Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sun Cycle 'Lowest Since 1928'

From NASA:

May 29, 2009: An international panel of experts led by NOAA and sponsored by NASA has released a new prediction for the next solar cycle. Solar Cycle 24 will peak, they say, in May 2013 with a below-average number of sunspots.

"If our prediction is correct, Solar Cycle 24 will have a peak sunspot number of 90, the lowest of any cycle since 1928 when Solar Cycle 16 peaked at 78," says panel chairman Doug Biesecker of the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center.

Read more ....

Flipping The Brain's Addiction Switch Without Drugs

Researchers have found a naturally occurring protein that gets rats addicted with no drugs at all. From left: BYU grad student David Allison, BYU psychology professor Scott Steffensen, and recent graduate Micah Hansen, who co-authored the research as an undergraduate. (Credit: Image courtesy of Brigham Young University)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (May 29, 2009) — When someone becomes dependent on drugs or alcohol, the brain's pleasure center gets hijacked, disrupting the normal functioning of its reward circuitry.

Researchers investigating this addiction "switch" have now implicated a naturally occurring protein, a dose of which allowed them to get rats hooked with no drugs at all.

The research will be published Friday in the journal Science.

Read more ....

Test Tube Babies On the Rise Worldwide

From Live Science:

More than 200,000 babies were born worldwide with the help of in vitro fertilization and other reproductive technologies in 2002, with a 25 percent increase between 2000 and 2002, according to a new report.

However, the "Octomom" aside, multiple births resulting from assisted reproductive technologies (ART) have been on the decline, with Europe and Australia-New Zealand leading the way in the reduction of multiples, say the scientists responsible for the report published online today in the journal Human Reproduction.

(Multiple births, rather than being seen as a success, are considered a serious medical complication with potentially harmful effects for both babies and mom.)

Read more ....

Plastic Logic's Touch-Screen E-Reader

Paper thin: Plastic Logic's e-reader is as thick as six credit cards. Credit: Plastic Logic

From Technology Review:

The company hopes to carve out a niche with its touch-based interface.

It's still early days for e-readers, and consumers can only choose between a few chunky-looking models. But by next year, Plastic Logic, based in Cambridge, U.K., will start selling a sleek e-reader that's the size of a standard sheet of paper and as thin as about six credit cards, and weighs less than a pound. The design of the device could help win over some customers, but Steven Glass, head of user experience at Plastic Logic, believes that the user interface developed for the device will play just as crucial a role.

Read more ....

Ghost Remains After Black Hole Eruption

This is a composite image showing a small region of the Chandra Deep Field North. The diffuse blue object near the center of the image is believed to be a cosmic "ghost" generated by a huge eruption from a supermassive black hole in a distant galaxy. This X-ray ghost, a.k.a. HDF 130, remains after powerful radio waves from particles traveling away from the black hole at almost the speed of light, have died off. As the electrons radiate away their energy they produce X-rays by interacting with the pervasive sea of photons remaining from the Big Bang - the cosmic background radiation. (Credit: X-ray (NASA/CXC/IoA/A.Fabian et al.); Optical (SDSS), Radio (STFC/JBO/MERLIN))

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (May 29, 2009) — NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has found a cosmic "ghost" lurking around a distant supermassive black hole. This is the first detection of such a high-energy apparition, and scientists think it is evidence of a huge eruption produced by the black hole.

This discovery presents astronomers with a valuable opportunity to observe phenomena that occurred when the Universe was very young. The X-ray ghost, so-called because a diffuse X-ray source has remained after other radiation from the outburst has died away, is in the Chandra Deep Field-North, one of the deepest X-ray images ever taken. The source, a.k.a. HDF 130, is over 10 billion light years away and existed at a time 3 billion years after the Big Bang, when galaxies and black holes were forming at a high rate.

Read more ....

American Diets Getting Worse

From Live Science:

Eat your vegetables. Exercise. Don't drink so much beer. Blah. Blah. Blah.

Even fewer Americans in their middle and later years adhere to this healthy lifestyle advice than they did two decades ago.

Despite the well-known benefits of a lifestyle that includes physical activity, eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables, maintaining a healthy weight, moderate alcohol use and not smoking, only a small proportion of older adults follow this healthy lifestyle pattern, a new survey finds.

Read more ....

The Arctic's Oil Reserves Mapped

Undiscovered Arctic oil reserves are largely under the ocean

From The BBC:

An estimated 30% of the world's undiscovered gas and 13% of its undiscovered oil may be in the Arctic, according to a map published on Friday.

The map is the culmination of an assessment carried out by the US Geological Survey (USGS).

