Saturday, December 6, 2008

10 Years Of The International Space Station

Astronaut Piers J. Sellers moves along a truss on the International Space Station, while space shuttle Discovery is docked in July 2006. Photo: NASA

From Wired:

Floating 190 miles above the Earth's surface, the extraplanetary crash pad known as the International Space Station careens through the sky at an average of over 17,000 miles per hour, making almost 16 Earth orbits a day.

Set for completion in 2011, it's been 10 years since construction first began on the ISS. The final version will double its current capacity of three residents to six and provide incalculable contributions to science. In honor of its 10th birthday, we've assembled some of our favorite photos from the space station's lifetime. Click through the gallery for a glimpse at one of the world's most impressive sci-fi realities.

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Particle Collider To Restart In Summer Of 2009

At Cern, the Large Hadron Collider could recreate conditions that last prevailed when the universe was less than a trillionth of a second old. Above is one of the collider's massive particle detectors, called the Compact Muon Solenoid. Valerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times

From The CBC:

The world's biggest particle collider will resume operation in the summer of 2009 with a new warning system to prevent further breakdowns, its operators said Friday.

The Large Hadron Collider, which lies underground near the Franco-Swiss border, was shut down after nine days of operation on Sept. 19 when the meltdown of a small electrical connection caused the release of a large amount of liquid helium into the 27-kilometre long tunnel that houses the experiment.

The collider's operators, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known by the French acronym CERN, released its report Friday on the mishap, confirming that "a faulty electrical connection between two of the accelerator's magnets" was the cause of the initial malfunction.

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Extraordinary IImmune Cells May Hold The Key To Managing HIV

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Dec. 5, 2008) — People who manage to control HIV on their own are providing scientists with valuable information about how the immune system eliminates virus-infected cells. A new study identifies specific characteristics of the immune cells that successfully destroy HIV-infected cells and may drive strategies for developing the next generation of HIV vaccines and therapies.

Long-term nonprogressors (LTNPs) or elite controllers are rare individuals who are able to contain HIV for many years without any type of antiretroviral therapy. "Direct and indirect lines of evidence in humans and animal models suggest that virus-specific immune cells, called CD8+ T cells, mediate this control. However, the mechanisms by which this occurs remain unknown," says senior study author Dr. Mark Connors from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease in Bethesda, Maryland.

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Friday, December 5, 2008

Polar Dinosaurs Endured Cold Dark Winters

The skull of a polar dinosaur, Saurolophus osborni, displayed on Dec. 3, 2008, by Phil Bell (left) and Eric Snively (right) of the University of Alberta. Some Saurolophus specimens have been found in polar regions. Credit: Jamie Hanlon, University of Alberta

From Live Science:

Polar dinosaurs such as the 3.3-ton duckbill Edmontosaurus are thought by some paleontologists to have been champion migrators to avoid the cold, dark season. But a study now claims that most of these beasts preferred to stick closer to home despite potentially deadly winter weather.

While some polar dinosaurs may have migrated, their treks were much shorter than previously thought, University of Alberta researchers Phil Bell and Eric Snively conclude from a recent review of past research on the animals and their habitat. Polar dinosaurs include hadrosaurs, ceratopsians, tyrannosaurs, troodontids, hypsilophodontids, ankylosaurs, prosauropods, sauropods, ornithomimids and oviraptorosaurs.

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Fringe Pushes Probability To The Limit As Characters Walk Through Walls

(Photograph by Craig Blankenhorn/FOX)
From Popular Mechanics:

Fringe's 10th episode, "Safe," opens with a team of burglars who rob banks without the tedious trouble of picking locks. Instead, the intrepid thieves change the molecular structure of the wall allowing them to pass through the wall. Unfortunately, one member doesn't make it out in time and the wall resolidifies around him. The next day the Fringe team shows up to find a dead man stuck inside a wall. We talked to experts about the real quantum mechanical phenomenon of tunneling to find out just how unlikely the scenario is.

Can people walk through walls?
Fringe loves to toe the line between science fact and fiction, but this time its tilted far over onto the fiction side. In the episode, mad scientist Walter Bishop concludes that the thieves would've needed cutting-edge knowledge of quantum physics, plus more money than many banks' assets combined, to make it through the wall. However, the closest thing to a scientific explanation Bishop offers is a lab demonstration with rice—when he puts an action figure on top of a bowl of uncooked rice, it can stand on top, but when he shakes the back it sinks to the bottom.

