Saturday, November 7, 2009

Early Scents Really Do Get 'Etched' In The Brain

Common experience tells us that particular scents of childhood can leave quite an impression, for better or for worse. Now, researchers reporting the results of a brain imaging study show that first scents really do enjoy a "privileged" status in the brain. (Credit: iStockphoto/Olga Solovei)

From Science Daily:

Science Daily (Nov. 6, 2009) — Common experience tells us that particular scents of childhood can leave quite an impression, for better or for worse. Now, researchers reporting the results of a brain imaging study online on November 5th in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, show that first scents really do enjoy a "privileged" status in the brain.

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Horror Movies: Why People Love Them

From Live Science:

This time of year, screens big and small entertain our basest instincts with horrifying gore, monsters, insanity and the supernatural. Although considered a mostly niche genre, horror films enjoy an avid following and rake in plenty of bucks at the box office.

Yet, as horror buffs come down from their Halloween rush, many are ready to do it again. Being scared out of their wits, it seems, is fun. Audiences get another chance this weekend as the "based-on-true-events" alien-abduction thriller "The Fourth Kind" (Universal) opens nationwide.

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Masturbation In The Animal Kingdom.


Isn't it wonderful when science and religion come together? My Slate colleague William Saletan points out that a recent paper has laid the groundwork for a pro-life defense of onanism. According to obstetrician David Greening, a rigorous program of daily masturbation can actually improve sperm quality in men with fertility problems. (Samples collected at the end of the program showed less DNA damage and higher sperm motility than samples from control subjects.) Since masturbation can help you have babies, Saletan argues, it must also serve the "procreative and unitive purposes" described in the Catechism.

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Report: Cyber Attacks Caused Power Outages in Brazil

From Threat Level:

Electrical blackouts impacting millions of people in Brazil in 2005 and 2007 were caused by hackers targeting control systems, according to the CBS news magazine 60 Minutes.

In a show set to air Sunday night, CBS blames a two-day outage in Espirito Santo in 2007 on a hack attack. The blackout affected three million people. Another, smaller blackout north of Rio de Janeiro in January 2005 was also triggered by computer intruders, the network claims.

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My Comment: I am sure there are now more safeguards to prevent such occurrences from happening, but it is an excellent example to use in revealing how easy it is to put down a power grid.

Electric SUVs: A Smaller Footprint For Big Vehicles

(Dan Vasconcellos)

From The Christian Science Monitor:

Converting existing gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs into hybrid and electric vehicles gains traction.

Tom Reid likes his ride big – a 2000 Ford Explorer SUV with plenty of interior room and all the amenities. None of those prissy little hybrid vehicles will do for him.

But after gas hit $4 a gallon last year, Mr. Reid had a big fuel bill, too – and an epiphany: convert his gas guzzler to an all-electric vehicle.

So he did. Now Reid’s bright idea has become a sideline business for his shop, HTC Racing, which produces specialized protective coating for automotive and other metal parts in Whitman, Mass. He offers kits to convert any 1995-2004 gas-sucking Ford Explorer into a cheap-to-keep, no fuel, little maintenance all-electric SUV. Cost: $15,000.

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Vision Of The Future: Custom Corneas

Super Sight: The same technology used in the Hubble telescope could offer LASIK patients better sight. Ophthalmologists can use this technology to perform "custom" surgery to correspond to the patient's lifestyle. Getty Images

From Discovery News:

NASA technology that allows the Hubble telescope to focus on distant stars now offers LASIK eye surgery patients customized options for fine-tuned night vision, superior image contrast and sight even beyond 20/20.

Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2001, wavefront technology is the newest LASIK innovation that ophthalmologists are using not only to correct eyesight, but also to peer into the physical structure of patients' eyes and locate the exact sources of their vision problems.

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How Much Power Does The Human Brain Require To Operate?

Neurogrid 65,536 artificial neurons packed onto just
one of Neurogrid's chips Rodrigo Alvarez 2009

From Popular Science:

Simulating the brain with traditional chips would require impractical megawatts of power. One scientist has an alternative.

