Saturday, February 7, 2009

America’s Wind Corridor

New trade: A Clipper crew assembles the hub of a wind turbine in an Iowa factory
that formerly built printing presses. (Mark Clayton)

From The Christian Science Monitor:

From Minnesota to Texas, wind power sweeps new jobs into old-tech towns.

Cedar Rapids and Estherville, Iowa

Hundreds of workers lost their jobs after the Rockwell-Goss printing press factory closed here in Cedar Rapids in 2001. The hulking empty shell sat idle on the outskirts of the city for four years.

But that was before wind power blew into town, bringing thousands of clean-tech manufacturing jobs to Iowa and the Midwest.

In many cases, the new industry is setting up shop in defunct heavy manufacturing plants, bringing new economic life and vitality to old settings.

Bob Loyd, who once oversaw crews manufacturing the last printing presses to leave the old Rockwell-Goss factory, now manages workers assembling the newest generation of giant wind turbines in the same building.

Read more ....

Curing Baldness Could Be A Step To Organ Regeneration

Deep roots. For a hair follicle to begin a new phase of growth, an elusive group of cells called the hair germ (bright red) must be activated. This progression of images shows that the hair germ begins proliferating (green) before other cells do, suggesting a two-step mechanism.

From The Next Big Future:

Research from Rockefeller University reveals that a structure at the base of each strand of hair, the hair follicle, uses a two-step mechanism to activate its stem cells and order them to divide. The mechanism provides insights into how repositories of stem cells may be organized in other body tissues for the purpose of supporting organ regeneration.

So understanding and fixing the stem cells and the replenishment of stem cells in hair follicles could lead to a baldness cure and also to human regeneration of organs.

Read more ....

Large Hadron Collider To Be Re-Started Later This Year

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 Telegraph:

Scientists are expected to make a decision within days on when the Large Hadron Collider, the broken "Big Bang" machine, will be re-started.

The LHC suffered a catastrophic malfunction soon after being switched on last September amid a fanfare of publicity.

Officials and scientists from the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), which built the £4billion device, have been in talks this week about when to re-start it.

They have also discussed what caused the LHC to grind to a halt and how to prevent similar incidents happening in the future.

CERN have now said that they hope the machine will be up and running in time to deliver the first batch of data for experts to begin experiments by the end of the year.

A final decision on the exact date to switch it back on is expected following a meeting on Monday.

Read more ....

Nearly A Billion People Go Hungry Every Day – Can GM Crops Help Feed Them?

A protester vandalises a GM crop trial. Qualms about GM food may be a luxury Africa can ill afford. Photograph: Barry Batchelor/PA

From The Guardian:

Leading scientists met last night to debate whether genetically modified crops can feed the world's hungry. The issue, it seems, is as divisive as ever

The Science Museum in London is running an exhibition until the end of May called Future Foods. It attempts to give a balanced view of the pros and cons of genetically modified crops, which are back on the agenda in the light of fears over a major food crisis. It does a good job too.

As part of the exhibition, the museum organised a debate at the Dana Centre to give the public a chance to debate GM crops and the food crisis with some key scientists. I chaired the event and picked up on a few issues I thought might be worth sharing.

Read more ....

Study: How Money Can Buy Happiness

From Live Science:

You've heard many times that money can't buy happiness. That probably never stopped you from shopping. But a new study suggests you might want to spend more on doing things and less on stuff.

Buying life experiences rather than material possessions leads to greater happiness for both the consumer and those around them, researchers announced today at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.

A meal out or tickets to the theater result in increased well-being because they satisfy higher order needs, specifically the need for social connectedness and vitality — a feeling of being alive, the researchers say.

"These findings support an extension of basic need theory, where purchases that increase psychological need satisfaction will produce the greatest well-being," said Ryan Howell, assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University.

Read more ....

"Noah's Flood" Not Rooted In Reality, After All?

Some believe that Noah's Ark came to rest on Turkey's Mount Ararat, above. But the ancient flood that some scientists think gave rise to the Noah story may not have been quite so biblical in proportion, a January 2009 study says. Photograph by Melik Baghdasaryan/AP/Photolur

From National Geographic:

The ancient flood that some scientists think gave rise to the Noah story may not have been quite so biblical in proportion, a new study says.

Researchers generally agree that, during a warming period about 9,400 years ago, an onrush of seawater from the Mediterranean spurred a connection with the Black Sea, then a largely freshwater lake. That flood turned the lake into a rapidly rising sea.

A previous theory said the Black Sea rose up to 195 feet (60 meters), possibly burying villages and spawning the tale of Noah's flood and other inundation folklore.

But the new study—largely focused on relatively undisturbed underwater fossils—suggests a rise of no more than 30 feet (10 meters).

Read more ....

Neanderthal Genome To Be Unveiled

Image: Neanderthals are the closest hominid relatives of modern humans. The two species co-existed in Europe and western Asia as late as 30,000 years ago. (American Museum of Natural History). (Image from Berkley Lab)

From Nature:

Draft sequence opens window on human relatives.