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One Man's 3-Year Experiment In Eating Organic Food - All The Time

(Photo: Stuart Bradford)

Form International Herald Tribune:

Fruits, vegetables and animals can be 100 percent organic. What about people? In a fascinating experiment - on himself - Dr. Alan Greene, a pediatrician and author in Danville, California, decided to find out. For the last three years, Greene has eaten nothing but organic foods, whether he's cooking at home, dining out or snacking on the road.

He chose three years as a goal because that was the amount of time it took to have a breeding animal certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While food growers comply with organic regulations every day, Greene wondered whether a person could meet the same standards.

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The First Aid: Iceman May Have Dressed His Own Wounds

The 5,000-year-old Tyrolean iceman may have used bog moss as a prehistoric wound dressing, according to a new analysis of his body's remains.

From Wired Science:

Suffering from an arrow wound and a deep cut to the right hand, the iceman, known as Ötzi, may have engaged in some ancient first aid using the moss, a well-known wound dressing used as recently as the 20th century.

"If he knew of the useful properties of bog mosses, as seems entirely plausible, then he may have gathered some to staunch the wound or wounds," wrote James Dickson, an archaeobotanist at the University of Glasgow, and his team in the journal Vegetation History and Archaeobotany. "Tiny pieces could well have stuck to the blood drying on his fingers and then he accidentally ingested some of them when next eating meat or bread as we know he did during his last few days."

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Blast From The Past: Astronomers Resurrect 16th-Century Supernova

Multi-band image of the remnant of Tycho's Supernova, composed from images taken with the 3.5 m telescope of Calar Alto and the camera Omega 2000 (infrared), the Spitzer space telescope (infrared) and the Chandra space telescope (X-rays). (Credit: Image courtesy of Calar Alto Observatory)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Dec. 4, 2008) — Astronomers have used light echoes as a time machine to unearth secrets of one of the most influential events in the history of astronomy –a stellar explosion witnessed on Earth more than 400 years ago.

By using a Galactic cloud as interstellar “mirror” an international team led by Oliver Krause of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany has now re-analysed the same light seen on Earth in the 16th century and have, for the first time, determined the exact type of the explosion that happened. Calar Alto Observatory has contributed to this discovery and these results were published in the scientific journal Nature, 4th December 2008 issue.

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Happiness: Contagious As The Flu

From Live Science:

In a good mood? Your neighbor, her friends and even her friends' friends should thank you – you're likely infecting them with your cheer. Happiness spreads through social networks about as easily as the flu, according to a new study.

The researchers analyzed data compiled from nearly 5,000 interconnected people over a 20-year period. After establishing a baseline mood for each participant, the team found that when one person became happier, it rippled through the network, increasing the likelihood that others would become happier too.

Sadness, thankfully, is not nearly as infectious. An attack of the blues creates a much smaller ripple than a case of giddiness, said head researcher James Fowler of the University of California, San Diego.

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Lost City Of 'Cloud People' Found In Peru

Buildings carved into the Pachallama peak mountainside in Peru, by Chachapoya

From the Telegraph:

Archaeologists have discovered a lost city carved into the Andes Mountains by the mysterious Chachapoya tribe.

The settlement covers some 12 acres and is perched on a mountainside in the remote Jamalca district of Utcubamba province in the northern jungles of Peru's Amazon.

The buildings found on the Pachallama peak are in remarkably good condition, estimated to be over 1,000 years old and comprised of the traditional round stone houses built by the Chachapoya, the 'Cloud Forest People'.

The area is completely overgrown with the jungle now covering much of the settlement but explorers found the walls of the buildings and rock paintings on a cliff face.

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Nasa Delays Its Next Mars Mission

From the BBC:

The US space agency (Nasa) has delayed the launch of its Mars Science Laboratory rover mission.

MSL was scheduled to fly next year, but the mission has been dogged by testing and hardware problems.

The rover's launch would now be postponed until late 2011, agency officials said.

The mission is using innovative technologies to explore whether microbial life could ever have existed on the Red Planet.

