Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Historic Beginnings Of The Space Arms Race Part Two

From Space War:

he Soviet government was set to adopt the Polyot-Kosmos anti-satellite -- ASAT -- weapons system after Kosmos-252 successfully destroyed the first spacecraft in orbit on Nov. 1, 1968, and after successful subsequent launches.

However, in 1972 the Soviet Union and the United States signed the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty -- SALT-I -- and the Anti-Ballistic Missile -- ABM -- Treaty, which also covered ASAT systems.

Depending on the pace of bilateral talks, the ASAT test program was either mothballed or resumed. The ASAT system was eventually adopted and subsequently upgraded.

In 1976 the Soviet Union began to launch second-generation satellite interceptors, featuring new target-acquisition and homing systems, first installed aboard Kosmos-814. Flying along a lower orbit, the latter quickly overtook the target satellite, accelerated and found itself less than 1,000 meters from the "victim."

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Physics The Next President Needs To Know

From Wired:

Physics may be the furthest thing from the minds of the presidential candidates right now, but a solid grasp of the science behind some of the latest headlines will be critical for the winner.

Physics has a history of intersecting with politics in ways both large and small, from the creation of the atomic bomb to nuclear meltdowns to terrorist methods. And now, with more specialized, high-tech issues to tackle than ever before, it is increasingly important that world leaders have an understanding of the underlying scientific concepts.

But that’s not necessarily the case, says UC Berkeley physicist Richard Muller, author of the book Physics for Future Presidents. For example, he argues that some terrorist threats, like dirty bombs, are overrated, while others, the low-tech stuff like natural gas bombs, receive little attention.

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Ancient Cave Yields Clues to Chinese History

From Live Science:

WASHINGTON (AP) — A stalagmite rising from the floor of a cave in China is providing clues to the end of several dynasties in Chinese history.

Slowly built from the minerals in dripping water over 1,810 years, chemicals in the stone tell a tale of strong and weak cycles of the monsoon, the life-giving rains that water crops to feed millions of people.

Dry periods coincided with the demise of the Tang, Yuan and Ming dynasties, researchers report in Friday's edition of the journal Science.

In addition, the team led by Pingzhong Zhang of Lanzhou University in China noted a change in the cycles around 1960 which they said may indicate that greenhouse gases released by human activities have become the dominant influence on the monsoon.

The Wanxiang Cave is in Gansu Province, a region where 80 percent of the rainfall occurs between May and September.

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Products (And Toys) From The Future

The link to the video is HERE.

How Anesthesia Knocks You Out

From Live Science:

During surgery, anesthesia immobilizes a person while putting them in a sleep-like state where there is no awareness and no pain.

But after more than a century of "going under," we still do not fully understand how anesthesia works, said Anthony Hudetz in the Department of Anesthesiology at the Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

New research by Hudetz and his colleagues now suggests that anesthesia somehow disrupts information connections in the mind and perhaps inactivates two regions at the back of the brain.

Here's how it works: Think of each bit of information coming into the brain as the side of a die. Then, the first step in consciousness would be to identify which number or state turns up once you throw the die. But you can't identify that number without access to the other faces of the die. That's because every experience, every perception (or number in this example) is connected to all the others. When the faces of the die somehow become disconnected, a person would fall unconscious.

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Giant Simulation Could Solve Mystery Of 'Dark Matter'

A map of the dark matter in six halos similar to that of the Milky Way. The brighter colours correspond to regions of higher density and indicate where most of the gamma rays are expected to be produced. (Credit: Image courtesy of Durham University)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Nov. 6, 2008) — The search for a mysterious substance which makes up most of the Universe could soon be at an end, according to new research.

Dark matter is believed to account for 85 per cent of the Universe's mass but has remained invisible to telescopes since scientists inferred its existence from its gravitational effects more than 75 years ago.

Now the international Virgo Consortium, a team of scientists including cosmologists at Durham University, has used a massive computer simulation showing the evolution of a galaxy like the Milky Way to "see" gamma-rays given off by dark matter.

They say their findings, published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature (Thursday, November 6), could help NASA's Fermi Telescope in its search for the dark matter and open a new chapter in our understanding of the Universe.

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Energy Agency Warns Of 6°C Rise In Temperatures

From New Scientist Environment:

Our voracious appetite for energy is potentially putting the planet on the path for a 6°C rise in temperatures – which is far more than what climate specialists say the environment can cope with.

In its 2008 World Energy Outlook, the International Energy Agency says the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit will have to set ambitious carbon-limiting caps and that the energy sector must play a key role in making this possible.

European policy-makers have set themselves the goal of keeping temperature rises below 2°C relative to what they were before the industrial revolution. Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its forecasts of how rises between 1°C and 5°C would change the environment (see table in Climate hange is here now, says major report). A rise of 6°C was off the charts.

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How Disease Can Wipe Out An Entire Species

Photo by Patricia Wynne
This illustration shows the rat species Rattus nativitatis, which went extinct on Australia's Christmas Island by 1908. In a new study of museum DNA samples, researchers report that the likely cause of the animals' extinction was an introduced disease.

From The MSNBC:

Rat study presents first evidence for extinction due to ‘hyperdisease’.

Disease can wipe out an entire species, reveals a new study on rats native to Australia's Christmas Island that fell prey to "hyperdisease conditions" caused by a pathogen that led to the rodents' extinction.