According to Kwabena Boahen, a computer scientist at Stanford University, a robot with a processor as smart as the human brain would require at least 10 megawatts to operate. That's the amount of energy produced by a small hydroelectric plant. But a small group of computer scientists may have hit on a new neural supercomputer that could someday emulate the human brain's low energy requirements of just 20 watts--barely enough to run a dim light bulb.

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Drinking Eight Cups Of Tea A Day 'Reduces Heart Attack And Stroke Risk'

Regular tea drinking could help lead to "reduced mortality, a lower risk of
heart attack and lower cholesterol." Photo: GETTY

From The Telegraph:

Drinking up to eight cups of tea a day offers "significant health benefits", including a lower risk of heart attack and stroke, according to research.

Caffeinated drinks including tea, coffee and cocoa have a positive effect on mental function, increasing alertness, wellbeing and short-term memory, according to the study.

Dr Carrie Ruxton, a dietician who conducted a review of 47 published studies, found that an intake of 400mg of caffeine a day – or eight cups of tea – delivered "key benefits in terms of mental function and heart health" without any adverse consequences.

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The Future Of Nuclear Power

From MIT:


An interdisciplinary MIT faculty group decided to study the future of nuclear power because of a belief that this technology is an important option for the United States and the world to meet future energy needs without emitting carbon dioxide and other atmospheric pollutants. Other options include increased efficiency, renewables, and carbon sequestration, and all may be needed for a successful greenhouse gas management strategy. This study, addressed to government, industry, and academic leaders, discusses the interrelated technical, economic, environmental, and political challenges facing a significant increase in global nuclear power utilization over the next half century and what might be done to overcome those challenges.

This study was supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and by MIT's Office of the Provost and Laboratory for Energy and the Environment.

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Simply Astronomical – The Square Kilometre Array

Low-frequency receiving tiles will be surrounded by high-frequency receiving dishes
(Image: SKA Project Office/Xilostudios)

From NOVA:

ustralia is playing a leading part in plans to build the world’s largest radio telescope.

Australia is in the running to host a giant new radio telescope, the astronomical equivalent to the Large Hadron Collider which has been called the biggest science experiment in history.

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope will be too complex and costly (A$2.9 billion) to be built by any one country. Instead an international consortium of 19 countries has been formed to plan and build it. In October 2006, the consortium announced that two countries had been short listed to host the SKA – Australia and South Africa.

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Heads Up! Space Station Flyby Sunday Evening

From The Baltimore Sun:

The International Space Station is back in our evening skies, and on Sunday evening the big contraption will be flying up the East Coast and almost directly over Baltimore. (And even more directly over Ocean City.)

The weather forecast is quite promising for this pass, and the station will appear especially bright, even in badly light-polluted urban settings. It's also a convenient early-evening pass, so sky watchers will have no excuse not to step outside with the kids and get a look at your (and their) tax dollars at play.

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15 Awesome Ultramodern Fireplaces

From Multifuel Stoves:

The following 15 fireplaces are at the cutting-edge of modern fireplace design.

1. Fireplace In a Can

We have managed to put everything else in a can, so why can’t we do the same thing with fire? Designer Camillo Vanacore must have been thinking the very same thing when he dreamed up this portable, encapsulated fireplace.

The concept involves a form of magical ceramic from outer space. It starts out opaque, and then becomes transparent when it is exposed to heat generated by a flame. The fireplace in a can is also small enough to fit in just one hand. It’s an interesting design that is great when on a camping trip or in an emergency, but I don’t expect to go to the grocery store to pick up a six-pack of fire anytime soon.

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Abiotic Synthesis Of Methane: New Evidence Supports 19th-Century Idea On Formation Of Oil And Gas

An oil pump taps deposits of petroleum deep beneath the Earth. Scientists are reporting new evidence that oil may have originated from processes other that the decay of prehistoric plants. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Nov. 6, 2009) — Scientists in Washington, D.C. are reporting laboratory evidence supporting the possibility that some of Earth's oil and natural gas may have formed in a way much different than the traditional process described in science textbooks.

