’s Largest Study Of Near-Death Experiences To Start

From World-Science:

The Uni­ver­s­ity of South­amp­ton, U.K. an­nounced it is launch­ing this week the world’s largest-ever study on wheth­er peo­ple have thoughts for a time while they are clin­ic­ally “dead.”

The AWARE (A­WAre­ness dur­ing RE­sus­cita­t­ion) study is to be launched by the Hu­man Con­scious­ness Proj­ect at the uni­ver­s­ity, an in­terna­t­ional col­la­bora­t­ion of sci­en­tists and physi­cians who study the brain, con­scious­ness and clin­ical death.

The study is led by Sam Par­nia of Weill Cor­nell Med­i­cal Cen­ter in New York, with Uni­ver­s­ity of South­amp­ton re­search­ers. Fol­low­ing an 18-month pi­lot phase at some U.K. hos­pi­tals, the study is now be­ing ex­pand­ed to in­clude oth­er cen­tres with­in the U.K., main­land Eu­rope and North Amer­i­ca, Par­nia said.

“Con­trary to pop­u­lar per­­cep­tion,” Par­nia said, “death is not a spe­cif­ic mo­ment. It is a pro­cess that be­gins when the heart stops beat­ing, the lungs stop work­ing and the brain ceases func­tion­ing—a med­i­cal con­di­tion termed car­di­ac ar­rest, which from a bi­o­log­i­cal view­point is syn­on­y­mous with clin­ical death.

“Dur­ing a car­di­ac ar­rest, all three cri­te­ria of death are pre­s­ent. There then fol­lows a per­i­od of time, which may last from a few sec­onds to an hour or more, in which emer­gen­cy med­i­cal ef­forts may suc­ceed in restart­ing the heart and re­vers­ing the dy­ing pro­cess. What peo­ple ex­pe­ri­ence dur­ing this per­i­od of car­di­ac ar­rest pro­vides a un­ique win­dow of un­der­stand­ing in­to what we are all likely to ex­pe­ri­ence dur­ing the dy­ing pro­cess.”

Some stud­ies have found that 10 to 20 percent of peo­ple who go through car­di­ac ar­rest and clin­ical death re­port lu­cid, well struc­tured thought pro­cesses, rea­son­ing, mem­o­ries and some­times de­tailed re­call of events dur­ing their en­coun­ter with death, Par­nia said.

Dur­ing the AWARE stu­dy, doc­tors will use soph­is­t­icated tech­nol­o­gy to study the brain and con­scious­ness dur­ing car­di­ac ar­rest. At the same time, they plan to test the val­id­ity of out of body ex­pe­ri­ences and claims of be­ing able to “see” and “hear” dur­ing car­di­ac ar­rest.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

New Facility Uses Algae to Turn Coal Pollution Into Fuel


A coal fired power-plant in Oregon has started a pilot project to curb pollution by using algae to harvest greenhouse gases and make fuel and other useful products.

The power plant in Boardman, Oregon, is the state’s only coal-fired facility — and also the the state’s largest single emitter of carbon dioxide. To deal with this problem, Portland General Electric and Columbia Energy Partners have started a pilot project to turn the otherwise nasty emissions into biodiesel, ethanol, and even livestock feed.

How does it work? Just like you and I breathe in oxygen to make energy, algae breathe in carbon dioxide to make energy. So, if you capture all that carbon dioxide and feed it to the algae, they grow. Algae are particularly oily little buggers so after they’ve matured they can be squeezed to make oil. The leftover algae carcasses can then be converted to ethanol and used as feed for livestock.

Right now, the project’s scale is so tiny that it’ll hardly scratch the surface of the 600-megawatt facility’s 5 million tons of annual carbon dioxide emissions. But project proponents are quick to point out that when the project goes full scale in 2½ years, it should reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 60% during daylight hours and produce 20 million gallons of biodiesel per year.

Read more ....

Scientists Work With Algae To See If It Could Become The Fuel Of The Future


BORCULO, Netherlands - Set amid cornfields and cow pastures in eastern Holland is a shallow pool that is rapidly turning green with algae, harvested for animal feed, skin treatments, biodegradable plastics - and with increasing interest, biofuel.

