Saturday, July 11, 2009

When Galaxies Collide, 280 Million Light Years Away

Stephan's Quintent, Colliding: NASA


A new image using data from NASA's Chandra X-Ray Observatory captures Stephan's Quintet in a new light.

130 years ago, astronomers discovered Stephan's Quintent--a compact group of galaxies 280 million light years from Earth. NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has captured the X-rays generated by the interstellar collision, as one of the galaxies is sucked through the center of the group at 2 million miles per hour.

The ridge of blue in the center represent the X-rays emitted by the collision, as shock wave heats the galaxy's gasses.

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100 Essential Skills for Geeks

From Geek Dad/Wired:

As Geeks we are expected to have a certain set of skills that the majority of the population does not possess. This list is by no means complete, but I think it is a good sample of the skills required to be a true geek. I won’t pretend to have all the skills listed here. I even had to Google a few of them.

Like all good Geeks you should be able to utilize resources to accomplish any of these things. Knowing where to look for the knowledge is as good as having it so give yourself points if you are certain that you could Google the knowledge necessary for a skill.

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U.S. Science Is Tops, But Most Americans Don't Think It Is, A New Survey Finds.

From Scientific American:

Today the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Pew Research Center released results of a survey examining the attitudes of the general public and the scientific community as they regard to science.

The results, collected from 2,553 AAAS members and 2,001 public respondents, suggest that although average Americans hold a positive view of scientists and support the funding of research, they do not share the same perspectives as the scientific community on a variety of science issues.

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How To Ensure Lost Wallets Are Returned

Wallets containing the picture of an infant were most likely to
trigger an honest reaction from the finder Photo: GETTY

From The Telegraph:

Lost wallets which contain a snapshot of a baby are more likely to be returned to their owners, scientists have discovered.

Researchers left 240 wallets on the streets of Edinburgh last year to see how many were returned to their owners. Some of the wallets contained one of four photographs – the baby, a cute puppy, a family and a portrait of an elderly couple.

Other wallets contained a card suggesting the owner had recently made a charity donation, while a control batch contained no additional items.

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Reduced Diet Thwarts Aging, Disease In Monkeys

Rhesus monkeys, left to right, Canto, 27, and on a restricted diet, and Owen, 29, and a control subject on an unrestricted diet, are pictured at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on May 28, 2009. The two are among the oldest surviving subjects in a pioneering long-term study of the links between diet and aging in Rhesus macaque monkeys, which have an average life span of about 27 years in captivity. Lead researcher Richard Weindruch, a professor of medicine in the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, and co-author Ricki Colman, associate scientist at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, report new findings in the journal Science that a nutritious, but reduced-calorie, diet blunts aging and delays the onset of such aged-related disorders as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and brain atrophy. (Credit: Jeff Miller)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (July 10, 2009) — The bottom-line message from a decades-long study of monkeys on a restricted diet is simple: Consuming fewer calories leads to a longer, healthier life.

Writing July 10 in the journal Science, a team of researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center and the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital reports that a nutritious but reduced-calorie diet blunts aging and significantly delays the onset of such age-related disorders as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and brain atrophy.

Read more ....

Birds Fireproof Their Homes

Photo: This somewhat fireproof next is a courting zone of a male great bowerbird. Credit: Tomoki Okida, Japan Ethological Society and Springer Japan

From Live Science:

To beguile females, some males build mansions, others build bowers.

Male great bowerbirds (Chlamydera nuchalis) of northern Australia erect two walls of twigs partially flanking a six-foot-long passageway that they pave with conspicuous bits of bones, stones, shells, and fruits. There, the males strut their stuff, inviting females over for a tryst.

Bower construction takes a week or longer, so it's no fun when brush fire sweeps through the savanna and threatens the males' handiwork.

Yet, as a new study shows, the bowers seem strangely immune to fire.

Read more ....

Rival Designs Race To Harness Ocean Energy

Photo: SeaGen was installed in the tidal currents of Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland in 2008. However, there is a suite of rival designs racing to harness ocean energy (Image: SeaGen / David Erwin)

From New Scientist:

A bout of gawky prototypes have taken to the water for the first time in recent weeks, signalling a new assault on a decades-old problem: how to generate power from the oceans.

While most wind turbines look much the same, the contest to tap that power is more like wacky races than Formula 1. A suite of varied designs are under development in an attempt to work out the most efficient way to generate juice in the harsh chemical and physical environment of the waves and tides.

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Fate Of The Potato May Foretell The Future Of Food

From The Detroit News:

A tale from history offers us a prediction about the future of food.