The entire genome of a 38,000-year-old Neanderthal has been sequenced by a team of scientists in Germany. The group is already extracting DNA from other ancient Neanderthal bones and hopes that the genomes will allow an unprecedented comparison between modern humans and their closest evolutionary relative.

The three-year project, which cost about €5 million (US$6.4 million), was carried out at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. Project leader Svante Pääbo will announce the results of the preliminary genomic analysis at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Chicago, Illinois, which starts on 12 February.

Read more ....

Are We Bringing Our Germs to Mars?

From Time Magazine:

Star Trek fans know it as the Prime Directive: that there should be no interference with the internal affairs of other civilizations. (Given the frequency with which captains Kirk, Picard, et. al., violate it, however, the Prime Directive seems more like a Prime Suggestion.) Since human beings have yet to explore very far beyond Earth, pondering an interplanetary noninterference policy of our own may seem a little premature — at least until we've mastered warp drives and phasers.

But in fact, such a directive already exists in some form — the international Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which governs the legal framework for activities in space. Best known for banning governments from putting nuclear weapons into orbit, the treaty also requires space-faring nations to avoid "harmful contamination" of other worlds while exploring the solar system. Human beings have yet to set foot on other planets, so the risk today comes from bacteria that can hitch a ride on unmanned spacecraft like NASA's Mars Phoenix Lander, which arrived on the red planet's surface last May.

Read more ....

Friday, February 6, 2009

Plumbing The Planet: The 5 Biggest Projects Taking On The World's Water Supply

An Israeli employee inspects membranes that extract salt from the water at Ashkelon's seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) plant, south of Tel Aviv. Ashkelon's desalination plant is one the biggest in the world. (Photograph by David Buimovitch/AFP/Getty Images)

From Popular Mechanics:

As nations and regions all over the globe face too much polluted water and too little fresh water, they are turning to some of the largest, most technologically complex projects the world has ever seen. Here, we have compiled five of the biggest and most ambitious. But are they big enough to keep the taps flowing?

The dire statistics are well-known, but deserve repeating: One in six people in the world live without regular access to clean water, according to the United Nations, and one in three lacks access to decent sanitation. Even countries with good water supplies—like the U.S.—will experience trouble sustaining them in the near future, as panelists discussed at the water roundtable PM hosted last fall.

Read more ....

TED: Change The World With $100,000

From CBS News:

CBS Technology correspondent Daniel Sieberg is reporting from the TED conference in Long Beach, Calif.

The concept is simple; it's the execution that requires global collaboration and commitment. Not to mention some serious cash. Along those lines, TED prizes are an award of $100,000 given to a select group of recipients looking to change the world with one idea or "wish." They can use the money as they choose, and at a ceremony here Thursday night the three winners expressed their hopes for the future.

Jill Tarter, founder of SETI or the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Life, encouraged TED attendees and others to imagine ways that every "earthling" could contribute to a growing database of life beyond our planet or our "cosmic company." In real terms, Tarter wants kids to be more involved in the experience of searching or studying the universe, and improve the way information from space is stored and shared with astronomers. Her announcement was preceded by a taped introduction from Sir Richard Branson, who is actively pursuing commercial space travel through his Virgin Galactic project.

Read more ....

Top 5 Most Extreme Exoplanets

From Wired Science:

Searching for planets beyond our solar system is a bit like playing Goldilocks — we keep looking for that one that will be just right to host life. While astronomers haven't found a perfect fit yet, they have found plenty that are too big, too hot, too cold, too dense, too close to their star, or too distant.

The first exoplanet discovery was in 1988, though it was controversial at the time and wasn't officially confirmed until 2003. Over the years, more than 330 extrasolar planets have been found, nearly all of them using indirect methods such as detecting the wobble of a star due to the gravitational pull of an orbiting planet or the slight dimming of the star's light as a planet passes in front of it.

Read more ....

Welcome To Cyber-London (But You Can Only Visit The Posh Bits)

The virtual recreation of London includes Big Ben
though curiously not the Houses of Parliament

From The Daily Mail:

A virtual recreation of London is attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors every day.

An online version of the capital, complete with Big Ben and Marble Arch, is featured on the 3D virtual world website Second Life.

The online city boasts five areas of London - Mayfair, Kensington, Chelsea, Westminster and Hyde Park. All of which are known for the high price of their property and exclusive eateries.

Users who sign up free of charge can create an avatar of themselves, and can walk or fly around while interacting with other users via text or speech.

From today, it will be available from the home page on Second Life, which was set up in 2003 and now has two million avatars.

Read more ....

Key Insights Into How New Species Emerge

A female apple maggot fly, Rhagoletis pomonella, implants an egg into an apple. Wasps that attack the flies and eat their larvae appear to be changing on a genetic level in the same way that the flies themselves appear to be changing genetically. (Credit: Rob Oakleaf)

From Science Digest:

ScienceDaily (Feb. 6, 2009) — A team of researchers are reporting the ongoing emergence of a new species of fruit fly--and the sequential development of a new species of wasp--in the February 6 issue of the journal Science.