Their study is scheduled for Nov./Dec. issue of ACS' Energy & Fuels, a bi-monthly publication. Anurag Sharma and colleagues note that the traditional process involves biology: Prehistoric plants died and changed into oil and gas while sandwiched between layers of rock in the hot, high-pressure environment deep below Earth's surface. Some scientists, however, believe that oil and gas originated in other ways, including chemical reactions between carbon dioxide and hydrogen below Earth' surface.

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Music Improves Brain Function

From Live Science:

WASHINGTON (ISNS) -- For most people music is an enjoyable, although momentary, form of entertainment. But for those who seriously practiced a musical instrument when they were young, perhaps when they played in a school orchestra or even a rock band, the musical experience can be something more. Recent research shows that a strong correlation exists between musical training for children and certain other mental abilities.

The research was discussed at a session at a recent gathering of acoustics experts in Austin, Texas.

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Skunks: From A Continuing Series On Revolting Creatures.

From Slate:

A mother skunk trailed by six little striped kits is a sight at least as charming as ducklings following their mother. Skunks themselves are not revolting. It's the pungent, oily, yellow-green liquid that streams out of nozzles on either side of a skunk's anus that is revolting. Lovable though the creatures are, there will never be a children's book called Make Way for Skunks.

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Sesame Street Celebrates 40th Anniversary with Premiere on November 10th

From Geek Dad:


Cookie Monster is no doubt the least good-for-you part of Sesame Street but it was always my favorite. And then there’s Oscar the Grouch, who’s already been the subject of a Geek Dad post.

One of us.

Likely the Cookie Monster is the favorite of many others too, since Google placed him on their homepage to celebrate the show’s 40th anniversary, which is Tuesday, November 10, as new segments will begin airing on PBS stations. There are preview clips available at the official website linked above but, be warned, there is video that turns on instantly, so if you’re not in the mood for Ernie, you might want to hit the mute button.

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How Much Would You Pay To See Your Future?

Image: Whole-genome sequencing could be affordable and accurate enough to perform on every newborn with a simple heel-prick blood test in a matter of years.
(Credit: Elizabeth Armstrong Moore/CNET)

From CNET:

My dad used to say technology is advancing so quickly that, by the time a product reaches market, it is already obsolete. Moreover, if you wait just a little longer, you can pay a lot less. The sequencing of the human genome takes the advancement of technology, and its fast reduction in cost, to an entirely new level.

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How Astronomers Fill In Uncharted Areas Of The Universe

This image of the remnants of an exploded star was taken by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, astronomers. By studying it, astronomers gained a better understanding of new details about the role of supernova remnants as the Milky Way's super-efficient particle accelerators. (NASA/CXC/University of Ultrech/J.Vink/AFP)

From The Christian Science Monitor:

Thanks to new tools, scientists are quickly mapping the stars.

Astronomers are filling in the blank spaces on their 3-D map of our universe thanks to their ability to sense almost every conceivable form of electromagnetic radiation. Those blanks include remote regions of space and time when the first stars formed and when young galaxies began to group themselves into gravitationally bound clusters.

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Aluminum Fuel Could Power Future Space Trips

Powered by Powdered Aluminum: This test rocket soared 1300 feet into the air using seven inches of a new, environmentally friendly fuel made of nanoaluminum and ice. Purdue University/Steven Son

From Discovery News:

Aluminum and water is usually a boring combination, but light a mixture of nanoaluminum and ice and the results are explosive.

Scientists from Purdue University have created a new, environmentally friendly solid rocket fuel that recently sent a rocket screaming 1300 feet into the air using seven inches of nanoaluminum and ice. The new fuel could power missions to the moon or Mars while dramatically reducing the amount of on-board fuel.

"Theoretically you can get very high temperatures using aluminum and water, but the kinetics would be so slow and it would be so hard to ignite that it's very hard to actually make the rocket work," said Steven Son, a professor at Purdue University in Indiana who helped develop the new fuel.