The study, published in the latest issue of the journal PLoS One, presents the first evidence for extinction of an animal entirely because of disease.

The researchers say it's possible for any animal species, including humans, to die out in a similar fashion, although a complete eradication of Homo sapiens would be unlikely.

"I can certainly imagine local population or even citywide 'extinction,' or population crashes due to introduced pathogens under a condition where you have a pathogen that can spread like the flu and has the pathogenicity of the 1918 flu or Ebola viruses," co-author Alex Greenwood, assistant professor of biological sciences at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., told Discovery News.

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Friday, November 7, 2008

Fountain of Youth: Drug Restores Muscles

From Live Science:

A daily dose of an investigational medication has been found to restore muscle mass in the arms and legs of older adults and improve some of their biochemistry to levels found in healthy young adults, suggesting an anti-frailty drug has been found.

The drug, called MK-677, was evaluated for its safety and effectiveness in a study that showed the drug restored 20 percent of muscle mass loss associated with normal aging. In fact, levels of growth hormone (GH) and of insulin-like growth factor I (IGF- I) in healthy seniors who took the drug increased to the levels found in healthy young adults, said Michael O. Thorner, a professor of internal medicine and neurosurgery at the University of Virginia Health System.

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Gobekli Tepe: The World’s First Temple?

From The Smithsonian:

Predating Stonehenge by 6,000 years, Turkey's stunning Gobekli Tepe upends the conventional view of the rise of civilization.

Six miles from Urfa, an ancient city in southeastern Turkey, Klaus Schmidt has made one of the most startling archaeological discoveries of our time: massive carved stones about 11,000 years old, crafted and arranged by prehistoric people who had not yet developed metal tools or even pottery. The megaliths predate Stonehenge by some 6,000 years. The place is called Gobekli Tepe, and Schmidt, a German archaeologist who has been working here more than a decade, is convinced it's the site of the world's oldest temple.

"Guten Morgen," he says at 5:20 a.m. when his van picks me up at my hotel in Urfa. Thirty minutes later, the van reaches the foot of a grassy hill and parks next to strands of barbed wire. We follow a knot of workmen up the hill to rectangular pits shaded by a corrugated steel roof—the main excavation site. In the pits, standing stones, or pillars, are arranged in circles. Beyond, on the hillside, are four other rings of partially excavated pillars. Each ring has a roughly similar layout: in the center are two large stone T-shaped pillars encircled by slightly smaller stones facing inward. The tallest pillars tower 16 feet and, Schmidt says, weigh between seven and ten tons. As we walk among them, I see that some are blank, while others are elaborately carved: foxes, lions, scorpions and vultures abound, twisting and crawling on the pillars' broad sides.

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Want a Free Education? A Guide to Free Online Video Lectures

U Tube --

Want a free education? A brief guide to the burgeoning world of online video lectures.

RESERVE ANOTHER LAUREL for Edward O. Wilson, the Pellegrino University Professor emeritus at Harvard, serial Pulitzer winner, and prominent intellectual: online celebrity.

Forget Charlie Rose - Wilson has Google for a soapbox. Amid the amateur-hour piffle of YouTube "talent" and skateboarding dogs, the famed botanist stands in bold relief, with more than 500 Google video search results to his credit: Interviews ranging far afield of TV shows to a spate of appearances on several Web-only video platforms such as,,, and the online home of the Technology Entertainment Design (TED) conference.

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Has New Physics Been Found At The Ageing Tevatron?

The Collider Detector at Fermilab has found hints of new physics
(Image: Fermilab)

From The New Scientist Space:

While engineers at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) race to fix its teething problems and start looking for new particles, its ageing predecessor is refusing go silently into the night.

Last week, physicists announced that the Tevatron particle accelerator at Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois, has produced particles that they are unable to explain. Could it be a sign of new physics?

The Collider Detector at Fermilab (CDF) monitors the particles that spew from collisions between protons and anti-protons, which are accelerated and smashed head-on by the Tevatron. The collision occurs inside the 1.5-centimetre-wide "beam pipe" that confines the protons and anti-protons, and the particles created are tracked by surrounding layers of electronics.

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World’s Largest Concentrated Solar Project in Spain

From Clean Technica:

Earlier today, concentrated solar company SolFocus announced that it has signed a deal to install over 10 MW of its systems in Spain for EMPE Solar. Upon its completion in 2010, the $103 million, multi-site project will be the largest concentrated solar deployment in the world. SolFocus estimates that the project will be able to meet the domestic energy requirements of 40,000 homes.

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Japanese Clone Mouse From Frozen Cell, Aim For Mammoths

This handout picture, released by Japan natural science research center shows a cloned mouse (left) created with a new technology by using a frozen dead cell of a mouse. (AFP/Teruhiko Wakayama)

From Breitbart/AFP:

Japanese scientists said Tuesday they had created a mouse from a dead cell frozen for 16 years, taking a step in the long impossible dream of bringing back extinct animals such as mammoths.

Scientists at the government-backed research institute Riken used the dead cell of a mouse that had been preserved at minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit) -- a temperature similar to frozen ground.

The scientists hope that the first-of-a-kind research will pave the way to restore extinct animals such as the mammoth.

The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States.

The scientists extracted a cell nucleus from an organ of the dead mouse and planted it into an egg of another mouse which was alive, leading to the birth of the cloned mouse, the researchers said.