The wonder crop is new and unfamiliar, lauded by scientists and politicians as having the potential to end famine and feed the poor. But the public is skeptical, regarding this new food as unnatural and dangerous. The reaction to genetically modified crops today? In fact, this is what happened when potatoes were introduced into Europe from the Americas in the 1500s and 1600s.

Scientists were enamored with this new foodstuff because it had several valuable properties. Potatoes thrive even in years when the wheat crop has failed, noted a committee of the Royal Society, Britain's pioneering scientific association, in the 1660s. Better still, potatoes can be grown in almost any kind of soil and take only three to four months to mature, against 10 for cereal grains. And potatoes produce two to four times as many calories per acre as wheat, rye or oats. The case for widespread adoption of the potato, the scientists argued, was obvious.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

The Wonder Of Mars In Its Seasonal Glory

These images of sand dunes in Proctor Crater were taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. NASA/JPL-CALTECH/UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA

From The Independent:

The astonishing diversity of the Red Planet's landscape is captured by the world's most powerful camera, reports Science Editor Steve Connor.

The most powerful camera that has ever been used to survey another planet is capturing spectacular pictures of the surface of Mars to reveal a rich tapestry of geological features. Located on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, a Nasa probe launched in 2005, the HiRise camera has already taken detailed images of the outlines of ancient extra-terrestrial seas and rivers – the first unambiguous evidence that shorelines once existed on the Red Planet.

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Did an Ancient Volcano Freeze Earth?

Remnant. Toba today comprises a caldera lake, a newly arising cone (central island), and a pip-squeak of a volcanic progeny named Pusukbukit (left). Credit: NASA

From Science Now:

One fine day about 74,000 years ago, a giant volcano on Sumatra blew its top. The volcano, named Toba, may have ejected 1000 times more rock and other material than Mount St. Helens in Washington state did in 1980. In the process, it cooled the climate by at least 10°C, causing a global famine. But could the aftermath have been even worse? A new study puts to rest questions about whether Toba plunged Earth into a 1000-year deep freeze and whether an equivalent event today could jump-start a new, millennia-long ice age.

Giant volcanic eruptions such as Toba briefly cause the opposite of global warming. Although eruptions do emit greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, volcanoes also spew sulfur dioxide. Combined with water vapor, sulfur dioxide forms sulfate aerosols, which can spread around the globe, blocking solar radiation and chilling the air before becoming acid rain and snow.

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New Kind Of Astronomical Object Around Black Hole: Living Fossil Records 'Supermassive' Kick

This artist's conception shows a rogue black hole that has been kicked out from the center of two merging galaxies. The black hole is surrounded by a cluster of stars that were ripped from the galaxies. New calculations by David Merritt, from Rochester Institute of Technology, Jeremy Schnittman, from Johns Hopkins University, and Stefanie Komossa, from the Max-Planck-Institut for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany suggest that hundreds of massive black holes, left over from the epoch of galaxy formation, are waiting to be detected in the nearby universe. (Credit: Space Telescope Science Institute)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (July 10, 2009) — The tight cluster of stars surrounding a supermassive black hole after it has been violently kicked out of a galaxy represents a new kind of astronomical object and a fossil record of the kick.

A paper published in the July 10 issue of The Astrophysical Journal discusses the theoretical properties of “hypercompact stellar systems” and suggests that hundreds of these faint star clusters might be detected at optical wavelengths in our immediate cosmic environment. Some of these objects may already have been picked up in astronomical surveys, reports David Merritt, from Rochester Institute of Technology, Jeremy Schnittman, from Johns Hopkins University, and Stefanie Komossa, from the Max-Planck-Institut for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany.

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Could Michael Jackson Have Been Cloned?

Dolly, right, the first cloned sheep produced through nuclear transfer from differentiated adult sheep cells, and Polly, the world's first transgenic lamb, are in their pen at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland, in early December, 1997. Scientists at the Roslin Institute produced Molly and Polly cloned with a human gene so that their milk will contain a blood clotting protein that can be extracted for use in treating human hemophilia. Ian Wilmut's technique motivated many governments to ban research on human cloning. Dolly was later naturally mated and gave birth to a healthy lamb. (AP Photo/John Chadwick)

From Live Science:

Michael Jackson reportedly was very interested in being cloned.

"I really want to do it Uri, and I don’t care how much it costs," he is said to have told Uri Geller, a self-proclaimed psychic who claims to bend spoons with his mind (boy, if I had that power I'd sure use it for something besides spoon-bending!).