Writing in the journal Science, its authors say the findings are "important to the interests of Arctic countries".

But, they add, they are unlikely to substantially shift the geographic pattern of world oil production.

According to the new map, the majority of oil is likely to be found underwater, on continental shelves.

Read more ....

The Most Painful Animal Bite on Earth

Image: nebarnix

From Environmental Graffiti:

Remember how whiny you were when your parents made you get a job or mow the lawn or whatever it was you had to do to “become a man/woman?” Feel like a sissy looking back on how “hard” you had it then? If not, you will.

The Setere-Mawe people of Brazil have found something far worse (albeit less humiliating) than your first job at McDonald’s.

Meet the bullet ant. So named because those unfortunate enough to have been stung by one compare it to a gunshot wound - very unfortunate people; apparently, they have also all been shot. It reportedly has the most painful sting of any insect on Earth.

Read more .....

Friday, May 29, 2009

Tensions Feared As A THIRD Of World's Gas Reserves Found Beneath The Arctic

Untapped: A third of the world's remaining natural gas and 13 per cent of its oil is trapped beneath the Arctic, a survey shows

From The Daily Mail:

Tensions over the Arctic's untapped energy reserves are expected to build after a survey has found substantial mineral riches under the ice.

The analysis, by researchers at the U.S. Geologic Survey, found that a third of world's remaining natural gas and 13 per cent of its oil are trapped beneath the oceans of the North Pole.

The precious supply has remained largely untouched until now because of the impenetrable ice sheets.

Read more ....

Freeze-thaw Cycle May Explain Saturn Moon's Odd Activity

Saturn's moon Enceladus spews out watery geysers today, but it can't have done so continuously throughout its lifetime, as there is no heat source to power the activity for so long. A new mechanism has been proposed to explain how the moon may freeze and thaw repeatedly (Image: Cassini Imaging Team/SSI/JPL/ESA/NASA)

From New Scientist:

If there is life on Saturn's bizarre, water-spewing moon Enceladus, it's about to spend a lot of time in the freezer.

So concludes Norman Sleep of Stanford University, who says a perpetual cycle of melting and refreezing may offer the best explanation for why Enceladus seems so active today. In Sleep's scenario, Enceladus is now heading back into a long cold phase after a comparatively brief warm spell.

For any potential life on Enceladus, "it's boom and bust", says Sleep.

Read more ....

Cocker Spaniel World's Meanest Dog

The reason for any individual dog's aggression may be a combination of genetics and poor training, the scientists say (Source: iStockphoto)

From ABC News Australia:

A floppy-eared, innocent-looking breed may be one of the world's most aggressive dogs, according to a new study.

The Spanish study found that English cocker spaniels tend to be more hostile than other breeds.

The discovery adds to the mounting evidence that aggressiveness is an inherited characteristic, suggesting that genes and breeding practices can both help determine how a dog will behave.

Read more ....

Neurons Take A Break During Slow-Wave Sleep

From Science News:

The time off prevents interruptions that could wake a person up.

Even neurons need quiet time. A new study shows the brain cells take time out while you sleep, preventing you from waking up at the drop of a hat or other nonthreatening object.

For decades, scientists have been measuring electrical activity in the brain during sleep with electroencephalograms, or EEGs. Researchers easily recognize the hallmark dips and blips of each stage of sleep, but what brain cells are doing to produce the signals hasn’t been apparent.

Now, a new study in the May 22 Science shows that a prominent electrical signal of slow-wave sleep, called the K-complex, indicates downtime for neurons. The quiet periods could help people ignore distractions, such as sounds and touches, and stay asleep, the researchers report.

Read more

Melting Greenland Ice Sheets May Threaten Northeast United States, Canada

This visualization, based on new computer modeling, shows that sea level rise may be an additional 10 centimeters (4 inches) higher by populated areas in northeastern North America than previously thought. Extreme northeastern North America and Greenland may experience even higher sea level rise. (Credit: Graphic courtesy Geophysical Research Letters, modified by UCAR)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (May 28, 2009) — Melting of the Greenland ice sheet this century may drive more water than previously thought toward the already threatened coastlines of New York, Boston, Halifax, and other cities in the northeastern United States and Canada, according to new research led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

The study, which is being published May 29 in Geophysical Research Letters, finds that if Greenland's ice melts at moderate to high rates, ocean circulation by 2100 may shift and cause sea levels off the northeast coast of North America to rise by about 12 to 20 inches (about 30 to 50 centimeters) more than in other coastal areas. The research builds on recent reports that have found that sea level rise associated with global warming could adversely affect North America, and its findings suggest that the situation is more threatening than previously believed.

Read more ....