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Massive Waves A Mystery At Maine Harbor

Owen Johnson (left) and his father, Peter, repaired damage yesterday done by waves in Boothbay Harbor. (Joel Page for The Boston Globe)


Dockworker Marcy Ingall saw a giant wave in the distance last Tuesday afternoon and stopped in her tracks. It was an hour before low tide in Maine's Boothbay Harbor, yet without warning, the muddy harbor floor suddenly filled with rushing, swirling water.

In 15 minutes, the water rose 12 feet, then receded. And then it happened again. It occurred three times, she said, each time ripping apart docks and splitting wooden pilings.

"It was bizarre," said Ingall, a lifelong resident of the area. "Everybody was like, 'Oh my God, is this the end?' " It was not the apocalypse, but it was a rare phenomenon, one that has baffled researchers. The National Weather Service said ocean levels rapidly rose in Boothbay, Southport, and Bristol in a matter of minutes around 3 p.m. on Oct. 28 to the surprise of ocean watchers. Exactly what caused the rogue waves remains unknown.

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James Bond Gadgets

Photos: Top 15 James Bond Gadgets
-- Computer Weekly

There is a definite bond between secret agents and gadgets. From the Geiger counter in Dr No, James Bond has been bedecked with hardware that has ranged from the plausible to the fantastical. The current Bond (Daniel Craig, starring in The Quantum of Solace) is a relative technophobe, which is a pity because the Bond devices have always stirred the imagination. Here are our top fifteen gadgets that are either real or have perhaps inspired technological innovation.

What do you think? E-mail us your favourite Bond gadget or even let us know if we've missed any. Send your comments to with 'Bond gadgets' in the headline.

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How Geoengineering Works: 5 Big Plans to Stop Global Warming

(Photograph by Tarko Sudiarno/AFP/Getty Images)

From Popular Science:

At first blush, geoengineering sounds like outrageous junk science. Surely there's an easier solution to the problem of global warming than technologically altering Earth's atmosphere, its cloud formations and even outer space. But when compared with the alternative—drastically reducing the amount of carbon dioxide blanketing the planet by changing the behavior of billions of people and thousands of industries, not to mention slow-moving governments—some scientists are beginning to take the seemingly outrageous schemes a lot more seriously. Here are the mechanics behind five plans to jury-rig the Earth.

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Thursday, November 6, 2008

The First Few Minutes After Death

EEG During Cardiac Arrest (Image From Popsci)

From Popsci:

A three-year study will explore the nature of death and consciousness

After countless accounts of near-death experiences, dating as far back as ancient Greece, science is now taking serious steps forward to explore the nature of the phenomenon. A new project aims to determine whether the experience is a physiological event or evidence that the human consciousness is far more complicated than we ever believed.

The Human Consciousness Project sets out to explore the nature of human consciousness and the brain. The first step of the project is the "Awareness During Resuscitation" study, a collaboration among more than 25 medical centers throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe.

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Grapes Slow Development Of High Blood Pressure In Rats

From Future Pundit:

The researchers studied the effect of regular table grapes (a blend of green, red, and black grapes) that were mixed into the rat diet in a powdered form, as part of either a high- or low-salt diet. They performed many comparisons between the rats consuming the test diet and the control rats receiving no grape powder — including some that received a mild dose of a common blood-pressure drug. All the rats were from a research breed that develops high blood pressure when fed a salty diet.

In all, after 18 weeks, the rats that received the grape-enriched diet powder had lower blood pressure, better heart function, reduced inflammation throughout their bodies, and fewer signs of heart muscle damage than the rats that ate the same salty diet but didn't receive grapes. The rats that received the blood-pressure medicine, hydrazine, along with a salty diet also had lower blood pressure, but their hearts were not protected from damage as they were in the grape-fed group.

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Bacteria On The Move, Eating Their Fill

The rippling pattern of a swarm of M. xanthus moving over their prey. John R. Kirby/University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine

From The New York Times:

Bacteria move in mysterious ways. Myxococcus xanthus, for example, a harmless soil microbe, forms rippling swarms by the millions as it devours other microbes as prey.

This organized back-and-forth behavior “was thought to occur particularly in response to starvation,” said John R. Kirby, a microbiologist at the University of Iowa. But Dr. Kirby, James E. Berleman and others at Iowa report in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that M. xanthus acts this way in response to food, and uses chemical sensing and signaling pathways to do so.

Directed bacterial movement that is controlled in this way is known as chemotaxis, and has been observed in individual microbes as well as in colonies that organize into biofilms or other structures. Because M. xanthus uses chemotaxis-like pathways to move over its prey, the researchers call this behavior predataxis. (A video is at

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DARPA Developing A Device That Stops Internal Bleeding Using Ultrasounds

(Image from Device Daily)

From Device Daily:

When I hear about an interesting technology project, I’m always thinking that DARPA is involved as there guys always come up with the best of things which is absolutely normal due to the enormous funding coming from tax payers. DARPA’s latest project is called DBAC, or Deep Bleeder Acoustic Coagulation, and it consists of a device which stops internal bleeding almost instantaneously.

Internal bleeding is very dangerous and it’s very important to cure soldiers wounded in battle, but also for people who suffer car or other accidents. Irreversible hemorrhagic shock can be caused by internal bleeding which can kill soldiers, and now DARPA is trying to develop a portable device that will detect and stop the bleeding using ultrasounds.