Jeff Feder, a University of Notre Dame biologist, and his colleagues say the introduction of apples to America almost 400 years ago ultimately may have changed the behavior of a fruit fly, leading to its modification and the subsequent modification of a parasitic wasp that feeds on it.

The result is a chain reaction of biodiversity where the modification of one species triggers the sequential modification of a second, dependent species.

"It's a nice demonstration of how the initial speciation of one organism opens up an opportunity for another species in the ecosystem to speciate in kind," said Feder. "Biodiversity in essence is the source for new biodiversity."

Read more ....

Man Runs 7 Marathons In 5 Days

Photo: Richard Donovan in action in the Himalayan 100 mile race. From RTE.

From Live Science:

Richard Donovan, a 42-year-old from Ireland, is as close to being the real Forrest Gump as anyone.

Running to raise money for a charity called Goal, which works to ease suffering in Darfur, Donovan ran seven marathons on seven continents. If you know your continents, you know that's a challenge. More: He did it in 5 days.

The order of Donovan's insanity, which began Jan. 31:

* Antarctica
* Cape Town, South Africa
* Dubai
* London
* Toronto
* Santiago, Chile
* Sydney, Australia

"What he did was staggering, quite remarkable," John O'Shea, the charity's founder and chief executive, told the news agency AFP.

To prove he's human, Donovan took airline flights between destinations. To keep it real, he flew coach.

Read more ....

My Comment: As someone who has run a few marathons in his life .... I am impressed.

Reading This Will Change Your Brain

Jeff Sherman / Taxi-Getty Images

From Newsweek:

A leading neuroscientist says processing digital information can rewire your circuits. But is it evolution?

Is technology changing our brains? A new study by UCLA neuroscientist Gary Small adds to a growing body of research that says it is. And according to Small's new book, "iBRAIN: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind," a dramatic shift in how we gather information and communicate with one another has touched off an era of rapid evolution that may ultimately change the human brain as we know it. "Perhaps not since early man first discovered how to use a tool has the human brain been affected so quickly and so dramatically," he writes. "As the brain evolves and shifts its focus towards new technological skills, it drifts away from fundamental social skills."

Read more ....

How You Can Tell A Person's Class: The Wealthy Fidget, Yawn And Generally Appear Rude, Say Researchers

Photo: Body language: Those from wealthier backgrounds tend to appear more distracted than their less well off counterparts

From The Daily Mail:

Fidgeting, yawning and doodling have long been equated with boredom.

But if the person you're speaking to isn't paying attention, they may be rich rather than rude, a study has revealed.

It found that posh people fidget more - making it possible to tell a person's social class by their body language.

Researchers said those born into privilege may feel less of a need to make a good impression and so are more inclined to fidget when talking to other people.

In contrast, their poorer counterparts are anxious to make a good impression and so are more attentive.

Read more ....

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Science Found Wanting In U.S. Crime Labs

Robert Stinson, convicted of murder in 1984, was freed from a Wisconsin prison last month after tests found that bite-mark and DNA analysis did not match evidence from the crime scene. (Andy Manis/Associated Press)

From International Herald Tribune:

Forensic evidence that has helped convict thousands of defendants for nearly a century is often the product of shoddy scientific practices that should be upgraded and standardized, according to accounts of a draft report by the nation's pre-eminent scientific research group.

The report by the National Academy of Sciences is to be released this month. People who have seen it say it is a sweeping critique of many forensic methods that the police and prosecutors rely on, including fingerprinting, firearms identification and analysis of bite marks, blood spatter, hair and handwriting.

Read more ....

Britannica 2.0 Shows Wikipedia How It's Done

From Times Online:

The 240-year-old Encyclopaedia Britannica has taken a giant leap into the world of Web 2.0 with the launch of a new online version where users can contribute and edit content.

In a move that takes it head to head with Wikipedia, new features on the Britannica site will allow users to edit and contribute articles in return for the glory of having their name attached to the submission.

However, “voyeuristic” Wikipedia fans ought not to get too excited by the changes as all submissions will undergo a strict vetting process and may or may not make the cut, according to Britannica 's president, Jorge Cauz.

“We’re not trying to be a wiki - that’s the last thing we want to be,” Mr Cauz told The Times.

Read more ....

East Asia Builds World's Largest Radio Telescope Network

Credit: Landscape photo of the Very Large Array antenna with the moon. Credit: NRAO

From China View:

SHANGHAI, Feb.1 (Xinhua) -- East Asian astronomers are building the world's largest radio telescope array to see the deep into the galaxy and black holes and more accurately determine the orbits of lunar probes such as China's Chang'e-1.

The array, called the East Asia Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) consortium, consists of 19 radio telescopes from China, Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK) that cover an area with a diameter of 6,000 kilometers from northern Japan's Hokkaido to western China's Kunming and Urumqi.

The VLBI technology is widely used in radio astronomy. It combines the observations simultaneously made by several telescopes to expand the diameter and increase magnification.

Read more

Google Sets up Online Broadband Testing Lab

Google Inc. and two nonprofit partners, on Wednesday, launched a Web site that lets consumers test their Internet connections to reveal possible interference and traffic management by service providers. (AP Photo)

From ABC News:

Google Inc. and two nonprofit partners Wednesday launched a Web site that lets consumers test their Internet connections to reveal possible interference and traffic management by service providers.