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Beyond North and South: Evidence For Magnetic Monopoles

Field Day: Magnets always have a north pole and a south pole. Physicists have managed to separate them in unusual materials called spin ices, enabling each pole to move freely. Cordelia Molloy Photo Researchers, Inc.

From Scientific American:

A sighting, of sorts, of separate north-south magnetic poles.

Magnets are remarkable exemplars of fairness—every north pole is invariably accompanied by a counterbalancing south pole. Split a magnet in two, and the result is a pair of magnets, each with its own north and south. For decades researchers have sought the exception—namely, the monopole, magnetism’s answer to the electron, which carries electric charge. It would be a free-floating carrier of either magnetic north or magnetic south—a yin unbound from its yang.

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Comic Books Are Good For Children's Learning

From The Telegraph:

Parents should not "look down" on comics as they are just as good for children as reading books, a new study claims.

Researchers believe they can benefit from tales about the caped crusader, Superman and even Dennis the Menace in the same way they can from reading other types of literature, despite teachers and parents often being snooty about comics, experts say.

According to the research, critics say that reading comics is actually a "simplified version" of reading that doesn't have the complexity of "real" books with their "dense columns of words and lack of pictures".

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Which One To Choose? Apple's Store Tops 100,000 Applications

iPhone users can now choose from 100,000 different applications

From The Daily Mail:

Apple revealed today that developers have crammed the virtual shelves of their App Store with more than 100,000 programmes for iPhones and iPod Touch devices.

Applications can range from time-wasting games, to maps that interact with real-time videos which create an augmented reality.

Even celebrities are getting in on the app action. Noel Edmonds has created a Cosmic Ordering programme to maker user's dreams come true while David Hasselhoff has launched 'Ask the Hoff' to answer your tricky questions.

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Early Origins For Uncanny Valley

Macaques find fake monkeys creepy

From The BBC:

Human suspicion of realistic robots and avatars may have earlier origins than previously thought.

The phenomenon, called the uncanny valley, describes the disquiet caused by synthetic people which almost, but not quite, match human expressiveness.

Experiments with macaque monkeys show they too are suspicious of replicas that fall short of the real thing.

The research suggests a deep-seated evolutionary origin for the reactions such artificial entities evoke.

Read more ....

Friday, November 6, 2009

Archaeologists Track Infamous Conquistador Through Southeast

Sixteenth century glass beads are among the rare artifacts discovered at Fernbank Museum of Natural History's archaeology site, which scholars believe is a stop along Hernando de Soto's trek through the Southeast in 1540. (Credit: Dan Schultz/Fernbank Museum of Natural History)

From Science Daily:

Science Daily (Nov. 5, 2009) — Archaeologists at Atlanta's Fernbank Museum of Natural History have discovered unprecedented evidence that helps map Hernando de Soto's journey through the Southeast in 1540. No evidence of De Soto's path between Tallahassee and North Carolina has been found until now, and few sites have been located anywhere.

Read more

The Truth About 2012 Doomsday Hype

An ancient Mayan Pyramid at Chchen Itza. The Mayan calendar ends in 2012, but Mayans never predicted the world would end. Rather, the ending of their calendar is rather like how our Gregorian calendar ends each Dec. 31. Credit: Stockxpert

From Live Science:

2012 is coming very soon. The movie, that is — the disaster film directed by Roland Emmerich depicting global catastrophe of Biblical proportions. The year itself is of course a few dozen months away, and there is growing interest, excitement, and concern for both events.

The film "2012," which opens Nov. 13, takes place, rather obviously, in the year 2012, though it could have been set in 1995 or 2013. The movie's disasters have no particular link to that year, it's just when the Earth happens to start burping earthquakes and farting fire. 2012 made a perfect promotional hook for the film, because the ancient Mayans predicted that the world would end that year, if not specifically on December 21, 2012.