New Radar to Provide Better Info On Rain

From Live Science:

The University of Oklahoma’s newest radar, OU-PRIME (Polarimetric Radar for Innovations in Meteorology and Engineering) was completed in January 2009.

The radar serves as a research and development testbed for the university's Atmospheric Radar Research Center (ARRC) and is housed within the National Weather Center on campus.

Read more ....

Wolfram Co-Founder On Why Wolfram|Alpha Doesn't Need to Kill Google

Theo in Tub: Mike Walker


Gray Matter's own Theodore Gray reports from his day job at Wolfram on how his new "knowledge engine" provides exactly what Google can't

PopSci's Grouse recently reviewed Wolfram|Alpha. I guess that's what happens when you ignore your editors for a week: They let someone else write about your project!

PopSci readers know me as the mad scientist behind the Gray Matter column, and the book based on it, Mad Science, but I actually have what I affectionately refer to as a day job, as co-founder of Wolfram Research, Inc, the company behind Wolfram|Alpha. And the reason I was ignoring my editor asking me to write about Wolfram|Alpha is that I was recovering from the lead up to our public launch of that very service.

Read more ....

Blasting Off the Moon's Surface: Apollo 11, The Untold Story

From Popular Mechanics:

After a 22-hour stay on the moon, Aldrin and Armstrong prepared to fire the ascent stage of the lunar module to launch back into lunar orbit. Here, Collins tries to find the Eagle with a telescope, Aldrin breaks the engine-arm circuit breaker and the lunar module executes a series of burns before docking and returning for splashdown.

H. David Reed, flight dynamics officer (FIDO), Green Team, Mission Control: My job was to come in prior to ascent, find out where they landed, and use that information to compute their launch time. Then we’d upload that to the crew. When I called the tracking people, the guy at the other end of the line said, “Dave, take your pick. I’ve got five different landing sites.” He said: We know where the lunar module thinks it landed, where the backup guidance system thinks it landed, where the radars on the ground tracked them, where we targeted them, and now we’ve got the geologists saying a different location.

Read more ....

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Synchronized Brain Waves Focus Our Attention

From Wired Magazine:

Separate brain regions firing in unison may be what keeps us focused on important things while we ignore distractions.

A deluge of visual information hits our eyes every second, yet we’re able to focus on the minuscule fraction that’s relevant to our goals. When we try to find our way through an unfamiliar area of town, for example, we manage to ignore the foliage, litter and strolling pedestrians, and focus our attention on the street signs.

Now, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have discovered that the brain’s control center syncs up to its visual center with high-frequency brain waves, directing attention to select features of the visual world.

Read more ....

California Fires Up Laser Fusion Machine

From The Guardian:

Success at National Ignition Facility could pave the way for commercial laser fusion power stations and provide a solution to world energy crisis

A tentative first step towards an era of clean, almost limitless energy will take place today with the opening of a giant facility designed to recreate the power of the stars in an oversized warehouse in California.

The $3.5bn National Ignition Facility (NIF) sits in a 10-storey building covering three football fields and will harness the power of lasers to turn tiny pellets of hydrogen into thermonuclear energy.

Read more ....

Scientists Identify Genes Behind Ageing Process

Ageing: Prof Partridge said tackling the very causes of ageing rather than treating the symptoms offers the best prospects for dealing with the diseases that result from it. Photo: GETTY

From The Telegraph:

Scientists have identified genes which control the ageing process in findings which could lead to new drugs to prevent illnesses from heart disease to Alzheimer's.

Mutations have been found to extend the lifespan of animals in the lab such as worms, fruit flies and mice - and appear to play the same role in humans.

Professor Linda Partridge, director of the Institute of Healthy Ageing at University College London, claims the research could help treat or delay many diseases simultaneously with medication.

Read more ....

Decoding Antiquity: Eight Scripts That Still Can't Be Read

Photo: The Etruscan Alphabet - Shown here are two of three gold plaques from Pyrgi, circa 500BC. The plaque on the left is written in Etruscan, while the one on the right is written in Phoenician. They both describe the same event - the dedication by the Etruscan ruler Thefarie Velianas of a cult place (Image: Museo di Villa Giulia, Rome)

From The New Scientist:

WRITING is one of the greatest inventions in human history. Perhaps the greatest, since it made history possible. Without writing, there could be no accumulation of knowledge, no historical record, no science - and of course no books, newspapers or internet.

The first true writing we know of is Sumerian cuneiform - consisting mainly of wedge-shaped impressions on clay tablets - which was used more than 5000 years ago in Mesopotamia. Soon afterwards writing appeared in Egypt, and much later in Europe, China and Central America. Civilisations have invented hundreds of different writing systems. Some, such as the one you are reading now, have remained in use, but most have fallen into disuse.