The site, Measurement Lab, addresses a need among academics who want to gather data on how Internet connections work in practice. While the workings of the core Internet "highways" are well known and standardized, it's difficult to find out what happens on the network of an Internet service provider, between the "highway" and the customer's home.

Read more ....

US Wind Power Grew By 50% In 2008 As China's Doubled

Vail Resorts said Tuesday that it would buy credits for wind power like that generated by the turbines at the Gray County Wind Farm in Kansas. Orlin Wagner/Associated Press (New York Times)

From Ars Technica:

The Global Wind Energy Council, an industry group, has totaled the past year's growth in generating capacity, and found that wind had a very good year, with US wind power having its highest annual growth ever, and China doubling its installed capacity.

Many renewable energy technologies, most notably photovoltaic, are struggling to reach what's called "grid parity," where the cost of the power they generate matches that of fossil fuel generation. One technology that's largely there is wind, as maturing turbine technology and economies of scale have made the economics of wind power quite competitive. Those economics can clearly be seen in the latest figures on the growth of the wind industry, which cover 2008. Among the milestones: wind was the largest component of Europe's growth in electric generating capacity, the US became the world's top wind energy producer, and China doubled its installed capacity in just a year—for the fourth year running.

Read more ....

Holographic Universe: Discovery Could Herald New Era In Fundamental Physics

View through one of the tubes of GEO600.
(Credit: Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics/Leibniz Universität Hannover)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Feb. 4, 2009) — Cardiff University researchers, who are part of a British-German team searching the depths of space to study gravitational waves, may have stumbled on one of the most important discoveries in physics, according to an American physicist.

Craig Hogan, a physicist at Fermilab Centre for Particle Astrophysics in Illinois is convinced that he has found proof in the data of the gravitational wave detector GEO600 of a holographic Universe – and that his ideas could explain mysterious noise in the detector data that has not been explained so far.

Read more ....

Oldest Fossil Evidence for Animals Found

From Live Science:

The oldest fossilized evidence of animals has been unearthed in Oman and reveals that tiny sea sponges were abundant 635 million years ago, long before most of the planet's other major animal groups evolved, according to a new analysis.

This early life hardly looked like us, but some of the so-called demosponges can be sizable today. Demosponges still make up 90 percent of all sponges on Earth and 100 percent of Earth's largest sponges, including barrel sponges, which can be larger than an old-style phone booth.

The ancient demosponges — probably measuring across no more than the width of a fork tine — were pinned down via fossilized steroids, called steranes, which are characteristic of the cell membranes of the sponges, rather than via direct fossils of the sponges themselves.

Read more ....

The Father Factor: How Dad's Age Increases Baby's Risk of Mental Illness

When a large study linked schizophrenia to paternal age, some researchers wondered if the root cause, rather than age, was that men who had waited had the makings of the disease themselves. Getty Images

From Scientific American:

Could becoming a father after age 40 raise the risks that your children will have a mental illness?

* It is widely recognized that a 40-year-old woman has an increased risk of bearing a child with Down syndrome. What is not known is that a 40-year-old man has the same risk of fathering a child with schizophrenia—and even higher odds of his offspring having autism. The risk of bipolar disorder appears to rise as well.
* In the past couple of decades, the number of older fathers has increased. Birth rates for men older than 40 have jumped as much as 40 percent since 1980.
* The mechanisms behind the higher risks are still being investigated, although scientists have several hypotheses that could someday lead to better therapies or possibly even cures for these mental illnesses.

When my wife, Elizabeth, was pregnant, she had a routine ultrasound exam, and I was astonished by the images. The baby’s ears, his tiny lips, the lenses of his eyes and even the feathery, fluttering valves in his heart were as crisp and clear as the muscles and tendons in a Leonardo da Vinci drawing. Months before he was born, we were already squabbling about whom he looked like. Mostly, though, we were relieved; everything seemed to be fine.

Read more ....

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Intelligent Life Could Be Thriving On 40,000 Planets

This planet, located near the centre of the Milky Way about 20,000 light years from us, is just one of the 40,000 which could be harbouring intelligent life

From Daily Mail:

Science’s quest to discover life on Mars has so far failed to find even one little green man.

But not to worry. Aliens could be alive and well on almost 40,000 other planets.

Researchers have calculated that up to 37,964 worlds in our galaxy are hospitable enough to be home to creatures at least as intelligent as ourselves.

Astrophysicist Duncan Forgan created a computer programme that collated all the data on the 330 or so planets known to man and worked out what proportion would have conditions suitable for life.

The estimate, which took into account factors such as temperature and availability of water and minerals, was then extrapolated across the Milky Way.

Three scenarios of how life could develop were also taken into account.

Read more ....