Whether the news report is accurate or not, the fact is the science didn't advance soon enough for Jackson. There have been no substantiated claims of cloned human embryos grown into fetal stages and beyond, despite rumors to the contrary. The capability to so do is near, however.

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My Comment: When stories like this one start to come out .... you know that the Michael Jackson story has been beaten to death.

10 Wind Turbines That Push the Limits of Design

From Popular Mechanics:

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) released their 20% Wind Report Card on July 8, following up on a study in which the Department of Energy proposed a goal where 20 percent of U.S. electricity comes from wind energy by 2030. The AWEA gave the overall U.S. push for wind power a “solid B”—high marks from an advocacy group that grades U.S. infrastructure. The highest letter in the report was an A- awarded for “Technology Development.” This is no big surprise—for years now, the government, alternative-energy researchers and entrepreneurs have been putting time and money into making better tech for cleaner, more efficient energy production. Here are 10 wind turbine designs that push the limits of the current design and may help the U.S. get back to being an A student by 2030.

Read more ....

This Message Will Self Destruct: Scientists Develop Programmable, Self-Erasing Documents

Self-Erasing Documents Powered By Disappearing Nanoparticles


Researchers are harnessing nanoparticle properties to develop fading ink.

Remember when, as a kid, you would pass “top-secret” notes written in lemon juice that your friends could only read in the right light? Well, in light of new nanotechnology research, this now sounds absurdly antiquated, like cave painting in the modern era. Instead, the youth of the future (and adults, too) could have to option to communicate via documents that self-erase at a programmed time.

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Ball Aerospace: Where Satellites Come From

Space-Based Surveillance Satellite courtesy Ball Aerospace & Technologies


PopSci visits the Colorado facility of the company that makes satellites, advanced instruments, and mason jars.

When it comes to space, what goes up must be sturdy, safe and secure if it's to live very long. Satellites must survive the bone-rattling jostle and pressure of launch, and once they reach orbit, they've got to weather the vast temperature changes they experience with every sunrise and sunset. Their skins must be thick enough to survive pummeling by micro-debris, and they'd better have trusty gyroscopes to be able to change directions or keep their balance.

That's why space-bound objects undergo thorough testing at firms like Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., builders of satellite skeletons, gyroscopes, advanced instruments, and mason jars. (Well, that's a different division.)

Read more ....

California Gives Desalination Plants a Fresh Look

From The Wall Street Journal:

Process to Make Seawater Drinkable Gains Traction, but Environmentalists Object to Heavy Energy Use, Harm to Marine Life.

Early next year, the Southern California town of Carlsbad will break ground on a plant that each day will turn 50 million gallons of seawater into fresh drinking water.

The $320 million project, which would be the largest desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere, was held up in the planning stages for years. But a protracted drought helped propel the project to its approval in May -- a sign of how worried local authorities are about water supplies.

Read more ....

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Phantom Menace To Dark Matter Theory

Image: The answer to the riddle of dark matter could be found in our own solar system (Image: NASA)

From New Scientist:

A SUBTLE anomaly in the orbit of the planets in our solar system could prove a controversial idea that goes beyond Einstein.

The orbit of the innermost planet, Mercury, departs from what it should be under Newton's laws. A century ago, when Einstein explained this anomaly, it confirmed his theory of gravity - the general theory of relativity.

Now an Israeli physicist predicts that a similar but far more subtle anomaly in the orbits of the planets, if detected, might prove his own theory, known as modified Newtonian dynamics, or MOND. This provides an alternative theory to dark matter to explain why stars orbiting at the edge of spiral galaxies are not flung out into space. These stars are travelling at speeds too fast for conventional gravity from the mass at the heart of a spiral galaxy to hold them in their orbits, so something else must be keeping them on track.

Read more ....

New Wonder Material, One-Atom Thick, Has Scientists Abuzz

Graphene has been described as a carbon nanotube unrolled. Its two-dimensional sheet is made up of a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal pattern like a honeycomb. Electrons can move ballistically through these sheets even at room temperature, making graphene a prime target of the electronics industry. image from Science@Berkeley Lab

From McClatchy News/Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON — Imagine a carbon sheet that's only one atom thick but is stronger than diamond and conducts electricity 100 times faster than the silicon in computer chips.

That's graphene, the latest wonder material coming out of science laboratories around the world. It's creating tremendous buzz among physicists, chemists and electronic engineers.

"It is the thinnest known material in the universe, and the strongest ever measured," Andre Geim , a physicist at the University of Manchester, England , wrote in the June 19 issue of the journal Science.

Read more ....