These dead scripts tantalise us. We can see that they are writing, but what do they say?

Read more ....

Canada Has A Frigid May After A Cold Winter

From Watts Up With That?

May has been frigid slowing the planting and emergence of the summer crops in Canada. Late freezes and even snows are still occurring regularly and can be expected the rest of the month.

The chart above shows the May 2009 temperature anomaly through May 24th. Parts of central Canada (Churchill, Manitoba) are running 16 degrees F below normal for the month through the 26th (map ends 24th). Every day this month has seen lows below freezing in Churchill and only 6 out of the first 26 days days had highs edge above freezing. The forecast the rest of the month is for more cold with even some snow today in Churchill and again this weekend perhaps further south.

Read more ....

My Comment: I live in Quebec, Canada .... I can vouch for this report.

New Solar Cycle Prediction: Fewer Sunspots, But Not Necessarily Less Activity

This is an image of the sun from NASA's twin STEREO satellites. Credit: NASA

From Physorg.: -- An international panel of experts has released a new prediction for the next solar cycle, stating that Solar Cycle 24 will peak in May 2013 with a below-average number of sunspots. Led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and sponsored by NASA, the panel includes a dozen members from nine different government and academic institutions. Their forecast sets the stage for at least another year of mostly quiet conditions before solar activity resumes in earnest.

"If our prediction is correct, Solar Cycle 24 will have a peak sunspot number of 90, the lowest of any cycle since 1928 when Solar Cycle 16 peaked at 78," says panel chairman Doug Biesecker of the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center, Boulder, Colo.

Read more ....

Earliest Known Case of Leprosy Unearthed

From Live Science:

A 4,000-year-old skeleton found in India bears the earliest archaeological evidence of leprosy, a new study reports.

The finding, detailed in the May 27 issue of the online journal PLoS ONE, is also the first evidence for the disease in prehistoric India and sheds light on how the disease might have been spread in early human history.

Though it is no longer a significant public health threat in most parts of the world, leprosy is still one of the least understood infectious diseases, in part because the bacteria that causes it (Mycobacterium leprae) is difficult to culture for research and has only one other animal host, the nine banded armadillo.

Read more ....

Scientists Reaching Consensus On How Brain Processes Speech

Researchers are finding that both human and non-human primate studies have confirmed that speech, one important facet of language, is processed in the brain along two parallel pathways, each of which run from lower- to higher-functioning neural regions. (Credit: iStockphoto/Don Bayley)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (May 27, 2009) — Neuroscientists feel they are much closer to an accepted unified theory about how the brain processes speech and language, according to a scientist at Georgetown University Medical Center who first laid the concepts a decade ago and who has now published a review article confirming the theory.

In the June issue of Nature Neuroscience, the investigator, Josef Rauschecker, PhD, and his co-author, Sophie Scott, PhD, a neuroscientist at University College, London, say that both human and non-human primate studies have confirmed that speech, one important facet of language, is processed in the brain along two parallel pathways, each of which run from lower- to higher-functioning neural regions.

Read more

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sub Will Explore Undersea Borders

From The BBC:

A remotely operated vehicle (ROV) designed by a team of researchers in the Irish Republic could help define the limits of nations' underwater borders.

Named after the Celtic goddess of beer and water, ROV Latis has just completed trials off Ireland's west coast.

The information it gathers could help to settle, once and for all, disputes over continental perimeters.

It uses high resolution CCTV and colour cameras capable of operating in very low light.

Simon Marr, technical market analyst at the University of Limerick, explained that it was designed to perform seabed surveys and had a fibre-optic communication channel to relay all of the information it gathered.

Read more ....

Fire And Water Reveal New Archaeological Dating Method

Ancient bricks. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Manchester)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (May 25, 2009) — Scientists at The University of Manchester have developed a new way of dating archaeological objects – using fire and water to unlock their 'internal clocks'.

The simple method promises to be as significant a technique for dating ceramic materials as radiocarbon dating has become for organic materials such as bone or wood.

A team from The University of Manchester and The University of Edinburgh has discovered a new technique which they call 'rehydroxylation dating' that can be used on fired clay ceramics like bricks, tile and pottery.

Read more ....

Why Chimps, Monkeys Don't Develop Alzheimer's

This April 29, 2009 photo shows 'Jody,' a chimpanzee who was used for breeding and biomedical research at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest in Cle Elum, Wash. As attacks and other problems with privately owned chimpanzees make the news, some chimpanzee sanctuaries are seeing an increase in inquiries from pet owners, looking for help in caring for their animals. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

From Yahoo News/Healthday:

MONDAY, May 25 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists have long noticed a curious phenomenon among primates: Humans get the devastating neurological disorder known as Alzheimer's disease, but their closest evolutionary cousins don't.