New Google Mars Reveals the Red Planet in 3-D

Mars's massive Victoria Crater is among the landmarks people can explore via high-resolution images in Google Mars 3-D, a new mode launched in February 2009 in the free mapping program Google Earth. Picture courtesy Google

From National Geographic:

Tucked into Monday's media splash for the launch of oceans in Google Earth was another, quieter announcement: A module for exploring Mars is now part of the popular 3-D mapping tool.

Users can soar through alien trenches, see through the eyes of robotic visitors, and toggle between natural color, "night vision," and rainbow-hued topographic views of the red planet.

Virtual Mars is based on pictures from the many orbiters and landers—past and present—that have been sent to study Martian landscapes.

Much of the imagery used in Google Mars 3-D is already publicly available and easy to access on sites across the Internet, noted project leader Noel Gorelick.

Read more ....

Five Years of Facebook: A Retrospective

From PC World:

It doesn't seem like five years since Facebook appeared on the scene. I was slow to join the throng--my friends list numbers only 242 of the 110 million people who have joined the site since its inception.

Facebook is less juvenile in look-and-feel than MySpace, which it has overtaken in popularity. It is also a lot cleaner, again in look-and-feel but also in content. It also lacks the sexual content that plagues MySpace.

Facebook is more generalist in approach than some other social networking sites, such as Linked-In, which seem aimed at people looking for jobs and customers instead of communicating with people they already know. If you want to exploit your friends, Linked-In seems an excellent place to do it. And they'll exploit you in return.

Read more ....

Solar Power's Next 5 Game-Changing Technologies

From The Futurist:

I have written beffore about the reduction in price of solar energy, and how each succcessive price decline would deliver a new generation of adoption. Now, we can examine some of the specfic technologies that are driving the race to affordability, and will enable solar energy to be one of the only candidate technologies to lead an economic recovery from the present downturn.

Popular Mechanics has a roundup of five new areas of innovation in harnessing energy from the Sun. All five promise to make solar energy competitive with the cheapest sources of fossil-fuel energy, and many of these five technologies could work in combination with each other. The five technologies are the following :

Read more ....

Google Offers "Latitude" To Track People

Image from CBS

From CBS News:

New, Free Software Enables You To Keep Tabs On Others' Whereabouts, And Vice Versa, Using Cell Phones, Says Natali Del Conte

(CBS) Google is releasing free software Wednesday that enables people to keep track of each other using their cell phones.

CNET got a sneak peek at it, and CNET-TV Senior Editor and Early Show contributor Natali Del Conte explained how it works on the show Tuesday.

She says "Latitude" uses GPS systems and what's called cell tower triangulation to do the job. The software seeks the closest three cell towers and, with GPS, combines the data to show where someone is.

It is designed to work on any phone with Internet capabilities, except the iPhone.

"Latitude" is being marketed as a tool that could help parents keep tabs on their children's locations, but it can be used for anyone to find anyone else, assuming permission is given.

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'Longevity Gene' Common Among People Living To 100 Years Old And Beyond

Dr. Friederike Flachsbart (left) and Professor Almut Nebel of the Kiel Institute of Clinical Molecular Biology examining the genetic samples from 100-year-old subjects. (Credit: Copyright: CAU; picture by Sandra Ogriseck)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Feb. 4, 2009) — A variation in the gene FOXO3A has a positive effect on the life expectancy of humans, and is found much more often in people living to 100 and beyond – moreover, this appears to be true worldwide.

A research group in the Faculty of Medicine at the Christian-Albrechts-University in Kiel (CAU) has now confirmed this assumption by comparing DNA samples taken from 388 German centenarians with those from 731 younger people. The results of the study appear this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences ("PNAS").

Read more

Timing of Seasons Is Changing

Image from Businessweek

From Live Science:

The Earth's seasons have shifted back in the calendar year, with the hottest and coldest days of the years now occurring almost two days earlier, a new study finds.

This shift could be the work of global warming, the researchers say.

To figure this out, scientists at the University of California, Berkeley and Harvard studied temperature data from 1850 to 2007 compiled by the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit in the United Kingdom.

They found that temperatures over land in the 100-year period between 1850 and 1950 showed a simple, natural pattern of variability, with the hottest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere landing around July 21. But from the mid-1950s onward (the period when global average temperatures began to rise), the hottest day came 1.7 days earlier.

Read more ....

Valve Concerns Delay February Space Shuttle Launch

Space shuttle Discovery atop the crawler transporter nears the end of it's 3.4 mile journey to pad 39A to prepare for the next launch at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009. Discovery is scheduled to launch on Feb. 12. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

From Yahoo News/

NASA has delayed the planned Feb. 12 launch of the space shuttle Discovery by least a week to allow extra time to evaluate vital fuel valves on the spacecraft, agency officials said late Tuesday.

Discovery was slated to launch toward the International Space Station on Feb. 12 to deliver the last set of U.S.-built solar arrays to the orbiting laboratory. The mission is now scheduled to blast off no earlier than Feb. 19 at about 4:41 a.m. EST (0941 GMT), but an official launch target will be determined at a later date.

"By looking at it right now, we think it's about a week delay, but we're not going to put pressure on the team," said John Shannon, NASA's space shuttle program manager, in a briefing at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. "We'll just let the information drive us."