Rubik Cube Inventor Devises New Puzzle To Drive Us All To Distraction

From Times Online:

His cube was one of the most popular and infuriating toys of all time. Now Professor Ernö Rubik is hoping that the sphere will bring sleepless nights to the world’s obsessive puzzlers.

The creator of Rubik’s Cube is back with his first new puzzle for almost 20 years and early indications are that it is going to be every bit as irritating as the original.

Rubik’s 360, which goes on sale next week, features six small balls inside three interlocking spheres. The task is to lock each ball into colour-coded capsules on the outermost sphere. Professor Rubik said of his cube that it was “easy to understand the task, but hard to work out the solution”. It is just as aggravating to crack the 360.

Read more ....

What Does a Drug That Extends Life In Mice Mean For Humans?

Getty Images

From Time Magazine:

A natural compound, used as an immunosuppressant in organ-transplant patients, has been found to extend life in mice, according to a study published Wednesday by the journal Nature. Aging mice that were given the substance, rapamycin, lived significantly longer than mice that didn't get the drug: females that received rapamycin were 13% older at death, and males 9% older.

The research, conducted as part of the National Institute of Aging Interventions Testing Program, took place at three separate test sites and involved nearly 2,000 genetically similar mice. Trials began when mice were about 600 days old — well into middle age, at a stage roughly equivalent to 60-year-old humans.

Read more ....

Update: Secret to a longer life lies on Easter Island -- The Independent

Finding Fear: Neuroscientists Locate Where It Is Stored In The Brain

For the first time, neuroscientists have located the neurons responsible for fear conditioning in the mammalian brain. (Credit: iStockphoto/Kurt Paris)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (July 8, 2009) — Fear is a powerful emotion, and neuroscientists have for the first time located the neurons responsible for fear conditioning in the mammalian brain. Fear conditioning is a form of Pavlovian, or associative, learning and is considered to be a model system for understanding human phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders.

Using an imaging technique that enabled them to trace the process of neural activation in the brains of rats, University of Washington researchers have pinpointed the basolateral nucleus in the region of the brain called the of amygdala as the place where fear conditioning is encoded.

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My Comment: Inhibit the fear .... you will have the ultimate soldier.

Laughter: Not Just For Funny Stuff

Laughter comes in two main types, scientists found. Credit: Dreamstime

From Live Science:

Scientists say there are two types of laughter: the kind that comes from pure glee, and the kind that's meant to send a social message. New research suggests autistic children don't often express the latter type, a finding that could reveal more about the nature of human laughter.

Laughter probably predates human speech by millions of years, scientists think. It likely evolved as an early form of communication to help people negotiate group dynamics and establish hierarchy, said William Hudenko, a psychologist at Ithaca College who led the new study.

Babies usually learn to laugh before they learn to speak.

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Europe Targets Manned Spaceship

From The BBC:

Europe has taken the first step towards building its own manned spaceship.

The European Space Agency has asked industry to work out the requirements of the craft and its likely cost.

Known as the Advanced Re-Entry Vehicle, it would be developed in phases - first as an unmanned vessel to carry cargo, and then as an astronaut crew ship.

At the moment, Europe has no independent capability to transport humans into space and must hitch rides on American or Russian systems.

Read more ....

Google Announces PC Operating System To Compete With Windows

From Epicenter/Wired:

Google is releasing a lightweight, open-source PC-operating system later this year, the company announced Tuesday night, a move that threatens the very heart of Microsoft, long seen as Google’s biggest rival.

Chrome OS is intended to be a very lightweight, quick-starting operating system whose central focus is supporting Google’s Chrome browser. Applications will run mostly inside the browser, making the web — not the desktop — into the computer’s default operating system.

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Was Ancient Earth A Green Planet?

From The New Scientist:

Earth's landmasses in the late Precambrian probably weren't pleasant, but at least they were green. A new analysis of limestone rocks laid down between 1 billion and 500 million years ago suggests that there was extensive plant life on land much earlier than previously thought.

The plants were only tiny mosses and liverworts, but they would have had a profound effect on the planet. They turned the hitherto barren Earth green, created the first soils and pumped oxygen into the atmosphere, laying the foundations for animals to evolve in the Cambrian explosion that started 542 million years ago.

Read more ....

Scientists Create 'Artificial Brain Cell'

From The Telegraph:

Scientists have created an artificial brain cell they believe could one day be used to treat devastating neurological diseases.

The team has managed to pass messages within the mind in the same way as nerve cells, using a tiny piece of plastic which can transmit electricity.

These messages are used by the brain to control many actions in the body.

Correcting when they go awry could be the key to treating some diseases like Parkinson's disease researchers believe.