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Remembering A Former Caltech Rocket Scientist And The Founder Of China's Space Program

China's Rocket Pioneer: Left: A Chinese Long-March 4-B rocket blasts off on Nov. 6, 2004. Right: Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visits Qian Xuesen on August 2, 2008. Xinhua

From Popular Science:

Qian Xuesen has died at 98; he helped found Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory before being deported as a suspected Communist.

One can only imagine how history might have played out if the United States had not deported a Chinese-born Caltech rocket scientist on suspicion of being a Communist in 1955. Qian Xuesen first fought his deportation, but later accepted his fate and went on to become the founder of China's missile and space programs. His death this past Sunday comes as China broadens its space exploration efforts to become a potential challenger to a troubled U.S. space program, or perhaps a partner.

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Can We Really Control The Weather?

Cloud-seeding is a controversial practice common in Russia and China. Getty

From The Independent:

Recently both Russia and China have claimed to be able to use cloud seeding to increase rainfall and snowfall, or change the location of where it falls. In the past, snow-making experiments have been carried out in North American ski resorts in the past with little evidence of success. So how have the Russian and Chinese scientists achieved this feat and what evidence is there that it is in fact due to cloud seeding?

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Nanoparticles Could Damage DNA At A Distance, Study Suggests

Doses of nanoparticles used in the study were higher than anything a human might be exposed to.
Photograph: Getty Images

From The Guardian:

Lab tests show that metal nanoparticles can affect DNA without actually coming into contact with it – though the results are difficult to extrapolate to the human body.

Nanoparticles of metal can damage the DNA inside cells even if there is no direct contact between them, scientists have found. The discovery provides an insight into how the particles might exert their influence inside the body and points to possible new ways to deliver medical treatments.

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Tweak Gravity: What If There Is No Dark Matter?

INVISIBLE OR NONEXISTENT? A composite image of the galaxy cluster Abell 520 shows the inferred presence of matter, primarily dark matter, in blue. X-ray: NASA/CXC/UVic./A.Mahdavi et al.; Optical/Lensing: CFHT/UVic./A.Mahdavi et al.

From Scientific American:

Modifications to the theory of gravity could account for observational discrepancies, but not without introducing other complications.

Theorists and observational astronomers are hot on the trail of dark matter, the invisible material thought to account for puzzling mass disparities in large-scale astronomical structures. For instance, galaxies and galactic clusters behave as if they were far more massive than would be expected if they comprised only atoms and molecules, spinning faster than their observable mass would explain. What is more, the very presence of assemblages such as our Milky Way Galaxy speaks to the influence of more mass than we can see. If the mass of the universe were confined to atoms, the clumping of matter that allowed galaxies to take shape would never have transpired.

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Carl Sagan Day Celebrated At Florida University

From The Telegraph:

The first Carl Sagan Day is being celebrated at Broward College, Florida, in honour of the great astronomer, novelist and sceptic.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author, who died in 1996, would have turned 75 on Monday 9 November 2009. Broward College is to hold a day of activities and talks in his memory.

The university, near Davie, Florida, held planetarium shows and star-gazing, as well as a talk by the magician and sceptic James Randi, a friend of Dr Sagan.

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A Neutron Star Is Born: Stellar Core Just 12 Miles Across Spotted 11,000 Light Years Away

This supernova was captured by Nasa's Chandra X-Ray Observatory. The neutron star is the blue dot at the centre of the picture

From The Daily Mail:

An infant neutron star, the super-dense core of a stellar explosion, has been observed for the first time.

The 12.4 mile-wide object is the youngest object of its kind ever discovered, having appeared just 330 years ago.

It has been cloaked in mystery since it was identified as a powerful X-ray source in 1999. Astronomers now know the source is a neutron star 11,000 light years from Earth at the centre of the supernova Cassiopeia A.

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Coffee Brims With Health Benefits, Researchers Say

From Sci-Tech Today:

Although caffeine might be considered the "active ingredient" in coffee, coffee is only two percent caffeine and 98 percent "other stuff," including more than 1,000 different compounds such as vitamins, minerals and amino acids. It even contains fiber. Each cup contains the kind that helps prevent cholesterol from being absorbed by the intestines.