Read more ....

Astronomers Discover Link Between Supermassive Black Holes And Galaxy Formation

Two giant elliptical galaxies, NGC 4621 and NGC 4472, look similar from a distance, as seen on the right in images from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. But zooming into these galaxies' cores with Hubble Space Telescope reveals their differences (left, black and white images). NGC 4621 shows a bright core, while NGC 4472 is much dimmer. The core of this galaxy is populated with fewer stars. Many stars have been slung out of the core when the galaxy collided and merged with another. Their two supermassive black holes orbited each other, and their great gravity sent stars careening out of the galaxy's core. (Credit: NASA/AURA/STScI and WikiSky/SDSS)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Feb. 3, 2009) — A pair of astronomers from Texas and Germany have used a telescope at The University of Texas at Austin's McDonald Observatory together with Hubble Space Telescope and many other telescopes around the world to uncover new evidence that the largest, most massive galaxies in the universe and the supermassive black holes at their hearts grew together over time.

"They evolved in lockstep," said The University of Texas at Austin's John Kormendy, who co-authored the research with Ralf Bender of Germany's Max-Planck-Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics and Ludwig Maximilians University Observatory. The results are puiblished in this week's issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Read more ....

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

U.S. Becomes Top Wind Producer, Solar Next

Vail Resorts said Tuesday that it would buy credits for wind power like that generated by the turbines at the Gray County Wind Farm in Kansas. Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

From Scientific American:

LONDON (Reuters) - The United States overtook Germany as the biggest producer of wind power last year, new figures showed, and will likely take the lead in solar power this year, analysts said on Monday.

Even before an expected "Obama bounce" from a new President who has vowed to boost clean energy, U.S. wind power capacity surged 50 percent last year to 25 gigwatts (GW) -- enough to power more than five million homes.

Political and business leaders worldwide have urged "green growth" spending on clean energy to fight both recession and climate change.

German wind power capacity reached nearly 24 GW, placing it second ahead of Spain and fourth-placed China, which doubled its installed wind power for the forth year running, said the Brussels-based Global Wind Energy Council.

Read more ....

New .tel Domain Names Set To Create The World's Virtual Phone Book

From The Independent:

Millions of new internet addresses are put up for sale today, giving the public the chance to insert their entry into the world’s largest phone book.

The new “.tel” domain names go up for grabs this afternoon. Unlike other website addresses, however, they are not meant to act as catchy names for websites but rather to become people’s individual entries in a universal virtual directory.

Companies and individuals are being encouraged to list their phone numbers, websites, postal addresses, e-mail addresses and even their Facebook details in their .tel entry.

“.tel is your place on the internet, which will act like a switchboard.” said Kash Mahdavi, the chief executive of Telnic, the London-based company that runs the .tel registry. “You can say, ‘Here are my Facebook details, here is my mobile number, and people will always be able to find you’.”

Read more ....

Dean Kamen Aims 'To Fix The World' With A 200-Year-Old Engine.

Dean Kamen wants to 'to fix the world' - using a 200-year-old engine Photo: BLAKE FITCH

Dean Kamen: Part Man, Part Machine -- The Telegraph

Some see Dean Kamen as a Willy Wonka character whose most famous invention - the Segway personal transporter - is still the butt of jokes. Others compare him to Henry Ford. His next project, after perfecting an electric car, is to 'to fix the world' - using a 200-year-old engine nobody else thinks can work. By Adam Higginbotham

Ten years ago, on the summit of a hill in the verdant New England countryside, at the highest point he could find between Boston and Manchester, New Hampshire, Dean Kamen designed and built the sprawling, hexagonal house he called Westwind.

Read more .....

Biofuels More Harmful To Humans Than Petrol And Diesel, Warn Scientists

A jatropha nursery in the Ivory Coast. Photograph: Kambou Sia/AFP/Getty Images

From The Guardian:

Corn-based bioethanol has higher burden on environment and human health, says US study

Some biofuels cause more health problems than petrol and diesel, according to scientists who have calculated the health costs associated with different types of fuel.

The study shows that corn-based bioethanol, which is produced extensively in the US, has a higher combined environmental and health burden than conventional fuels. However, there are high hopes for the next generation of biofuels, which can be made from organic waste or plants grown on marginal land that is not used to grow foods. They have less than half the combined health and environmental costs of standard gasoline and a third of current biofuels.

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Smallest Exoplanet Is Most Earth-like Yet

From Wired News:

The smallest exoplanet ever seen is less than twice the size of Earth, and orbits a star similar to our sun. Astronomers recently spotted this world, the most Earth-like planet yet discovered, with the COROT satellite.

"For the first time, we have unambiguously detected a planet that is 'rocky' in the same sense as our own Earth,” said Malcolm Fridlund, ESA COROT project scientist.

For all its similarity to our own globe, though, it is still a far cry away from a habitable Earth-twin. For one thing, it is so hot — between 1,830 and 2,730 degrees Fahrenheit — that scientists think it might be covered in lava. It orbits extremely close to its sun and whips around the star once every 20 hours.