Read more ....

Archaeologists Dive Deep Into The Lost World Of The Maya

From USA Today:

CARA BLANCA, Belize — Machete chops echo and leaves rustle underfoot when the vines clear, revealing cobalt-blue water in a cliff-sided pool.

Hidden beneath the dry-season forest, these waters, the blue cenotes (cen-NO-tays) of Cara Blanca, represent a mystery for scholars, one left by the ancient Maya. What lies within these sacred wells?

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My Comment: A compelling and a must read on Mayan history.

Human Sperm Created From Stem Cells In World First, Claims British University

From The Telegraph:

British scientists have created human sperm using stem cells in a medical first that could revolutionise fertility treatment, they claim.

Researchers at the pioneering Northeast England Stem Cell Institute say they have made the breakthrough using stem cells from an embryo.

They claim that with some minor changes the sperm could theoretically fertilise an egg to create a child.

Within 10 years, the scientists say the technique could also be used to allow infertile couples to have children that are genetically their own. It could even be possible to create sperm from female stem cells, they say, which would ultimately mean a woman having a baby without a man.

Read more ....

New Evidence That Vinegar May Be Natural Fat-fighter

Found in many salad dressings, pickles, and other foods, vinegar could help prevent accumulation of body fat and weight gain, scientists report. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (July 7, 2009) — Researchers in Japan are reporting new evidence that the ordinary vinegar — a staple in oil-and-vinegar salad dressings, pickles, and other foods — may live up to its age-old reputation in folk medicine as a health promoter. They are reporting new evidence that vinegar can help prevent accumulation of body fat and weight gain.

Tomoo Kondo and colleagues note in the new study that vinegar has also been used as a folk medicine since ancient times. People have used it for a range of ills. Modern scientific research suggests that acetic acid, the main component of vinegar, may help control blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and fat accumulation.

Read more ....

Humans Ate Fish 40,000 Years Ago

Chinese fishermen haul in the catch of fish from the frozen Chagan Lake in Songyuan, northeast China's Jilin province on December 25, 2008, at the start of the winter fishing season. Chagan Lake covers an area of 259 square kilometers and is one of the 10 largest freshwater lakes in China, where each winter, fishermen use the ancient method of breaking the ice with wooden stakes before placing their nets to harvest the fish. Getty Images

From Live Science:

At least one of our ancestors regularly ate fish 40,000 years ago, a new study finds.

Scientists analyzed chemical compositions of the protein collagen in an ancient human skeleton from Tianyuan Cave near Beijing to reach their conclusion.

Fishing at this time must have involved considerable effort, the researchers think, because fossil records suggest humans were not using sophisticated tools — beyond crude stone blades — until about 50,000 years ago.

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Ray Kurzweil on How to Combat Aging

From Technology Review:

The noted futurist says that exponential advances will allow us to intervene in the aging process.

Submitted in response to Technology Review's interview with Leonard Hayflick. See "Can Aging Be Solved?"

Entropy is not the most fruitful perspective from which to view aging. There are varying error rates in biological information processes depending on the cell type, and this is part of biology's paradigm. We have means already of determining error-free DNA sequences even though specific cells will contain DNA errors, and we will be in a position to correct those errors that matter.

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Stephen Hawking: "Humans Have Entered A New Stage Of Evolution"

From The Daily Galaxy:

Although It has taken homo sapiens several million years to evolve from the apes, the useful information in our DNA, has probably changed by only a few million bits. So the rate of biological evolution in humans, Stephen Hawking points out in his Life in the Universe lecture, is about a bit a year.

"By contrast," Hawking says, "there are about 50,000 new books published in the English language each year, containing of the order of a hundred billion bits of information. Of course, the great majority of this information is garbage, and no use to any form of life. But, even so, the rate at which useful information can be added is millions, if not billions, higher than with DNA."

Read more ....

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Coffee 'May Reverse Alzheimer's'

From The BBC:

Drinking five cups of coffee a day could reverse memory problems seen in Alzheimer's disease, US scientists say.

The Florida research, carried out on mice, also suggested caffeine hampered the production of the protein plaques which are the hallmark of the disease.

Previous research has also suggested a protective effect from caffeine.

But British experts said the Journal of Alzheimer's disease study did not mean that dementia patients should start using caffeine supplements.

Read more ....

Buzz Aldrin: Why We Should Leave The Moon Alone And Settle Mars Instead

Photo: Buzz Aldrin is pictured standing on the moon,
which Neil Armstrong can be seen reflected in his visor.