DARPA has contracted the University of Washington’s Centre for Industrial and Medical Ultrasound and Texas A&M to develop the DBAC cuff which should be semi-automatic and any soldier with minimal training will be able to operate it.

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My Comment: This is going to save a lot of lives. The focus of this tech is on soldiers, but its applications can be used everywhere.

Commercial Production of Chickens Takes Toll on Genetic Diversity

From New York Times:

To the connoisseur of fine food, chicken may seem depressingly monotonous no matter how it’s prepared. But scientists worry about a more basic degree of sameness — a lack of genetic diversity in the birds that are raised for meat and eggs.

An analysis of commercial chicken populations around the world by William M. Muir of Purdue University and colleagues has revealed the extent of the problem. Fifty percent or more of the diversity of ancestral breeds has been lost, they report in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. That could make chicken production more susceptible to disease outbreaks for which resistant genes have disappeared.

Sampling about 2,500 birds, the researchers looked at several thousand instances of genetic variation and used that to estimate what a hypothetical ancestral population looked like genetically. “Then we were able to say what is missing” in commercial birds, Dr. Muir said.

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15 New Technologies That Will Change Everything


The Next Big Thing? The memristor, a microscopic component that can "remember" electrical states even when turned off. It's expected to be far cheaper and faster than flash storage. A theoretical concept since 1971, it has now been built in labs and is already starting to revolutionize everything we know about computing, possibly making flash memory, RAM, and even hard drives obsolete within a decade.

The memristor is just one of the incredible technological advances sending shock waves through the world of computing. Other innovations in the works are more down-to-earth, but they also carry watershed significance. From the technologies that finally make paperless offices a reality to those that deliver wireless power, these advances should make your humble PC a far different beast come the turn of the decade.

In the following sections, we outline the basics of 15 upcoming technologies, with predictions on what may come of them. Some are breathing down our necks; some advances are still just out of reach. And all have to be reckoned with.

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Mexico City's 'Water Monster' Nears Extinction

Sep. 27: An Axolotl salamander, or Ambystoma mexicanum, swims in a tank
at the Chapultepec Zoo in Mexico City.

From FOX News:

MEXICO CITY — Beneath the tourist gondolas in the remains of a great Aztec lake lives a creature that resembles a monster — and a Muppet — with its slimy tail, plumage-like gills and mouth that curls into an odd smile.

The axolotl, also known as the "water monster" and the "Mexican walking fish," was a key part of Aztec legend and diet. Against all odds, it survived until now amid Mexico City's urban sprawl in the polluted canals of Lake Xochimilco, now a Venice-style destination for revelers poled along by Mexican gondoliers, or trajineros, in brightly painted party boats.

But scientists are racing to save the foot-long salamander from extinction, a victim of the draining of its lake habitat and deteriorating water quality. In what may be the final blow, nonnative fish introduced into the canals are eating its lunch — and its babies.

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Consuming Small Amounts Of Caffeine When Pregnant May Affect The Growth Of An Unborn Child

From E! Science News:

Consuming caffeine at any time during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of fetal growth restriction (low birth weight), according to research published on today. Although some previous studies have also shown this, this BMJ study additionally shows that any amount and type of caffeine intake—from tea, cola, chocolate, cocoa, and some prescription drugs, as well as coffee—is linked with relatively slower fetal growth.

Dr Justin Konje and colleagues from the University of Leicester as well as collaborators from the University of Leeds, examined the association of maternal caffeine intake and individual caffeine metabolism on birth weight.

From two large teaching hospitals in the UK between September 2003 and June 2006 the authors recruited 2645 low risk pregnant women of average age 30, who were between 8-12 weeks pregnant. They used a caffeine assessment tool (CAT) to record caffeine intake from all possible dietary sources in the four weeks before and throughout pregnancy, and also used a saliva sample test to calculate individual caffeine metabolism

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

How Clean Coal Could Power the Future

Satellite imagery shows where carbon dioxide is being emitted or absorbed, measured here in 2003. Reds show sources; blues, absorption. Credit: NASA

From Live Science:

Editor's Note: Each Wednesday LiveScience examines the viability of emerging energy technologies — the power of the future.

As the U.S. election season draws to a close, one of the biggest environmental issues has been "clean coal." Both candidates for president have come out in support of it.

Some environmentalists say it is an oxymoron, while others feel it is a viable option for using abundant coal reserves wisely. The debate is complicated by the fact that clean coal is not well-defined.

"It's an abused term that people use to justify whatever they are doing," said John Thompson, director of the Clean Air Task Force's Coal Transition Project.

For some, clean coal means reducing the pollutants that cause smog and acid rain, but for others this is not enough: They say coal remains dirty as long as it continues to release the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

"I am an environmentalist, and the reality is that coal is killing the planet as we are using it," Thompson told LiveScience.

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Tasmanian Devils Could Be Gone in 20 Years

Tasmanian devils have for some years been plagued with a mysterious and lethal cancer.
Credit: stock.xchng (Photo: Live Science)

From Live Science:

An Australian zoologist is leading a national project to help save the endangered Tasmanian devil from extinction, a situation that could arise within the next 20 years, experts predict.

Jeremy Austin will lead the project, which has received $168,000 Australian (Australian dollars currently are about two-thirds the value of U.S. dollars) from that nation's government. The research will rely on genetic procedures to examine the impact of an infectious cancer, devil facial tumor disease, on Tasmanian devils.