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F1 Designer Unveils Electric Car

Photo: Science and Innovation Minister Lord Drayson test drives the T.27

From The BBC:

An electric car created by the McLaren F1 'supercar' road car designer Gordon Murray has been unveiled.

Three prototypes of the T.27 model will be developed over the next 16 months.

The manufacturing process, called iStream, has received £9m of investment, half of which came from the government's Technology Strategy Board.

iStream plants can be just one fifth of the size of a conventional car factory, as the cars are not made from stamped steel.

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Are The Alps Growing Or Shrinking?

The Matterhorn, in the Alps. (Credit: iStockphoto)

From Science Daily:

Science Daily (Nov. 6, 2009) — The Alps are growing just as quickly in height as they are shrinking. This paradoxical result comes from a new study by a group of German and Swiss geoscientists.

Due to glaciers and rivers, about exactly the same amount of material is eroded from the slopes of the Alps as is regenerated from the deep Earth's crust. The climatic cycles of the glacial period in Europe over the past 2.5 million years have accelerated this erosion process. In the latest volume of the science magazine Tectonophysics ( No. 474, S.236-249) the scientists show that today's uplifting of the Alps is driven by these strong climatic variations.

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A Simple Sneeze Raises Fear of Death

From Live Science:

In the current atmosphere of heightened concern over the H1N1 virus, the everyday sneeze can trigger fears of totally unrelated hazards, including heart attacks, new research suggests.

An everyday achoo reminds people that swine flu is lurking, the researchers found. That intensifies worries about flu. From there, people rely on current feelings to assess unrelated health risks and even policy decisions, the study found.

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Giant Crack In Africa Formed In Just Days

A 500-metre-long crack opened up in just a few days in Afar, Ethiopia, in 2005
(Image: University of Rochester)

From The New Scientist:

A crack in the Earth's crust – which could be the forerunner to a new ocean – ripped open in just days in 2005, a new study suggests. The opening, located in the Afar region of Ethiopia, presents a unique opportunity for geologists to study how mid-ocean ridges form.

The crack is the surface component of a continental riftMovie Camera forming as the Arabian and African plates drift away from one another. It began to open up in September 2005, when a volcano at the northern end of the rift, called Dabbahu, erupted.

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TV Switch-Over Triggers Rush To See Rare Stars

The skies are ours, for now: the Arecibo Observatory has a window of opportunity to view the sky at frequencies previously masked by TV (Image: Seth Shostak/SPL)

From New Scientist:

US SKIES are clearer than usual after the switch in June from analogue to digital TV freed up a chunk of the radio spectrum. Astronomers are now rushing to see what they can find before transmissions from cellphone companies and others fill the space.

Prior to the switch-over, naturally occurring radio waves at frequencies between 700 and 800 megahertz were obscured by analogue TV signals, preventing astronomers from investigating the universe using this band. Now a receiver has been installed at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico to take advantage of the new-found clarity.

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Wearable Artificial Intelligence Could Help Astronauts Troll Mars for Signs of Life

Cyborg Eyes Tests on the cyborg astrobiologist suit involve real-time color-based novelty detection using a field-capable digital microscope. An AI integrated spacesuit using the technology could help a manned mars mission search for sign of life on Mars' hostile surface. P.C. McGuire, arXiv:0910.5454.

From Popular Science:

Not since RoboCop has being a cyborg seemed so very cool. University of Chicago geoscientists are developing an artificial intelligence system that future Mars explorers could incorporate into their spacesuits to help them recognize signs of life on Mars' barren surface.

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Out Of The Blue: Islands Seen From Space

From Wired Science:

Islands are some of the most beautiful, peaceful, violent, desolate and unique places on Earth. While experiencing a tropical island from its sandy beaches, or a volcanic island from its towering peaks is wonderful, experiencing them from above can be inspiring as well.