From The Daily Mail:

Nasa astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the Moon, has urged the world to forget about returning to our nearest satellite and head to Mars instead.

'Why do we want to go to go back to the Moon?' he asked.

'Some nations want to go for prestige to say they are 'first' in space exploration in the 21st century and they want Nasa to compete with them.

'But there's no reason for us to go back. We can look at the effects of long-term missions in space by flying around comets, rather than setting up a base on the Moon. We're not going to launch any missions from there.'

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Reasons Not to Panic Over a Painkiller

From The New York Times:

Few drugs are more ubiquitous than acetaminophen, the pain reliever found in numerous over-the-counter cold remedies and the headache drug Tylenol.

But last week, a federal advisory committee raised concerns about liver damage that can occur with overuse of acetaminophen, and the panel even recommended that the Food and Drug Administration ban two popular prescription drugs, Vicodin and Percocet, because they contain it.

The news left many consumers confused and alarmed. Could regular use of acetaminophen for pain relief put them at risk for long-term liver damage?

To help resolve the confusion, here are some questions and answers about acetaminophen.

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How Can YouTube Survive?

Brand of the free: Founder Jawed Karim appeared in the first video, of elephants at a zoo

From The Independent:

It's wildly popular - and thought to be losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Now questions are being asked about the future of YouTube. Rhodri Marsden investigates a mystery of digital-age 'freeconomics'

It must surely rank as the most mundane business launch in history. Jawed Karim, one of the founders of YouTube, shuffles timidly in front of a video camera while standing in front of a group of elephants at San Diego zoo, with precious little idea of what he was starting. "The cool thing about these guys," he says, nervously gesturing behind him, "is that they have really long trunks. And that's pretty much all there is to say."

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Caffeine Reverses Memory Impairment In Mice With Alzheimer's Symptoms

Coffee drinkers may have another reason to pour that extra cup. When aged mice bred to develop symptoms of Alzheimer's disease were given caffeine -- the equivalent of five cups of coffee a day -- their memory impairment was reversed. (Credit: iStockphoto/Royce DeGrie)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (July 6, 2009) — Coffee drinkers may have another reason to pour that extra cup. When aged mice bred to develop symptoms of Alzheimer's disease were given caffeine – the equivalent of five cups of coffee a day – their memory impairment was reversed, report University of South Florida researchers at the Florida Alzheimer's Disease Research Center.

Back-to-back studies published online July 6 in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, show caffeine significantly decreased abnormal levels of the protein linked to Alzheimer's disease, both in the brains and in the blood of mice exhibiting symptoms of the disease. Both studies build upon previous research by the Florida ADRC group showing that caffeine in early adulthood prevented the onset of memory problems in mice bred to develop Alzheimer's symptoms in old age.

Read more ....

How Global Catastrophe Could Make Us Smarter

From Live Science:

When supervolcanoes blow their tops, the world's climate is altered and life is snuffed out regionally and challenged globally. Such an event is thought to have occurred 74,000 years ago when the Toba supervolcano erupted in what is now Sumatra with a force estimated to be 1,000 to 10,000 times that of Mount St. Helens.

The timing of Toba's tempest fits with an interesting bottleneck known to exist in human evolution, as seen in DNA evidence. The population became very small sometime between 90,000 and 60,000 years ago. And a new idea floating around suggests that the eruption may have contributed — by necessity — to our supreme intelligence today. Further, it has been suggested, we may be undergoing the next great leap in smarts right now.

More on all that lower down. First, some fresh research on the eruption:

Read more ....

Coming Soon: Photographic Memory In A Pill?

RGS-14: Will you remember what this protein looks like 2 months from now?


Scientists isolate a protein that significantly increases visual recall.

Wish you had a photographic memory? Well, Encyclopedia Brown, drugs may amp your brain up to that point soon. A group of Spanish scientists claim to have singled out a protein that can extend the life of visual memory significantly. When the production of the protein was boosted in mice, the rodents' visual memory retention increased, from about an hour to almost 2 months.

Read more ....

Who is Neil Armstrong?

Neil Armstrong

From The BBC:

A hero to millions, Neil Armstrong has consistently shunned the limelight. To mark the 40th anniversary of the first manned Moon landing, author Andrew Smith travelled across America to discover why the man who first set foot upon the Moon remains such an enigma.

His words on being the first person ever to set foot on the Moon have been written into soundbite history - but in the four decades since Neil Armstrong became a household name, he has also increasingly become an enigma.

Read more ....

Monday, July 6, 2009

July 4, 1776: Preserving the Declaration

From Wired:

1776: The Declaration of Independence is signed. It will take 127 years before someone gets around to saying, “Hey, maybe we should preserve this thing.”