In a warehouse about 200 kilometres southwest, a bioreactor of clear plastic tubes is producing algae in pressure-cooker fashion that its manufacturer hopes will one day power jet aircraft.

Experts say it will be years, maybe a decade, before this simplest of all plants can be efficiently processed for fuel. But when that day comes, it could go a long way toward easing the world's energy needs and responding to global warming.

Algae is the slimy stuff that clouds your home aquarium and gets tangled in your feet in a lake or ocean. It can grow almost everywhere there is water and sunlight, and under the right conditions it can double its volume within hours. Scientists and industrialists agree that the potential is huge.

Read more ....

Second-hand Smoke May Trigger Nicotine Dependence Symptoms In Kids

Second-hand smoke may trigger symptoms of nicotine dependence in children, a new study has found. (Credit: iStockphoto/Thomas Pullicino)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Sep. 30, 2008) — Parents who smoke cigarettes around their kids in cars and homes beware – second-hand smoke may trigger symptoms of nicotine dependence in children.

The findings are published in the September edition of the journal Addictive Behaviors in a joint study from nine Canadian institutions.

"Increased exposure to second-hand smoke, both in cars and homes, was associated with an increased likelihood of children reporting nicotine dependence symptoms, even though these children had never smoked," says Dr. Jennifer O'Loughlin, senior author of the study, a professor at the Université de Montréal's Department of Social and Preventive Medicine and a researcher at the Centre Hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal.

Read more ....

Earth's Air Divided By Chemical Equator

This model representation shows the chemical equator found in the study. The colors indicate the carbon monoxide concentrations on 30 January 2006; red is polluted air and blue is clean air.Credit: Glenn Carver, Cambridge University

From Live Science:

Scientists have found a temporary "chemical equator" that separates the heavily polluted air of the Northern Hemisphere from the cleaner air of the Southern Hemisphere over the Western Pacific — only it isn't where they expected to find it.

The Northern Hemisphere tends to have more polluted air than the Southern Hemisphere because it has more cities, more population in those cities on average and more industry. And each hemisphere's air masses tend to stay segregated from one another. That allows scientists to "see" chemical boundaries between the air masses of hemispheres by monitoring big changes in levels of air pollution.

These boundaries, or chemical equators, can typically be found at a "wall" created by global air circulation patterns that separates Northern and Southern hemispheric air. Called the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), it is a belt of low pressure that circles the Earth roughly at the equator.

This is a good place to look for chemical equators, or partial ones, between the two hemispheres, but it is not where Geraint Vaughan of the University of Manchester in England and his colleagues found one in the Western Pacific.

Read more ....

Mars Craft Detects Falling Snow

Artist's concept of Phoenix lander.

From The Washington Post:

Soil Tests Also Hint at Past Presence of Liquid Groundwater

Icy snow falls from high in Mars's atmosphere and may even reach the planet's surface, scientists working with NASA's Phoenix lander reported yesterday.

Laser instruments aboard the lander detected the snow in clouds about 2 1/2 miles above the surface and followed the precipitation as it fell more than a mile. But because of limitations with the technology, it was unclear whether any of the powdery stuff made it all the way to the surface.

"Nothing like this view has ever been seen on Mars," said Jim Whiteway of York University in Toronto, lead scientist for the Canadian-supplied Meteorological Station on Phoenix. "We'll be looking for signs that the snow may even reach the ground."

In addition to finding snow, the Phoenix team reported discovering material in the Martian soil that had once been dissolved in water -- clays and calcium carbonate (limestone) that could have formed only in the presence of liquid water. Although the lander's instruments earlier found water ice below Mars's polar surface and had photographed surface fog and clouds, it has found nothing like liquid water on the surface.

Read more ....

Why Your Flight Got Canceled

This post is not necessarily a "science post", but it is one of my pet peeves .... so .....

Why Your Flight Got Canceled -- Popsci

Last year, U.S. airlines canceled 21,000 flights. Or rather, a small cadre of guys canceled 21,000 flights. Every gate agent reports up the ladder at a given airline to a set of command-center managers. We spoke with a few of the people who make the big decisions to learn what factors influence whether they cancel a flight.