Tasmanian devils became extinct on the Australian mainland about 400 years ago and are now found only on the Australian island state of Tasmania. Unlike Tasmanian tigers, devils survived initial human impacts following European colonization but in the past decade their numbers have fallen drastically.

"We have lost over half our devils in the past 10 years, with an estimated population of 20,000 to 50,000 mature devils left. Extinction within the next 20 years is a real possibility unless we find a vaccine, eradicate the disease and establish captive colonies," Austin said.

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Earth Getting 'Overcrowded'

From IOL:

Humankind will need two planets by 2030 to keep up with its demands for goods and to make space for surging populations.

This is according to the influential WWF Living Planet Report 2008, which warns that humanity is consuming the resources provided by Earth's natural systems much too fast.

Earth, it declares, is facing a looming ecological credit crunch and the current financial recession pales in comparison.

"Reckless consumption is endangering our future prosperity," writes James Leape, the director general of WWF International, in the report.

"Yet our demands continue to escalate, driven by the relentless growth in human population and individual consumption. Our global footprint now exceeds the world's capacity to regenerate by 30 percent. If our demands on the planet continue at the same rate, by the mid-2030s, we'll need the equivalent of two planets to maintain our lifestyles."

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Even A Little Caffeine May Harm Fetus, Study Finds

From Yahoo/Reuters:

LONDON (Reuters) – Pregnant women who consume caffeine -- even about a cup of coffee daily -- are at higher risk of giving birth to an underweight baby, researchers said on Monday.

The new findings published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) also linked any source of caffeine, including that from tea, cola, chocolate and some prescription drugs, to relatively slower fetal growth.

The findings are the latest in mounting evidence indicating the amount of caffeine a person consumes may directly impact one's health, especially when pregnant.

In January, U.S. researchers found that pregnant women who drink two or more cups of coffee a day are at twice the risk of having a miscarriage as those women who avoid caffeine.

Babies born underweight are more likely to develop a range of health conditions when they grow older, including high blood pressure, diabetes and heart problems.

Women who drank one to two cups of coffee daily, or between 100-199 milligrams, had a 20 percent increased risk of having a baby of low birth weight, the study found. This was compared to women who consumed less than 100 milligrams daily.

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What Fills The Space Left In Wells When Oil Is Extracted From The Ground?

Fire Down Below: Oil wells dip 30,000 feet below ground -- still too shallow to hit magma:
Justin Guariglia/Getty Images

From Popsci:

You might guess that magma or tumbling rocks fill the void, but the truth is much more prosaic: water. Petroleum deposits, which are naturally mixed with water and gas, lie thousands of feet below the earth’s surface in layers of porous rock, typically sandstone or limestone. (Contrary to what you might imagine, drilling for oil is more like sucking oil from a sponge with a straw than from a giant pool of liquid.) At such depths, these liquids are under very high pressure. Pump petroleum out, and the pressure in the well drops. Water in the surrounding rock, which is also packed under high pressure, then pushes its way into this low-pressure pocket until the pressure reaches equilibrium. “It’s just like digging a hole at the beach, where water in the sand around it flows into the lower pressure zone of the hole,” explains Chris Liner, a professor of petroleum seismology at the University of Houston.

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China Carbon Emissions Might Double By 2030

From Future Pundit:

China's increase in carbon dioxide emissions over the next 20 years will exceed current US emissions.

By 2020, China's burning of fossil fuels could annually emit carbon dioxide equal in mass to 2.5 billion metric tonnes of pure carbon and up to 2.9 billion tonnes, depending on varying scenarios for development and technology, the new report states. By 2030, those annual emissions may reach 3.1 billion tonnes a year and up to 4.0 billion tonnes.

That compares with global carbon emissions of about 8.5 billion tonnes in 2007.

...The U.S. Oak Ridge National Laboratory estimated that the United States emitted about 1.6 billion tonnes of carbon in 2007, compared to China's 1.8 billion tonnes.

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Could A Hyperactive Hamster Power Your House? All The Answers To The World's Most Pointless Questions

From Daily Mail:

They're those baffling questions that pop into the brain when you've nothing better to think about, and only the appliance of a large helping of science can answer. Now a new book by the experts at New Scientist magazine solves some of the most intriguing queries sent in by readers...

Why does bottled water from a 3,000-year-old source - such as a spring, mountain or glacier - carry a 'best before' date only two years in the future?

The water has passed through layers of rock that have different effects on it. Some minerals dissolve in the water, supposedly improving both its taste and health-giving properties.

The minute pores in the rocks that the water passes through also act as a filtration system, improving purity by removing larger molecules such as biological contaminants. As soon as the pure water emerges from the aquifer it has filtered through, however, it is vulnerable to contamination again.

The 'best before' dates on bottles are based on the amount of time the manufacturer believes the water will remain without measurable levels of contamination due to the lack of completely sterile conditions in their bottling plants.

If the water is stored in a plastic bottle, the date will also relate to contamination from the constituents of the plastic, which may change the taste of the water.

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Flying On A Wing And ... Paper

New York artist Klara Hobza and the Public Art Fund bring the New Millennium Paper Airplane Contest to Queens on November 1. (Photo from The Scientific American)

From Scientific American:

Paper airplane contest awards the flimsy fliers that are a cut above the rest

The centerpiece of classroom mischief will come into its own this weekend when amateur aviation engineers test the mettle of their paper planes at the non-for-profit Public Art Fund's New Millennium Paper Airplane Contest in New York City.