The Declaration of Independence can be fairly said to stand alongside the Magna Carta and Bill of Rights as the most important documents in the history of democracy. Its significance was understood from the moment it was signed, so one is left to wonder why its preservation was ignored for so long.

Read more ....

'The Eagle Has Landed': A Space Geek Remembers The Moon Shot

Fly me to the Moon: the Apollo 11 ahead of lift-off on 16 July 1969. Getty

From The Independent:

As a 10-year-old 'space geek', Paul Rodgers was glued to the television when Neil Armstrong uttered the immortal words, 'The Eagle has landed.' Forty years on, he looks back at mankind's giant leap – and the Cold War politics that turned the space race into a mad dash

The first sign of trouble came when the Eagle was five minutes into its descent, 33,500ft above the Moon's surface. A shrill alarm rang through the cramped, seatless cabin in which two astronauts stood facing the stars. An error message flashed up on their primitive computer's tiny read-out: "1202". Neither Neil Armstrong nor Buzz Aldrin knew what it meant. It was left to Steve Bales, a 26-year-old technician at Mission Control in Houston to decide they should keep going. The error, he was fairly sure, would fix itself, and he repeatedly called "Go!" as the alarm sounded four more times.

Read more ....

'Greedy' Trees Still Leave Room For The Little Plants

From New Scientist:

While they might hog the bulk of the resources, trees still leave enough "crumbs" for smaller neighbouring plants to eke out a living, researchers say. The finding contradicts previous notions of plant competition and adds support to a new view of how a plant's size affects the survival and composition of its neighbouring species.

Previously, it was assumed that trees and other large plants monopolized sunlight, water, and other available resources, limiting the number of smaller plant species that can coexist in their vicinity. Research in greenhouse settings supported this view.

Now a study of forests in southern British Columbia shows that larger plants do not always correlate with fewer species in an area.

Read more ....

World's Oldest Bible Goes Online 1,600 Years After It Was Penned On Parchment

Reunited: Pages of the world's oldest surviving Christian Bible, the Codex Sinaiticus have been brought together for the first time online

From The Daily Mail:

Over 800 pages of the earliest surviving Christian Bible have been recovered and made available on the internet.

More than half of the 1,600-year-old Codex Sinaiticus manuscript has been pieced together in a joint effort between institutions in the UK, Germany, Egypt and Russia.

Now high-resolution digital images of the recovered pages of the 4th century book - written in Greek on parchment leaves - have been made available at

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Paralyzed People Using Computers, Amputees Controlling Bionic Limbs, With Microelectrodes On (Not In) Brain

Photo: Microwires emerging from the green and orange tubes connect to two arrays of 16 microelectrodes. Each array is embedded in a small mat of clear, rubbery silicone. The mats are barely visible in this image. These microelectrode arrays sit on the brain without penetrating it, a step toward longer-lived, less invasive versions of "neural interfaces" that in recent experiments elsewhere have allowed paralyzed people to control a computer cursor with their thoughts. The new microeletrode arrays were placed in two patients at the University of Utah who already were undergoing brain surgery for severe epilepsy. The larger, numbered, metallic electrodes are used to locate the source of epileptic seizures in the brain, so the patients allowed the micoelectrodes to be placed on their brains at the same time. (Credit: University of Utah Department of Neurosurgery)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (July 6, 2009) — Experimental devices that read brain signals have helped paralyzed people use computers and may let amputees control bionic limbs. But existing devices use tiny electrodes that poke into the brain. Now, a University of Utah study shows that brain signals controlling arm movements can be detected accurately using new microelectrodes that sit on the brain but don't penetrate it.

"The unique thing about this technology is that it provides lots of information out of the brain without having to put the electrodes into the brain," says Bradley Greger, an assistant professor of bioengineering and coauthor of the study. "That lets neurosurgeons put this device under the skull but over brain areas where it would be risky to place penetrating electrodes: areas that control speech, memory and other cognitive functions."

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Tropical Rainfall Moving North

The band of heavy precipitation indicates the intertropical convergence zone. The new findings are based on sediment cores from lakes and lagoons on Palau, Washington, Christmas and Galapagos islands. Credit: University of Washington

From Live Science:

Earth's most prominent rain band, near the equator, has been moving north at an average rate of almost a mile (1.4 km) a year for three centuries, likely because of a warming world, scientists say.

The band supplies fresh water to almost a billion people and affects climate elsewhere.