We’ve collected images taken by astronauts and satellites from space of some of the most interesting islands on the planet.

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Methane Maps Step One for Energy Prospectors

From Popular Mechanics:

A team of geologists recently found hundreds of plumes of methane gas—a potent greenhouse gas and potential energy source—in the Arctic Ocean, indicating there may be more methane being released from deep in the ocean than expected. Here is a look at the recent findings and the known sources of methane out today.

An international team of scientists has found hundreds of methane gas plumes in the depths of the Arctic Ocean. German and English researchers used sonar to detect 250 columns of bubbles pushing out of the seabed of West Spitsbergen and then sampled the water in those areas, finding that the gas was predominantly methane. The discovery indicates there may be more of the gas being released and from deeper areas of the Arctic seabed than expected.

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PICTURES: "Extraordinary" Ancient Skeletons Found

Photograph courtesy Saxony-Anhalt State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology

From National Geographic:

This "extraordinary" skeleton of a woman buried in a seated position was discovered during an archaeological survey before the planned construction of a high-speed train track in central Germany, scientists said in a statement.

The woman, who lived in the early Bronze Age (roughly 2200 to 1600 B.C.), was found near the town of Bad Lauchstadt and is one of several burials found so far during the dig, which runs from September 2008 to June 2010.

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Large Hadron Collider Stalled Again... Thanks To Chunk Of Baguette

A spokesman for CERN told The Times: 'Nobody knows how it got there. The best guess is that it was dropped by a bird, either that or it was thrown out of a passing aeroplane'

From Times Online:

The rehabilitation of the beleaguered Large Hadron Collider was on hold tonight after the failure of one of its powerful cooling units caused by an errant chunk of baguette.

The £4 billion particle-collider faced more than a year of delays after a helium leak stymied the project in its first few days of operation. It is gradually being switched back on over the coming months but suffered a new setback on Tuesday morning.

Read more ....

Dead Star Encased in Diamond Shroud

An unusual neutron star appears to be covered in a thin atmosphere of carbon. Cassiopeia A appears in this photo, with the neutron star at its center highlighted in the right-hand corner. Chandra image: NASA/CXC/Southampton/W.Ho; Illustration: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss

From Discovery News:

Astronomers have just solved a decade-old mystery that explains the unusual behavior of a neutron star -- the dense, hot corpse left behind after a massive stellar explosion -- at the center of the Cassiopeia A supernova remnant.

It wasn't the X-rays streaming from the center of the supernova remnant that astronomers found puzzling. It's why the beams weren't pulsating as expected. Now the scientists know why: The neutron star is covered with a thin atmosphere of carbon, which acts like a giant bulb to smooth light in all directions.

Read more ....

Vast Stars Fed Biggest Black Holes

Supermassive black holes are found at the centre of galaxies. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

From Cosmos:

SYDNEY: Stars more than one million times as massive as the Sun may be more stable than astronomers thought, and have created seeds that grew into the largest supermassive black holes.

Supermassive black holes are found at the centre of most galaxies, including our own Milky Way. Theories about their formation range from collapsing clouds of gas to collisions between smaller black holes.

Astrophysicists have also suggested that supermassive black holes could have formed from the catastrophic collapse of incredibly large stars that were one million to one billion times the mass of the Sun.

Read more ....

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Spinal Cord Regeneration Enabled By Stabilizing, Improving Delivery Of Scar-degrading Enzyme

Image showing the extent of new nerves (green) that regenerated after treatment with the enzyme. (Credit: Image courtesy of Ravi Bellamkonda)

From Science Daily:

Science Daily (Nov. 5, 2009) — Researchers have developed an improved version of an enzyme that degrades the dense scar tissue that forms when the central nervous system is damaged. By digesting the tissue that blocks re-growth of damaged nerves, the improved enzyme -- and new system for delivering it -- could facilitate recovery from serious central nervous system injuries.

Read more ....