As many as 200 participants are expected to battle it out for such titles as the paper creation that flies the farthest, is the most beautiful—and even the one that puts in a performance deemed the most "spectacular failure." The rules are simple: paper must be 8.5 by 11 inches (21.6 by 28 centimeters) or smaller; cutting and gluing is okay, but stapling is not. Tiny planes folded from gum wrappers make the cut, as do graceful bird-inspired crafts, angular jets, and tiny mothlike fliers.

Competitors will be arranged in heats at the event, which is being held Saturday from 1 P.M. to 5 P.M. in the New York Hall of Science in Queens. Wannabe contenders who can't make it to NYC are invited to send their paper planes for designated proxies to fly. And, yes, the winners will get trophies.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

More Methane A Mystery

Methane Molecule (Image from Wikimedia)

From News 24:

Washington - Levels of climate-warming methane - a greenhouse gas 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide - rose abruptly in the earth's atmosphere last year, and scientists who reported the change don't know why it occurred.

Methane, the primary component of natural gas, has more than doubled in the atmosphere since pre-industrial times, but stayed largely stable over the last decade or so before rising in 2007, researchers said on Wednesday.

This stability led scientists to believe that the emissions of methane, from natural sources like cows, sheep and wetlands, as well as from human activities like coal and gas production, were balanced by the destruction of methane in the atmosphere.

But that balance was upset starting early last year, releasing millions of metric tonnes more methane into the air, the scientists wrote in the Geophysical Research Letters.

"The thing that's really surprising is that it's coming after this period of very level emissions," said Matthew Rigby of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

"The worry is that we just don't understand the methane cycle very well."

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Science Advice For The Next President

From The New York Times:

Nearly 180 organizations representing the interdependent arenas of science, academia and business are urging the next president to appoint a White House science adviser by Inauguration Day and give the position cabinet-level rank. In letters sent Thursday to Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama, the organizations said scientific and technical advice was needed now more than ever given the importance of the entwined issues of energy security and climate change, mounting issues and opportunities in medicine, and problems in science education and American innovation and competitiveness. The letters reflect broadening concern that the White House has not been sufficiently stressing science.

It is “essential that you be prepared to quickly appoint a science adviser who is a nationally respected leader with the appropriate scientific, management and policy skills necessary for this critically important role,” the letters said.

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Nielsen Finds Strong TV-Internet Usage Overlap

From MSNBC/Reuters:

Study is good news for companies who fear Net is siphoning viewers

LOS ANGELES - Nearly a third of all U.S. household Internet activity takes place while the user watches television, suggesting new and old media often share rather than compete for attention, the Nielsen Company said in a report on Friday.

In fact, the study found that heavy Internet users are among the most dedicated of TV viewers, spending more than 250 minutes a day in front of the tube, compared with the 220 minutes of television watched by people who never go online.

The findings would appear to be good news for broadcasters who worry the Internet is siphoning away viewers, and with them advertising dollars. It also helps explain the apparent paradox between rising TV viewership overall and the growing popularity of new media.

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Blame The Human Brain For Bad Calls In Tennis

A ball landing on the baseline is captured by the "CBS Mac-Cam" named in honor of John McEnroe, who complained about official calls. Photo from CBS

From The L.A. Times:

Researchers studying Wimbledon games find humans are hard-wired to misjudge balls when hit close to the line.

UC Davis scientists have confirmed what tennis great John McEnroe so colorfully alleged on the court: Wimbledon referees make bad calls when judging balls hit close to the line.

It's not a matter of incompetence, as McEnroe frequently asserted. Rather, the human brain is hard-wired to misread the true position of fast-moving objects, including tennis balls whizzing by at more than 100 mph.

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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. (From Discovery)

From Discovery:

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.

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Anti-Cancer Beer Under Development

From Cosmos:

NEW YORK: American students have designed a genetically modified yeast that can ferment beer and produces the chemical resveratrol, known to offer some protection against developing cancer.

Resveratrol is a chemical found in high concentrations in grapes, berries, peanuts and pistachio nuts. It has received increasing attention since 1992, when researchers suggested that red wine containing large amounts of resveratrol might have cardiovascular health benefits.

Antioxidant effects

Mouse studies have shown that resveratrol has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, and that it may stop several different stages of cancer cell development. While the benefits of resveratrol in humans remain unclear, it has become a popular health supplement.

The yeast which has been genetically modified to produce the chemical, currently contains unpalatable chemical markers, however, and is yet to be brewed into beer.

It is being developed for a student genetic engineering competition to be judged in Massachusetts, next week. Previous entries in the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition have included both bananas and bacterial cultures engineered to smell of mint.

The idea for the healthier beer, dubbed 'Biobeer', started out as a joke. "You could say that the inspiration for the project came from a student who really enjoys his beer," said Thomas Segall-Shapiro, a member of the team behind the project.

The team are mostly undergraduate students, based at Rice University in Houston, Texas, some of whom aren't yet old enough to legally drink alcohol in the U.S., where the limit is set at 21.

Segall-Shapiro, said that one problem with health supplements containing resveratrol is that many contain an oxidised form of the molecule, which is unlikely to be fully activated, and therefore effective, when consumed.

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My Comment: I will drink to that.

Mud Eruption 'Caused By Drilling'

Lusi has been erupting for two years, leaving 30,000 people homeless
(Photo from BBC News)

From The BBC News:

The eruption of the Lusi mud volcano in Indonesia was caused by drilling for oil and gas, a meeting of 74 leading geologists has concluded.