Even more inexplicable is the fact that chimpanzee and other non-human primate brains do get clogged with the same protein plaques that are believed by many to cause the disease in humans.

The answer to this puzzle could yield valuable insight into how Alzheimer's develops and progresses, and now researchers report they may have a clue. They report their finding in the latest issue of the journal Neurobiology of Aging.

Read more ....

Hubble's Ten Most Significant Discoveries

Dark Energy: Courtesy of NASA


PopSci offers up the ten most important scientific discoveries that the Hubble made possible, and the amazing images to go with them.

After astronauts fixed the lens on the Hubble space telescope, the satellite began sending back pictures of the cosmos that left all onlookers in awe. The beauty of those images often overshadowed the legitimate scientific progress the Hubble enabled.

So, in honor of the Hubble’s final servicing mission, and Mario Livio, a senior astrophysicist at the Space Telescope Science Institute and author of Is God A Mathematician?, look past the pretty pictures and count down the ten most important scientific discoveries that the Hubble made possible.

Read more ....

Overfishing Goes Back Centuries, Log Books Reveal

One of the earliest depictions of trawling. Mosaic from the 5th century, Bizerte, Tunisia. Credit: Yacoub, M., Splendors of Tunisian Mosaics, Tunis, 1995, Fig. 115.

From Live Science:

Overfishing led to shrinking sizes of freshwater fish caught by Europeans all the way back in medieval times. And the real revolution in deep-sea fishing came not with modern day trawlers, but back in the 1600s when pairs of boats began dragging a net between them.

Those are just a few of the facts unearthed by marine historians who want to find out when ocean life populations and natural sizes began to shrink.

The evidence shows that much of the decline took place even before the modern fishing industry really got going.

Read more ....

The Moment A Hummingbird Meets A Sticky End Thanks To A Hungry Praying Mantis

Struggle for survival: This hummingbird met a sticky end when feeding

From The Daily Mail:

This startling picture captures the moment a praying mantis snared a hummingbird.

The predatory insect is seen dangling from a plant with its right spiny foreleg impaling the helpless bird. Although not much bigger than its prey, the mantis was able to gorge itself before releasing the lifeless body of its victim.

Richard Walkup, from West Chester in Pennsylvania, US, told how his quick-thinking son had captured the scene.

He said: 'The other day while I was working in the yard my son urgently called to me, 'Dad, a praying mantis caught a hummingbird!'

'I came running to see for myself. By the time I arrived it was too late for the poor hummer and my scientifically minded son had already begun taking pictures and studying the scene. '

Read more ....

Space Rock Yields Carbon Bounty

From The BBC:

Formic acid, a molecule implicated in the origins of life, has been found at record levels on a meteorite that fell into a Canadian lake in 2000.

Cold temperatures on Tagish Lake prevented the volatile chemical from dissipating quickly.

An analysis showed four times more formic acid in the fragments than has been recorded on previous meteorites.

The researchers told a meeting of the American Geophysical Union that the formic acid was extraterrestrial.

Formic acid is one of a group of compounds dubbed "organics", because they are rich in carbon.

"We are lucky that the meteorite was untouched by humans hands, avoiding contamination by organic compounds that we have on our fingers," said Dr Christopher Herd, the curator of the University of Alberta's meteorite collection.

Read more ....

Tech-word Origins: Stranger Than Science

From Christian Science Monitor:

A lexicographer describes where science fiction struck first.

Scientists are uniquely qualified to describe the universe in numbers and equations, but sometimes it takes an imaginative novelist to distill discoveries into words.

For his book “Brave New Words,” freelance lexicographer Jeff Prucher uncovered a slew of words that many people assume came from science, but actually originated in the pulpy pages of early science fiction. Here are four of his favorites.

Read more ....

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Why We Stare, Even When We Don’t Want To

From Weird Science/Wired:

The stares of strangers endured by Connie Culp, recent face transplant recipient, might have little to do with cruelty or lack of empathy. These responses are likely a result of neurologic, biologic and evolutionary factors.

Prior to her operation, the center of Culp’s face was blank skin traversed by a single raw scar where she once had a nose, upper lip and cheeks. The disfigurement made her the target of something perhaps even less fixable: millions of years of evolutionary uncouth. When she went out in public, people gaped at her. After her operation, her face still looks unusual and the stares continue.