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Google Ocean Will Let Users Explore Shipwrecks And Reefs In The Deep Blue Sea

Watch footage of Google Ocean here...

From Daily Mail:

They cover two thirds of the globe and contain 80 per cent of all life.

Yet the oceans are such as mystery that we know more about the surface of the Moon than we do about the undersea world.

Now for the first time, aspiring Jacques Cousteaus will be able to explore every square mile of the sea from the comfort of their own homes.

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When Dreams Come True

Photo from Haikudesigns

From Science News:

People interpret dreams in ways that affect their waking lives, especially when those dreams support pre-existing beliefs

Dreams don’t just bubble up at night and then evaporate like morning dew once the sun rises. What you dream shapes what you think about your upcoming plans and your closest confidants, especially if nighttime reveries fit with what’s already convenient to believe, a new report finds.

In an effort to understand whether people take their dreams seriously, Carey Morewedge of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and Michael Norton of Harvard University surveyed 149 college students attending universities in India, South Korea or the United States about theories of dream function.

People across cultures often assume that dreams contain hidden truths, much as Sigmund Freud posited more than a century ago, Morewedge and Norton report in the February Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. In fact, many individuals consider dreams to provide more meaningful information regarding daily affairs than comparable waking thoughts do, the two psychologists conclude.

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Windows 7: Better Late Than Never

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

From CBS News:

Larry Magid Says Windows 7 Is What Vista Should Have Been

(CBS) I don't know why it took so long, but Microsoft has finally fixed Vista. Only it isn't calling it Vista. Instead the company is working on what it's calling a new version of Windows -- Windows 7. The operating system isn't commercially available but is likely to be out by the end of the year.

I don't know how much Microsoft plans to charge for the upgrade once it's officially available, but they should give it away free to anyone who bought Vista or a PC with Vista preinstalled. Even though there are some new features, Windows 7 strikes me mostly as a bug fix. It speeds up Windows and fixes one of its most annoying "features" and makes one particularly useful change to the user interface. It seems to me that anyone who paid for Vista is entitled to this upgrade.

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Treasure Hunters Say They’ve Found a 1744 Shipwreck

A bronze cannon recovered from the wreck of the HMS Victory was hoisted onto the deck of the Odyssey Explorer. Photo courtesy of Odyssey Marine Exploration

From The New York Times:

Sea explorers probing the depths of the English Channel have discovered what they say is a legendary British warship that sank in a fierce storm in 1744, losing more than 900 men and possibly four tons of gold coins that could be worth $1 billion.

The team found the wreckage of the warship, the H.M.S. Victory, last year and confirmed its identity through a close examination of 41 bronze cannons visible on the sandy bottom, Gregory P. Stemm, head of the discovery team, said Monday at a news conference in London.

The team lifted two of the cannons from the seabed and gave them to the British Defense Ministry, he said. The team’s leaders are now negotiating with British authorities on the disposition of the artifacts and treasure before the divers attempt further recoveries.

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Monday, February 2, 2009

Nuclear Fusion Fission Hybrid Reactor To Destroy Waste

Photo from ABC News (Australia)

From Future Pundit:

The idea behind long term (tens or hundreds of thousands of years) nuclear waste storage facilities is that we can't solve the nuclear waste disposal problem quickly. But matter is so manipulable in the hands of sufficiently smart scientists and technologists that sometimes supposedly insolvable problems become solvable. UT Austin researchers think they know how to convert nuclear power plant waste into far safer elements with a hybrid reactor.

AUSTIN, Texas--Physicists at The University of Texas at Austin have designed a new system that, when fully developed, would use fusion to eliminate most of the transuranic waste produced by nuclear power plants.

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Biodiversity Hotspot Enabled Neanderthals To Survive Longer In South East Of Spain

Photo: Present day landscapes of Gibraltar (above) and reconstructed landscapes of Gibraltar from 30,000 years ago (below). (Credit: Museum of Gibraltar)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Feb. 2, 2009) — Over 14,000 years ago during the last Pleistocene Ice Age, when a large part of the European continent was covered in ice and snow, Neanderthals in the region of Gibraltar in the south of the Iberian peninsula were able to survive because of the refugium of plant and animal biodiversity. Today, plant fossil remains discovered in Gorham's Cave confirm this unique diversity and wealth of resources available in this area of the planet.

The international team jointly led by Spanish researchers has reconstructed the landscape near Gorham's Cave in Gibraltar, by means of paleobotanical data (plant fossil records) located in the geological deposits investigated between 1997 and 2004. The study, which is published in the Quaternary Science Reviews, also re-examines previous findings relating to the glacial refugia for trees during the ice age in the Iberian Peninsula.

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FDA Approves Test To Inject Embryonic Stem Cells Into Humans

Image from ProQuest

From Live Science:

The federal government has approved the first study by a company that will use human embryonic stem cells injected into a human.

The Geron corporation announce the approval today. The therapy used in the study is designed to treat spinal cord injuries by injecting stem cells — which are able to transform into the many different types of cells we need in our bodies — directly into the patients' spinal cords.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted clearance of the company's application for the clinical trial of GRNOPC1 in patients with acute spinal cord injury.