Number one is no surprise: the weather. Here we present the other four. Knowing them won’t get your plane moving, but it will make for conversation the next time you’re stranded at the airport bar.

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The Five Diseases You Should Worry About

Click To Enlarge

A Primer To The Next Population-Threatening Oandemic -- Popsci

Last May, scientists met in Geneva, Switzerland, to update the World Health Organization’s plans for pandemic preparedness. It looks like a crisis could arrive sooner rather than later. Thanks to climate change and drug resistance, a handful of deadly organisms are spreading across the globe; some are poised to make a comeback in the U.S. after decades of absence. Growth in international travel and increasing urbanization around the world are sure to make this century’s inevitable pandemic much worse, and experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say we’re not at all prepared for what’s to come. But although bird flu has gotten most of the press (it’s still a threat to those in North America, as birds regularly migrate here from areas in Asia where the virus is firmly entrenched), here are five other diseases that deserve your attention.

Read more .....

Grid Of 100,000 Computers Heralds New Internet Dawn

A network of supercomputers called the Grid will allow information to be downloaded quicker than ever. Tasks that took hours will now take seconds

From The Times Online:

A network of 100,000 computers providing the greatest data processing capacity yet unleashed has been created to cope with information pouring from the world’s largest machine.

The Grid is the latest evolution of the internet and the world wide web and computer scientists will announce on Friday that it is ready to be connected to the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

It is designed for schemes where huge quantities of data need crunching, such as large research and engineering projects. The Grid has the kind of power required to download movies in seconds, and the ability to make high-definition video phone calls for the same price as a local call. More importantly, it should help to narrow the search for cures for diseases. However, it is unlikely to be directly available to most internet users until telecoms providers build the fibre-optic network required to use it.

The Grid allows scientists at CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, to get access to the unemployed processing power of thousands of computers in 33 countries to deal with the data created by the LHC.

Read more ....

Smallest Extrasolar Planet Found

From Science-News:

The hunt for true “Earth-like” planets is heated, with many participants eagerly searching, hoping to be the first to find one. We are not there yet, but getting very close.

At the American Astronomical Society (AAS) researcher David Bennett announced the finding of an extrasolar planet called MOA-2007-BLG-192Lb. It’s located 3,000 light-years away from Earth and has three times the mass of our planet. The lightest extrasolar planet discovered weighed in at five-Earth masses and was discovered in April.

The host planet’s star is anywhere from 3,000 to 1 million times fainter than our sun so the planet may be colder than Pluto, but based upon the findings in this discovery astrophysicists suggest MOA-2007-BLG-192Lb could have a thick atmosphere that blankets the planet by trapping in heat. They also go on to theorize this planet may also be covered with a deep ocean.

Once the Kepler Mission is under way (NASA mission to hunt for Earth sized planets. Kepler will launch in February 2009) news like this will occur much more often and bring many exciting possibilities with it.

Will September Be The Month The Sun Truly Transitions To Cycle 24?

Solar cycle 23 as seen from SOHO - click for larger image

From Watts Up With That?

Below is a note forwarded to me by John Sumption from Jan Janssens. For those who do not know him, Jan runs a very comphrehensive solar tracking website here.

Jan included the caveat:

This topic’s sure to start another heated discussion on the solar blogs

So I’m happy to oblige by posting it here. Jansen makes some good points about the possible first month that cylce 24 spots exceed cycle 23 spots. But when you are in a deep minimum like this one, it is hard to pinpoint the transition, because next month may bring the reverse condition. He writes:

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Mars Lander Finds Minerals Suggesting Past Water

This photo released by NASA shows the edge of a solar panel on NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander, right, in a trench on the surface of Mars, where a sample of soil was taken by the lander. NASA announced Monday, Sept. 29, 2008, that the spacecraft discovered two minerals in the Martian soil that suggest interaction with water in the past. (AP Photo/NASA, JPL-Caltech)

From Yahoo News/AP:

LOS ANGELES - NASA's Phoenix spacecraft has discovered evidence of past water at its Martian landing site and spotted falling snow for the first time, scientists reported Monday. Soil experiments revealed the presence of two minerals known to be formed in liquid water. Scientists identified the minerals as calcium carbonate, found in limestone and chalk, and sheet silicate.