The Many Mysteries of Neanderthals

Comparison between Neanderthal and modern human skeletons. Photo: K. Mowbray, Reconstruction: G. Sawyer and B. Maley, Copyright: Ian Tattersall

From Live Science:

We are currently the only human species alive, but as recently as maybe 24,000 years ago another one walked the earth — the Neanderthals.

These extinct humans were the closest relatives we had, and tantalizing new hints from researchers suggest that we might have been intimately close indeed. The mystery of whether Neanderthals and us had sex might possibly get solved if the entire Neanderthal genome is reported soon as expected. The matter of why they died and we succeeded, however, remains an open question.

Read more ....

How The Elephant Got Its Trunk (And Other Wonders Of Nature)

'No one has ever really known how the elephant got its trunk, or how the leopard got its spots. This project will lay the foundation for work that will answer those questions and many others,' says Dr David Haussler

From The Independent:

Nobel laureate to reveal secrets of evolution via massive gene-mapping project.

An ambitious plan to map the genomes of 10,000 species of vertebrates – animals with backbones – has been announced by scientists.

Unravelling the DNA sequences of the many species of vertebrates will help science to explain how the leopard got its spots, how the elephant came by its trunk and how the bat learned to fly, the researchers said.

Read more ....

Spraying On Skin Cells To Heal Burns

Photo: Spray-on skin: In a unique treatment for second-degree burns, surgeons harvest a small number of skin cells through a skin biopsy, suspend them in solution, and then spray the resulting mixture onto a burn wound. Once in place, skin stem cells, called basal cells, proliferate to create a new layer of skin. Credit: ReCell

From Technology Review:

A new technique in burn treatment provides an alternative to skin grafts in the operating room.

Traditionally, treatment for severe second-degree burns consists of adding insult to injury: cutting a swath of skin from another site on the same patient in order to graft it over the burn. The process works, but causes more pain for the burn victim and doubles the area in need of healing. Now a relatively new technology has the potential to heal burns in a way that's much less invasive than skin grafts. With just a small skin biopsy and a ready-made kit, surgeons can create a suspension of the skin's basal cells--the stem cells of the epidermis--and spray the solution directly onto the burn with results comparable to those from skin grafts.

Read more .....

I Can Has Swine Flu? A Cat Comes Down with H1N1

Photo: Michael Waine / Corbis

From Time Magazine:

For all the attention that has whirled around H1N1 in recent months, it seems that one vulnerable, and furry, population may have been overlooked: the family pet.

On Wednesday, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported the first confirmed case of H1N1 in a house pet, a 13-year-old domestic shorthaired cat. The animal likely contracted the virus from its owners, veterinarians say, since two of the three family members living in the cat's household had recently suffered from influenza-like illness. Late last week, when the cat came down with flu-like symptoms — malaise, loss of appetite — its owners brought it to Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine for treatment. The family mentioned to the vet that they had also recently battled illness, which led to testing the pet for H1N1.

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Policy Decisions Slow H1N1 Vaccine Production

From Future Pundit:

Why is H1N1 influenza vaccine coming out so slowly in the United States? Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former FDA deputy commissioner, says a few policy decisions slow the production of vaccine.

Why do adjuvants matter? An adjuvanted H1N1 vaccine being used in Europe contains 3.75 micrograms of vaccine stock. The same vaccine in the U.S., without the adjuvant, requires 15 micrograms of vaccine for equal potency. If we used adjuvants, we could have had four times the number of shots with the same raw material.

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A Language of Smiles

From The New York Times:

Say “eeee.” Say it again. Go on: “eeee.”

Maybe I’m easy to please, but doing this a few times makes me giggle. “Eeee.”

Actually, I suspect it’s not just me. Saying “eeee” pulls up the corners of the mouth and makes you start to smile. That’s why we say “cheese” to the camera, not “choose” or “chose.” And, I think, it’s why I don’t get the giggles from “aaaa” or “oooo.”

The mere act of smiling is often enough to lift your mood; conversely, the act of frowning can lower it; scowling can make you feel fed up. In other words, the gestures you make with your face can — at least to some extent — influence your emotional state.

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