Read more

Rising Sea Levels: Survival Tips From 5000 BC

As sea levels rise, we need to find ways to adapt. Ancient civilisations could give us some tips (Image: Paul Kay / SplashdownDirect / Rex)

From The New Scientist:

WITH rising seas lapping at coastal cities and threatening to engulf entire islands in the not-too-distant future, it's easy to assume our only option will be to abandon them and head for the hills. There may be another way, however. Archaeological sites in the Caribbean, dating back to 5000 BC, show that some ancient civilisations had it just as bad as anything we are expecting. Yet not only did they survive a changing coastline and more storm surges and hurricanes: they stayed put and successfully adapted to the changing world. Now archaeologists are working out how they managed it and finding ways that we might learn from their example.

Read more ....

New Memory Material May Hold Data For One Billion Years

Scientists are reporting an advance toward a memory device capable of storing data for more than one billion years. (Credit: The American Chemical Society)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (May 26, 2009) — Packing more digital images, music, and other data onto silicon chips in USB drives and smart phones is like squeezing more strawberries into the same size supermarket carton. The denser you pack, the quicker it spoils. The 10 to 100 gigabits of data per square inch on today's memory cards has an estimated life expectancy of only 10 to 30 years. And the electronics industry needs much greater data densities for tomorrow's iPods, smart phones, and other devices.

Scientists are reporting an advance toward remedying this situation with a new computer memory device that can store thousands of times more data than conventional silicon chips with an estimated lifetime of more than one billion years. Their discovery is scheduled for publication in the June 10 issue of the American Chemical Society's Nano Letters, a monthly journal.

Read more ....

Is It Safe To Exercise In Your 70s?

From Live Science:

This Week's Question: I've been told I should exercise more, but I'm afraid that at my age (73) I might damage something. Am I safer as a couch potato?

All the current scientific evidence shows that geezers should exercise, even though many older people think it could harm them. Study after study demonstrates that seniors hurt their health a lot more by being sedentary.

If you're inactive, you deteriorate. Physical activity can help restore your capacity. Most older adults, regardless of age or condition, will benefit from increasing physical activity to a moderate level.

Read more ....

Russia's Dark Horse Plan to Get to Mars

Phobos, the larger of the two moons of Mars has many unknowns. For instance, what formed the grooves that run across its surface? Image: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

From Discover:

The Fobos-Grunt mission might pave the way for humanity's first permanent space base—on Phobos, Mars' bizarre moon.

Mars has been nothing but bad luck for the Russians. They have launched 20 probes to the planet since 1960, and all either failed or suffered from severe technical problems. But soon—as early as this October—Russia will attempt to reverse its fortunes with one of the most ambitious unmanned space missions ever.

Instead of aiming straight for Mars, the Russians are going after Phobos, the larger of its two little satellites and one of the oddest objects around. Their probe, called Fobos-Grunt (“Phobos soil” in Russian), will not only land on Phobos but also scoop up some samples of the surface and send them to Earth. Understanding Phobos could tell us a lot about the early history of the solar system. “It may give us clues to the formation of Earth’s moon and the moons of the other planets, and the role played by asteroid impacts in shaping the terrestrial [rocky] planets,” says Alexander Zakharov of the Moscow-based Space Research Institute and chief scientist for Fobos-Grunt. Even more important, this mission could lay the groundwork for an innovative strategy for exploring—and even colonizing—Mars itself.

Read more ....

U.S. Natural Gas Boom: The Race To Tap Shale's Potential

(Photograph by Harald Sund/Getty Images)

From Popular Mechanics:

Natural gas prices are at a six-year low, but that's not slowing one unconventional—and historically costly—method for extracting gas for energy. Shale gas reserves are contributing to the 11 percent rise in natural gas production the United States has seen in the past two years. But the deposits have been known about for decades—why are these resources drawing attention now?

Read more ....

Forget Plasma And LCDs: How The 3mm-thick, Eco-Friendly OLED Is The TV Of The Future

The Sony XEL-1 is currently the only OLED TV on the market and priced at £3,500.
The screen is just 3mm thick

From The Daily Mail:

Once they were a must-have for every living room. But LCD and plasma TVs could be about to go the way of the cathode ray tube.

A new generation of super-slim screens will revolutionise home entertainment, according to the makers.

The OLED sets boast the thinnest TV screen created. At its narrowest point it is the width of a pound coin. And technological advances make the image far sharper than on LCD and plasma screens.

Read more ....

A Serious Search For Extraterrestrial Life

A planet probably the size of Jupiter orbits at a distance about four times that between Neptune and the sun. Many such exoplanets - all atmosphere, no solid surface - have been found since '95, when the first was confirmed.