But exactly how that happened remains a mystery.

"It's really kind of all up in the air," said William Boynton, a mission scientist at the University of Arizona at Tucson.

A laser aboard the Phoenix recently detected snow falling from clouds more than two miles above its home in the northern arctic plains. The snow disappeared before reaching the ground.

Phoenix landed in the Martian arctic plains in May on a three-month mission to study whether the environment could be friendly to microbial life. One of its biggest discoveries so far is confirming the presence of ice on the planet.

Read more ....

NASA Delays Shuttle Mission to Hubble Telescope

The Hubble Space Telescope in a file image.


NASA has delayed the last shuttle mission to the Hubble Space Telescope until early 2009 in order to repair a broken device that is blocking the orbital observatory from sending its iconic images of the cosmos back to Earth, agency officials said late Monday.

Seven astronauts were training to launch toward Hubble aboard the shuttle Atlantis on Oct. 14 on mission to extend the space telescope's life through at least 2013, but the unexpected failure of a vital data relay system on Saturday will add months of delay to their spaceflight.

"I think it's very obvious that Oct. 14 is off the table," NASA's space shuttle program manager John Shannon told reporters.

NASA announced Monday that a device known as the Side A Science Data Formatter failed, apparently for good, late Saturday, leaving the otherwise healthy Hubble with no means of relaying data and observations to scientists back on Earth. The electronics box failed after 18 years in service since Hubble launched in April 1990.

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Gifted Children: How to Bring Out Their Potential

From Scientific American:

Contrary to what many people believe, highly intelligent children are not necessarily destined for academic success. In fact, so-called gifted students may fail to do well because they are unusually smart. Ensuring that a gifted child reaches his or her potential requires an understanding of what can go wrong and how to satisfy the unusual learning requirements of extremely bright young people.

One common problem gifted kids face is that they, and those around them, place too much importance on being smart. Such an emphasis can breed a belief that bright people do not have to work hard to do well. Although smart kids may not need to work hard in the lower grades, when the work is easy, they may struggle and perform poorly when the work gets harder because they do not make the effort to learn. In some cases, they may not know how to study, having never done it before. In others, they simply cannot accept the fact that some tasks require effort [see “The Secret to Raising Smart Kids,” by Carol S. Dweck; Scientific American Mind, December 2007/January 2008].

Read more ....

The 2008 Smart List: 15 People the Next President Should Listen To

From Wired News:

Dear President _________,
Congratulations! Now brace yourself for an avalanche of advice — from the 21 people in your Cabinet, from dozens of advisory councils, hundreds of members of Congress, thousands of lobbyists and pundits, and millions of voters. Everyone's got an opinion on what needs to be done. But the policies that emerge from such groupthink tend to be weird mashups of conflicting interests or warmed-over slabs of conventional wisdom. Enough of that. The country needs fresh directions and crisp action plans on intractable issues like climate change, energy, security, and defense. To help shape your thinking, we've come up with a Smart List of 15 Wired people with big ideas about how to fix the things that need fixing. Hail to the new chief — and please listen up.

Read the list of 15 ....

The Snore Wars

From Time Magazine:

I have always been happy that I'm not a snorer — or at least I was until recently, when my wife told me otherwise. After a few days of adamant denials, I decided to place a tape recorder on the bedside table. When I hit play the next morning, I was surprised to hear a rhythmic, rumbling noise that was enough to disturb my wife's sleep. In my case, the problem was transient, caused by a recent bout of allergies and sinus trouble. When my breathing cleared up, so did the snoring. Yet for millions of other couples out there, snoring is a cause not just of health worries but also of marital woes.

According to a recent study, nearly 1 out of 4 people married to a snorer will eventually be driven out of the bedroom rather than spend another night battling for sleep. Sometimes even that's not enough. "I see a lot of patients whose spouses can't just go to another room. They have to escape to a whole other area of the house," says Dr. Marc Kayem, medical director of the Snoring and Apnea Center of California, in Los Angeles.

Read more ....