The delay could add $400m to the price tag, which is likely to top $2bn.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Scientists Find Key To Keeping Killer T Cells In Prime Shape For Fighting Infection, Cancer

From Physorg.:

Like tuning a violin to produce strong, elegant notes, researchers at The Wistar Institute have found multiple receptors on the outside of the body's killer immune system cells which they believe can be selectively targeted to keep the cells in superb infection- and disease-fighting condition.

In a study published online November 30 in Nature Immunology, the researchers describe their discovery of seven different receptors on T cells that can tamp down immune responses during a prolonged battle with an infectious pathogen or against developing cancer.

Chronic over-stimulation of the immune system can lead to poor control of infections and cancer, so the results explain why it is that these key immune cells gradually become "exhausted" and ineffective over time, says the study's lead author, E. John Wherry, Ph.D., an assistant professor in Wistar's Immunology Program.

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Harvard Team Unlocks Clues to Genes that Control Longevity

From The Daily Galaxy:

Harvard Medical School Researchers have used a single compound to increase the lifespan of obese mice, and found that the drug reversed nearly all of the changes in gene expression patterns found in mice on high calorie diets--some of which are associated with diabetes, heart disease, and other significant diseases related to obesity.

The research, led by investigators at Harvard Medical School and the National Institute on Aging, is the first time that the small molecule resveratrol has been shown to offer survival benefits in a mammal.

"Mice are much closer evolutionarily to humans than any previous model organism treated by this molecule, which offers hope that similar impacts might be seen in humans without negative side-effects," says co-senior author David Sinclair, HMS associate professor of pathology, and co-director of the Paul F. Glenn Labs for the Biological Mechanisms of Aging.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Check Out Tonight's Sky After Sunset; It May Be Like The One The Wise Men Saw

(The Associated Press)

From Greenville Online:

If you haven't seen the southwestern sky just after sunset, and even if you have, feast your eyes tonight -- it may be the same spectacular show that drew the wise men to Bethlehem in search of a newborn king.

From our vantage point on the planet, it's a glowing triangle of Venus, Jupiter and the waxing crescent moon.

"Tonight would be another good night to get out," said astronomer Doug Gegen of the Roper Mountain Science Center.

The weather forecast is mostly clear.

"The fun part of this is it's all a naked eye kind of thing so everybody can enjoy it," Gegen said.

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Monday, December 1, 2008

Strange Experiments Create Body-Swapping Experiences

Experimental set-up to induce illusory ownership of an artificial body (left panel). The participant could see the mannequin's body from the perspective of the mannequin's head (right panel). Credit: Valeria Petkova, H. Henrik Ehrsson, PLoS ONE

From Live Science:

Scientists now have manipulated people’s perceptions to make them think they have swapped bodies with another human or even a "humanoid body," experiencing the sensations that the other would feel and giving the illusion of being inside the other's body.

The bizarre achievement hearkens to body swaps portrayed on numerous TV shows and movies such as "Freaky Friday" and "All of Me."

In real life, the cognitive neuroscientists at the Swedish medical university Karolinska Institutet succeeded in making subjects perceive the bodies of mannequins and other people as their own. The illusion also worked even when the two people differed in appearance or were of different sexes. It also worked whether the subject was immobile or was making voluntary movements. However, it was not possible to fool the subjects into identifying with a non-humanoid object, such as a chair or a large block.

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2,700-Year-Old Marijuana Found In Chinese Tomb

From The Toronto Star:

Stash seems to have been intended for buried shaman to use in the afterlife

OTTAWA – Researchers say they have located the world's oldest stash of marijuana, in a tomb in a remote part of China.

The cache of cannabis is about 2,700 years old and was clearly ``cultivated for psychoactive purposes," rather than as fibre for clothing or as food, says a research paper in the Journal of Experimental Botany.

The 789 grams of dried cannabis was buried alongside a light-haired, blue-eyed Caucasian man, likely a shaman of the Gushi culture, near Turpan in northwestern China.

The extremely dry conditions and alkaline soil acted as preservatives, allowing a team of scientists to carefully analyze the stash, which still looked green though it had lost its distinctive odour.

"To our knowledge, these investigations provide the oldest documentation of cannabis as a pharmacologically active agent," says the newly published paper, whose lead author was American neurologist Dr. Ethan B. Russo.

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