From Philadelphia Inquirer:

Things have changed since the original Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock set off to seek out new life and new civilizations. Back in the 1960s, while the Enterprise crew was exploring a galaxy full of exotic life-forms, real astronomers were stuck in a solar system with eight desolate-looking neighbors and no signs of any planets beyond.

Now, finally, astronomers are starting to zero in on Earth-like worlds orbiting other stars. Some of the more recent finds even look potentially habitable.

Read more ....

Monday, May 25, 2009

Energy Availability Is Almost Infinite

Image from Dvice.

From Watts Up With That?

A favorite excuse to push the AGW agenda is that “energy is limited, so we have to preserve it for future generations.” But nothing could be further from the truth. As that clever fellow Albert Einstein figured out ( E = Mc² ) – energy is available right here on earth in vast supplies beyond our comprehension. In fact, a primary concern of mankind over the last 65 years has been to figure out how to keep mankind from releasing some of this energy too quickly, in a catastrophic fashion.

Einstein’s equation tells us that one kilogram of matter can be converted into 90,000,000,000,000,000 (ninety million billion) joules of energy. That is roughly equivalent to saying that one liter of water contains as much potential energy as 10 million gallons of gasoline. Those who saw the movie “Angels and Demons” are familiar with the concept of combining matter and anti-matter to achieve a highly efficient matter to energy conversion. Mankind probably won’t have access to that sort of technology for some time into the future, but we already have hundreds of fission reactors generating a significant percentage of the world’s energy.

Read more ....

Scientists Identify A Key Protein That May Explain The Anti-Aging And Anti-Cancer Benefits of Dietary Restriction

From The Next Big Future:

High nutrients activate HIF-1 through the TOR-S6K pathway, which leads to increased ER stress and shortened lifespan. Other regulators such as PHA-4, SKN-1, AAK-2, DAF-16 and HSF-1 may function in parallel to HIF-1 to modulate DR-induced longevity phenotypes.

A protein that plays a key role in tumor formation, oxygen metabolism and inflammation is involved in a pathway that extends lifespan by dietary restriction.

The finding, which appears in the May 22, 2009 edition of the on-line journal PLoS Genetics, provides a new understanding of how dietary restriction contributes to longevity and cancer prevention and gives scientists new targets for developing and testing drugs that could extend the healthy years of life.

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Surprising Twist To Photosynthesis: Scientists Swap Key Metal Necessary For Turning Sunlight Into Chemical Energy

The reactions that convert light to chemical energy happen in a millionth of a millionth of a second, which makes experimental observation extremely challenging. A premier ultrafast laser spectroscopic detection system established at the Biodesign Institute, with the sponsorship of the National Science Foundation, acts like a high-speed motion picture camera. It splits the light spectrum into infinitesimally discrete slivers, allowing the group to capture vast numbers of ultrafast frames from the components of these exceedingly rapid reactions. These frames are then mathematically assembled, allowing the group to make a figurative "movie" of the energy transfer events of photosynthesis. (Credit: Arizona State University Biodesign Institute)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (May 23, 2009) — Photosynthesis is a remarkable biological process that supports life on earth. Plants and photosynthetic microbes do so by harvesting light to produce their food, and in the process, also provide vital oxygen for animals and people.

Now, a large, international collaboration between Arizona State University, the University of California San Diego and the University of British Columbia, has come up with a surprising twist to photosynthesis by swapping a key metal necessary for turning sunlight into chemical energy.

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The Whole World Is Optimistic, Survey Finds

From Live Science:

Despite current economic woes, a new study based on global survey data finds optimism to be universal. Sunny outlooks are most prevalent in Ireland, Brazil, Denmark, and New Zealand.

The United States ranks No. 10.

Nearly 90 percent of people around the globe expect the next five years to be as good or better than life today, the study found. And 95 percent expect their life in five years to be as good or better than it was five years ago.

The study, from the University of Kansas and Gallup, suggests humans are optimistic by nature, the researchers conclude.

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Fundamental Mechanism For Cell Organization Discovered

Image: An embryo treated with RNA interference to delay the onset of cell polarization. At the beginning of the process, P granules (green) have already nearly completely dissolved throughout the embryo. However, when the embryo ultimately polarizes, the polarity protein PAR-2 (red) appears on the posterior cortex, and P granules reform by condensation in the vicinity of this posterior region. Credit: Clifford Brangwynne (Credit: Image courtesy of Marine Biological Laboratory)

From Science Digest:

ScienceDaily (May 22, 2009) — Scientists have discovered that cells use a very simple phase transition -- similar to water vapor condensing into dew -- to assemble and localize subcellular structures that are involved in formation of the embryo.