Lusi erupted in May 2006 and continues to spew out boiling mud, displacing around 30,000 people in East Java.

Drilling firm Lapindo Brantas denies a nearby well was the trigger, blaming an earthquake 280km (174 miles) away.

Around 10,000 families who have lost their homes are awaiting compensation, which could run as high as $70m (£43m).

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Some Math Stories

Big Primes, Small Numbers, Sarah Palin and the Financial Crisis -- ABC News

Mathematics Figures in Recent News Stories

This month's "Who's Counting" will be an assortment drawn from mathematically flavored stories in the news.

A 13-Million-Digit Prime Number

The first concerns a number that easily swamps even the billions and trillions cited in recent financial stories. We know a lot about the existence of millions of subprime mortgages, but little media attention has been devoted to the existence of a just-discovered 13-million digit prime number. (A prime number, recall, is one divisible only by itself and 1. The numbers 3, 19 and 37 are prime, whereas 6, 33 and 49 are not.)

Mathematicians at UCLA won the $100,000 prize offered by the Electronic Frontier Foundation for discovering this humongously large prime number. It is a Mersenne prime number, a prime number of the form 2^P-1, where P is also prime. In this case P = 43,112,609, and the 13-million digit number is 2^43,112,609 - 1.

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Monday, November 3, 2008

Amid Economic Crisis, Wind Power Spins More Slowly

In this file photo, a wind turbine is assembled at Energy Northwest's Nine Canyon Wind Project near Finley, Wash. (Jackie Johnston/AP Photo)

From ABC News Science:

Amid Economic Crisis, Wind Power Spins More Slowly.

On Michigan's "thumb," a broad peninsula whose gusts make it one of the best places in the U.S. to site a wind farm, Noble Environmental Power has erected 30 huge wind turbines -- 16 more will finish the job.

But the project was hit by a financial gale last month when key underwriter Lehman Brothers went bankrupt. With Lehman out, Noble was forced to sell in a hurry. Three more Lehman-financed wind-power projects in New York are also in doubt, according to published reports.

America's credit crisis is shaking up not only smaller alternative energy sectors like solar and geothermal, but also the largest renewable electricity sector -- wind power.

Read more ....

The Good News and Bad News About MS

Multiple sclerosis attacks the myelin sheath that protects the nerve fiber.
(From How Stuff Works)

From Slate:

A miracle drug carries some serious risks.

Problem: Multiple sclerosis is a quite common and often terrible disease that most frequently attacks young adults—especially young women. There are two phases to MS—an early one and a late one. The early phase, in which the disease waxes and wanes, is caused when the body becomes allergic to its own tissues—specifically, white matter located in the brain and spinal cord. The inflammation caused by this allergy (which attacks the cells that form a protective layer surrounding the long, cablelike structures in nerve cells responsible for carrying electrical signals) causes the early symptoms (like visual disturbances or unsteadiness in walking) and primes the body for the second phase, in which irreversible damage is done to nerve cells, causing marked weakness, fatigue, loss of balance and coordination, bladder and bowel problems, and even changes in thinking and depression. There is a lot of evidence that if the early phase is managed in ways that decrease symptoms, the late phase, during which most of the irreversible damage happens, can be delayed and perhaps even prevented.

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Biologists Discover Motor Protein That Rewinds DNA

The enzyme HARP "rewinds" sections of the double-stranded DNA molecule that become unwound, like the tangled ribbons from a cassette tape in DNA "bubbles" that prevent critical genes from being expressed. (Credit: James Kadonaga, UCSD)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Nov. 2, 2008) — Two biologists at the University of California, San Diego have discovered the first of a new class of cellular motor proteins that “rewind” sections of the double-stranded DNA molecule that become unwound, like the tangled ribbons from a cassette tape, in “bubbles” that prevent critical genes from being expressed.

“When your DNA gets stuck in the unwound position, your cells are in big trouble, and in humans, that ultimately leads to death” said Jim Kadonaga, a professor of biology at UCSD who headed the study. “What we discovered is the enzyme that fixes this problem.”

The discovery represents the first time scientists have identified a motor protein specifically designed to prevent the accumulation of bubbles of unwound DNA, which occurs when DNA strands become improperly unwound in certain locations along the molecule.

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Magnetic Portals Connect Sun And Earth

An artist's concept of Earth's magnetic field connecting to the sun's -- a.k.a. a "flux transfer event" -- with a spacecraft on hand to measure particles and fields. (Credit: Image courtesy of Science@NASA)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Nov. 2, 2008) — During the time it takes you to read this article, something will happen high overhead that until recently many scientists didn't believe in. A magnetic portal will open, linking Earth to the sun 93 million miles away. Tons of high-energy particles may flow through the opening before it closes again, around the time you reach the end of the page.

"It's called a flux transfer event or 'FTE,'" says space physicist David Sibeck of the Goddard Space Flight Center. "Ten years ago I was pretty sure they didn't exist, but now the evidence is incontrovertible."

Indeed, today Sibeck is telling an international assembly of space physicists at the 2008 Plasma Workshop in Huntsville, Alabama, that FTEs are not just common, but possibly twice as common as anyone had ever imagined.