If the migration continues, some Pacific islands near the equator that today enjoy abundant rainfall may be starved of freshwater by midcentury or sooner, researchers report in the July issue of the journal Nature Geoscience.

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How Trivial DNA Changes Can Hurt Health

From Scientific American:

Small changes to DNA that were once considered innocuous enough to be ignored are proving to be important in human diseases, evolution and biotechnology.

Biologists long thought they understood how genetic mutations cause disease. But recent work has revealed an important twist in the tale and uncovered surprising—even counterintuitive—ways that alterations in DNA can make people sick. The classic view assumed that what are termed “silent” mutations were inconsequential to health, because such changes in DNA would not alter the composition of the proteins encoded by genes. Proteins function in virtually every process carried out by cells, from catalyzing biochemical reactions to recognizing foreign invaders. Hence, the thinking went, if a protein’s makeup ends up being correct, any small glitches in the process leading to its construction could not do a body harm.

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High Levels Of Cycling Training Damage Triathletes' Sperm

From Brightsurf:

Amsterdam, The Netherlands: The high-intensity training undertaken by triathletes has a significant impact on the quality of their sperm, the 25th annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology heard today (Monday 29 June). Professor Diana Vaamonde, from the University of Cordoba Medical School, Cordoba, Spain, said that the triathletes who did the most cycling training had the worst sperm morphology.

Professor Vaamonde's team has previously shown that both high exercise intensity and high exercise volume may be detrimental to sperm quality. They decided to take a more profound look at the sportsmen who seemed to show the greatest alteration - the triathletes - and assess the correlation between the volume of training in each activity and sperm quality. Of the three modalities, only cycling, the activity for which triathletes undertake the most training, showed a clear correlation with sperm quality. The more cycling training the sportsmen undertook, both in time and kilometres, the worse their sperm quality became.

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Sunday, July 5, 2009

From Haiti, A Surprise: Good News About AIDS

In this May 7, 2009 photo, patients with HIV/AIDS wait to be attended at the Partners in Health hospital in Cange, in central Haiti. Haitian infection rates dropped from 6.2 percent to 3.1 percent among expectant mothers in the last 15 years. Researchers recently switched to a new methodology that tests all adults, which puts Haiti's official rate at 2.2 percent, according to UNAIDS. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

From Yahoo News/AP:

BLANCHARD, Haiti – When Micheline Leon was diagnosed with HIV, her parents told her they would fit her for a coffin.

Fifteen years later, she walks around her two-room concrete house on Haiti's central plateau, watching her four children play under the plantain trees. She looks healthy, her belly amply filling a gray, secondhand T-shirt. Her three sons and one daughter were born after she was diagnosed. None has the virus.

"I'm not sick," she explained patiently on a recent afternoon. "People call me sick but I'm not. I'm infected."

In many ways the 35-year-old mother's story is Haiti's too. In the early 1980s, when the strange and terrifying disease showed up in the U.S. among migrants who had escaped Haiti's dictatorship, experts thought it could wipe out a third of the country's population.

Instead, Haiti's HIV infection rate stayed in the single digits, then plummeted.

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Why You Can’t Keep Your Foot Out of Your Mouth

From Wired:

It’s one of the more frustrating aspects of human nature: The harder we try not to say or do or think something, the more likely we are to slip — and often at the worst possible time. But maybe science can help.

More than a decade after the inability of a Dostoevsky protagonist to stop thinking about a white bear inspired his first experiments, Harvard University psychologist Daniel Wegner has become one of the world’s foremost experts on what are now known as ironic processes.

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Can American Farms Make Bamboo the Next Big Cash Crop?

Could bamboo forests like these revive Mississippi Delta agriculture? (Photograph by David Sanger/Getty Images

From Popular Mechanics:

Bamboo has come into vogue as a green, sustainable resource that's used for everything from cutting boards to clothing to wood floors. But until now, almost all of the bamboo in products sold here has come from overseas. That could change soon, as new planting techniques may lead to millions of new acres of bamboo shoots in the American South.

Could the Mississippi Delta become America's bamboo belt, the breadbasket of a new class of homegrown structural building components? Earlier this June in Greenville, Miss., a group of engineers, manufacturers, bureaucrats and farmers gathered to discuss how land formerly cultivated for cotton might be converted to produce bamboo on a massive scale. Teragren, the world's largest bamboo building products manufacturer, has engineered new structural joists made of imported Moso, a bamboo species with the tensile strength of steel. Teragren VP Tom Goodham says a domestic Moso source is the key to renewable structural timber becoming mainstream and affordable: "The whole bamboo building-products category is just on the cusp of critical mass."

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