The discovery, which was made during the 2008 Physiology course at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), is reported in the May 21 early online edition of Science by Clifford P. Brangwynne and Anthony A. Hyman of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany, and their colleagues, including Frank J├╝licher of the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems, also in Dresden.

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Huge Mars Region Shaped by Water, Rover Mission Finds

A false-color image shows Cape St. Vincent, a feature of Mars's massive Victoria Crater. After a dangerous descent into the crater, the Mars rover Opportunity has shown that the red planet once had a network of underground water spread across an area the size of Oklahoma, scientists announced in May 2009. Photograph courtesy Steven W. Squyres

From National Geographic:

Shifting sand dunes on ancient Mars once concealed a network of underground water spread across an area the size of Oklahoma, according to new findings from NASA's Mars rover Opportunity.

In 2004 Opportunity had spotted minerals and blueberry-shaped rocks indicative of ancient groundwater in the Martian crater Endurance.

The robotic explorer has now found similar signs of past water in Victoria, a crater some 3.5 miles (6 kilometers) away.

Opportunity also spotted unique rock layers in the sides of Victoria Crater, which are likely the petrified remnants of ancient sand dunes.

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Opposites Really Do Attract In Human Search For A Mate According To New Study

Photo: Sophie Dahl and Jamie Cullum are living proof that opposites really do attract

From The Daily Mail:

It's an age old theory but when it comes to choosing a mate, opposites really do attract, according to a Brazilian study that found people are subconsciously more likely to choose a partner whose genetic make-up is different to their own.

The study found evidence to suggest that married couples are more likely to have genetic differences in a DNA region that governs the immune system than couples who were randomly matched.

Maria da Graca Bicalho and her colleagues at the University of Parana in Brazil reported that this was likely to be an evolutionary strategy to ensure healthy reproduction because genetic variability is an advantage for offspring.

Bicalho said: 'Although it may be tempting to think that humans choose their partners because of their similarities, our research has shown clearly that it is differences that make for successful reproduction, and that the subconscious drive to have healthy children is important when choosing a mate.'

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Rumor Round-Up: Everything We’ve Heard About the Next iPhone

From Gadget Lab/Wired News:

This month, the Apple rumor volcano erupted with purported details of the next-generation iPhone. Various blogs claim receiving tips from informed sources about features in the highly anticipated handset, such as a magnetometer (digital compass), a video camera and a speedier processor.

Here, we round up every rumor that’s appeared about Apple’s next iPhone, which many are betting will be announced June 8 at the Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco. We’re also accompanying each rumor with a percentage rating for its probability to be true, as well as our analysis.

When WWDC arrives, we’ll present a report card showing which publications were correct and which were wrong. And of course, we’ll grade ourselves on our predictions, too.

With that said, here’s everything we’ve heard about the next iPhone:

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Power Plants: Artificial Trees That Harvest Sun And Wind To Generate Electricity

Image: GOING OUT ON A LIMB: A new company called Solar Botanic plans to build artificial trees that reap solar and wind energy. Solar Botanic

From Scientific America:

A start-up proposes forests of fake trees with "leaves" that soak up sunshine and flutter in the breeze to generate clean solar and wind power. Could it just be crazy enough to work?

While on a train ride to visit his sister in the Netherlands in 2002, where monstrous wind turbines now mar scenic views, Alex van der Beek got an idea: Instead of ruining the natural landscape with conventional technology, why not generate electricity from something that blends in—a fake tree?

Van der Beek—whose previous professional experience was teaching alternative medicine—founded Solar Botanic, Ltd., in London last year on the concept. Solar Botanic's ambitious plan involves bringing together three different energy-generation technologies—photovoltaics (aka solar power, or electricity from visible sunlight), thermoelectrics (electricity from heat) and piezoelectrics (electricity from pressure)—all in the unassuming shape of a leaf on its stem.

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Mars Robots May Have Destroyed Evidence Of Life

Photo: This image was taken by NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander's Surface Stereo Imager on June 5, 2008, the eleventh day after landing. It shows the robotic arm scoop, with a soil sample, poised over the partially open door of the lander's oven (Image: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona / Texas A&M University)

From New Scientist:

HAVE Mars landers been destroying signs of life? Instead of identifying chemicals that could point to life, NASA's robot explorers may have been toasting them by mistake.

In 1976, many people's hopes of finding life on Mars collapsed when the twin Viking landers failed to detect even minute quantities of organic compounds - the complex, carbon-containing molecules that are central to life as we know it. "It contributed, in my opinion, to the fact that there were no additional [US lander] missions to Mars for 20 years," says Jeff Moore of NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.

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