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India's Lunar Probe Sends Its First Pictures From Space

From World News/RIA Novosti:

NEW DELHI, November 1 (RIA Novosti) - NEW DELHI, November 1 (RIA Novosti) - India has received the first space photographs from its unmanned spacecraft on a mission to the Moon, the Indian Space Research Organization said on Saturday.

Chandrayaan-1 was launched into space by the Indian-built PSLV-C11 rocket on October 22, and is set to enter the Moon's orbit on November 8. Chandrayaan means "Moon Craft" in ancient Sanskrit.

On-board cameras took pictures of the Earth from distances of 9,000 km (5,594 miles) and 70,000 km (43,505 miles).

India's first lunar mission signifies the country's breakthrough into the club of space powers, making it the third Asian country after Japan and China to carry out a lunar flight.

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Men 'Better Than Women At Detecting Infidelity'

From The Independent:

Men are better at detecting infidelity than women but tend to suspect their female partners even when they are faithful, a study has found.

Scientists interviewed 203 heterosexual couples about their infidelities in confidential questionnaires and found that although men were more likely to have cheated on their wives or girlfriends, with 29 per cent admitting to at least one affair compared to 18.5 per cent of the women, they were also more likely to detect infidelity.

Women made correct inferences about their partner's infidelity about 80 per cent of the time but men scored significantly better – they were right about 94 per cent of the time, according to Paul Andrews of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

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Neil Armstrong Donating His Papers To Purdue

From AP:

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Former astronaut Neil Armstrong has agreed to donate personal papers dating from the start of his flight career to his alma mater, Purdue University.

Armstrong's papers, boxes of which have already begun arriving at Purdue, will be an inspiration for students and invaluable for researchers, said Sammie Morris, assistant professor of library science and head of Purdue Libraries' Archives and Special Collections.

"For researchers, it's going to be a boon. No one has been able to research these papers or study them," Morris said.

Purdue President France A. Cordova, who became NASA's first female chief scientist, plans to announce Armstrong's donation Saturday before the Purdue-Michigan football game.

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Hubble Back In Business: Pair Of Gravitationally Interacting Galaxies In Full View

Perfect "10" due to the chance alignment of two galaxies. The left-most galaxy, or the "one" in this image, is relatively undisturbed, apart from a smooth ring of starlight. It appears nearly edge-on to our line of sight. The right-most galaxy, the "zero" of the pair, exhibits a clumpy, blue ring of intense star formation. (Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Livio (STScI))

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Nov. 1, 2008) — The Hubble Space Telescope is back in business with a snapshot of the fascinating galaxy pair Arp 147.

Just a couple of days after the orbiting observatory was brought back online, Hubble aimed its prime working camera, the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2), at a particularly intriguing target, a pair of gravitationally interacting galaxies called Arp 147.

The image demonstrated that the camera is working exactly as it was before going offline, thereby scoring a "perfect 10" both for performance and beauty.

And literally "10" for appearance too, due to the chance alignment of the two galaxies. The left-most galaxy, or the "one" in this image, is relatively undisturbed, apart from a smooth ring of starlight. It appears nearly edge-on to our line of sight. The right-most galaxy, the "zero" of the pair, exhibits a clumpy, blue ring of intense star formation.

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Dogs Can Read Emotion In Human Faces

From The Telegraph:

Dogs are the only animals that can read emotion in faces much like humans, cementing their position as man's best friend, claim scientists.

Research findings suggest that, like an understanding best friend, they can see at a glance if we are happy, sad, pleased or angry.

When humans look at a new face their eyes tend to wander left, falling on the right hand side of the person's face first.

This "left gaze bias" only occurs when we encounter faces and does not apply any other time, such as when inspecting animals or inanimate objects.

A possible reason for the tendency is that the right side of the human face is better at expressing emotional state.

Researchers at the University of Lincoln have now shown that pet dogs also exhibit "left gaze bias", but only when looking at human faces. No other animal has been known to display this behaviour before.

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Enceladus South Pole

From Science News:

The Cassini spacecraft has been surveying Saturn and its moons since 2004. On October 31, Cassini obtained high-resolution images of the southern hemisphere of Enceladus when it flew within 171 kilometers of the moon.

Enceladus is famous for the icy plumes it spews from “tiger stripes” — linear fractures at its south polar region. Two of the new images that NASA released on November 1 are close-ups of some of those fractures, while the third, shown here, is a portrait of the moon’s southern hemisphere.

Cassini passed much closer, within 25 km, of Enceladus on October 9, but during that encounter, the craft’s cameras weren’t taking pictures at closest approach. More details on the October 31 flyby will be available the week of November 3. — Ron Cowen
Credit: Space Science Institute, JPL/NASA

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Once Improbable James Bond Villains Now Close To Real Thing, Spy Researcher Says

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Oct. 31, 2008) — Professor Richard J. Aldrich, Professor of International Security at University of Warwick, who has just been awarded a £447,000 grant from UK's Art and Humanities Research Council to examine 'Landscapes of Secrecy' says that the once improbable seeming villains in the Bond movies have become close to the real threats face faced by modern security services.

He says: "Throughout the Cold War, Bond's villains looked improbable, but now life imitates art. Indeed, in the early 1990s as the Cold War came to a sudden end, real MI6 officers worried about redundancy. Their boss, the real "M", Sir Colin McColl reassured them that the end of the Cold War would be followed by a Hot Peace. He was quite right. Within a few years they had joined with special forces to battle drug barons in South America and to track down war criminals in the former Yugoslavia."

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