"This marks the beginning of what is potentially a new chapter in medical therapeutics - one that reaches beyond pills to a new level of healing: the restoration of organ and tissue function achieved by the injection of healthy replacement cells," said Geron's president and CEO. Dr. Thomas B. Okarma.

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Japan Warns Of Volcano Eruption Within 48 Hours

Japan' has warned the Mount Asama volcano could erupt within 48 hours Photo: Reuters

From The Telegraph:

Tens of thousands of people living near Japan's volatile Mount Asama have been told to brace themselves for a major volcanic eruption within 48 hours.

The volcano is one of Japan's most active and last erupted in September 2004 when molten rock and ash blanketed areas more than 125 miles from the crater.

Even by Japanese standards, Mount Asama is an active volcano, with frequent bouts of activity over recent years. The most famous eruption came in 1783 and caused the deaths of more than 1,500 people and widespread damage.

Japan's Meteorological Agency yesterday raised the alert level for the 8,420ft peak, warning of an imminent eruption and forbidding anyone to scale the mountain.

More than 45,000 nearby residents have been put on alert and told to be ready to leave their homes within two hours notice.

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Update: Volcano erupts near Tokyo raining ash down on city -- Seattle PI/AP

Rubik's Revenge: Cube Inventor Set To Launch 21st Century Version Of Iconic Puzzle

Rubik's 360 (Click On Image To Enlarge)

From The Daily Telegraph:

For a few years the Rubik's Cube had millions under its spell.

Umpteen hours were spent on the infuriating device, which became the fastest selling puzzle of all time.

Eventually of course, more and more discovered the secret of how to solve it and word spread that youngsters were cracking the Cube in as little as eight seconds.

To the inventor, Professor Erno Rubik, this was merely the challenge to create something even more difficult.

And he appears to have done just that with the Rubik's 360, which is due to be formally unveiled this week.

Using the same formula of an apparently simple task that is maddeningly hard to complete, it involves moving plastic balls through a set of transparent spheres.

Professor Rubik, 64, a reclusive Hungarian, said: 'The 360 is one of the most innovative and exciting puzzles we've developed since the Cube, adopting elements of myoriginal design, challenging the solver to use skill, dexterity and logic.'

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Can A Person Be Scared To Death?

Edvard Munch's famous painting: "The Scream"

From Scientific American:

A 79-year-old woman dies in North Carolina after a heart attack brought on by terror.

A Charlotte, N.C., man was charged with first-degree murder of a 79-year-old woman whom police said he scared to death. In an attempt to elude cops after a botched bank robbery, the Associated Press reports that 20-year-old Larry Whitfield broke into and hid out in the home of Mary Parnell. Police say he didn't touch Parnell but that she died after suffering a heart attack that was triggered by terror. Can the fugitive be held responsible for the woman's death? Prosecutors said that he can under the state's so-called felony murder rule, which allows someone to be charged with murder if he or she causes another person's death while committing or fleeing from a felony crime such as robbery—even if it's unintentional.

But, medically speaking, can someone actually be frightened to death? We asked Martin A. Samuels, chairman of the neurology department at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

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Extinct Ibex Is Resurrected By Cloning

Young Spanish ibex (Capra pyrenaica), Sierra de Gredos, Spain
Photo: Jose Luis GOMEZ de FRANCISCO/

From The Telegraph:

An extinct animal has been brought back to life for the first time after being cloned from frozen tissue.

The Pyrenean ibex, a form of wild mountain goat, was officially declared extinct in 2000 when the last-known animal of its kind was found dead in northern Spain.

Shortly before its death, scientists preserved skin samples of the goat, a subspecies of the Spanish ibex that live in mountain ranges across the country, in liquid nitrogen.

Using DNA taken from these skin samples, the scientists were able to replace the genetic material in eggs from domestic goats, to clone a female Pyrenean ibex, or bucardo as they are known. It is the first time an extinct animal has been cloned.

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My Comment: This is incredible. The implications of this development are profound. Extinct species will be able to be cloned and returned to life.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Too Much TV Linked To Future Fast-food Intake

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Feb. 1, 2009) — High-school kids who watch too much TV are likely to have bad eating habits five years in the future. A new study followed almost 2000 high- and middle-school children and found that TV viewing times predict a poor diet in the future.

Dr Daheia Barr-Anderson worked with a team of researchers from the University of Minnesota to investigate the relationship between television and diet. She said, "To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine the association between television viewing and diet over the transition from adolescence into young adulthood. We've shown that TV viewing during adolescence predicts poorer dietary intake patterns five years later".

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CO2, Temperatures, and Ice AgesA

From Watts Up With That:

It is generally accepted that CO2 is lagging temperature in Antarctic graphs. To dig further into this subject therefore might seem a waste of time. But the reality is, that these graphs are still widely used as an argument for the global warming hypothesis. But can the CO2-hypothesis be supported in any way using the data of Antarctic ice cores?

At first glance, the CO2 lagging temperature would mean that it’s the temperature that controls CO2 and not vice versa.

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