An anonymous reader writes "Inspired by nature, a London man believes the solution to safer bike helmets is to build them out of paper. '"The animal that stood out was the woodpecker. It pecks at about ten times per second and every time it pecks it sustains the same amount of force as us crashing at 50 miles per hour," says Surabhi. "It's the only bird in the world where the skull and the beak are completely disjointed, and there's a soft corrugated cartilage in the middle that absorbs all the impact and stops it from getting a headache." In order to mimic the woodpecker's crumple zone, Anirudha turned to a cheap and easily accessible source — paper. He engineered it into a double-layer of honeycomb that could then be cut and constructed into a functioning helmet. "What you end up with is with tiny little airbags throughout the helmet," he says.'"
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Lauran Neergaard writes at the Christian Science Monitor that doctors are warning that if Congress cuts food stamps, the federal government could be socked with bigger health bills because over time the poor wind up seeking treatment in doctors' offices or hospitals as a result. 'If you're interested in saving health care costs, the dumbest thing you can do is cut nutrition,' says Dr. Deborah Frank of Boston Medical Center, who founded the Children's HealthWatch pediatric research institute. 'People don't make the hunger-health connection.' Food stamps feed 1 in 7 Americans and cost almost $80 billion a year, twice what it cost five years ago. The doctors' lobbying effort comes as Congress is working on a compromise farm bill that's certain to include food stamp cuts. Republicans want heftier reductions than do Democrats in yet another partisan battle over the government's role in helping poor Americans. Conservatives say the program spiraled out of control as the economy struggled and the costs are not sustainable. However research from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts estimated that a cut of $2 billion a year in food stamps could trigger in an increase of $15 billion in medical costs (PDF) for over the next decade. Other research shows children from food-insecure families are 30 percent more likely to have been hospitalized for a range of illnesses. 'Food is medicine,' says Massachusetts Representative Jim McGovern, who has led the Democrats' defense of the food stamp program. 'Critics focus almost exclusively on how much we spend, and I wish they understood that if we did this better, we could save a lot more money in health care costs.'"
An anonymous reader writes "Orbital Sciences Corp.'s unmanned Cygnus spacecraft delivered 3,000 pounds of equipment, fresh fruit, and Christmas presents from the families of all six ISS spacemen today. 'From the men and women involved in the design, integration and test, to those who launched the Antares (rocket) and operated the Cygnus, our whole team has performed at a very high level for our NASA customer, and I am very proud of their extraordinary efforts,' said David W. Thompson, president and chief executive officer of Orbital, in a written statement from the company."
An anonymous reader writes "Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo reached an altitude of 71,000 feet, beating out its previous record of 69,000 feet. From the article: 'This time around, Virgin Galactic and Mojave-based Scaled Composites, the plane's builder, tested a new reflective coating on the rocket plane's tail booms. The flight also marked the first tryout for a thruster system that's designed to keep the plane on course when it's above the atmosphere. Virgin Galactic said all of the test objectives were met.'"
Philip Ross writes "Fresh analysis of an extinct relative of humans suggests our ancient ancestors dined primarily on tiger nuts, which are edible grass bulbs, settling a discrepancy over what made up prehistoric diets. According to a new study published in the journal PLOS One, the strong-jawed ancient hominin known as Paranthropus boisei, nicknamed 'Nutcracker Man,' which roamed East Africa between 2.4 million and 1.4 million years ago, survived on a diet scientists previously thought implausible."
An anonymous reader writes "It's generally accepted that the Universe's history is best described by the Big Bang model, with General Relativity and Quantum Field Theory as the physical laws governing the underlying framework. It's also accepted that the Universe probably started off with an early period of cosmic inflation prior to that. Well, if you accept those things — as in, the standard picture of the Universe — then a multiverse is an inevitable consequence of the physics of the early Universe, and this article explains why that's the case."
An anonymous reader writes "Getting into space is a difficult prospect. The commercial space industry has been making steady progress over the past decade, and they're finally getting to the point where they can be relied upon to transport people and important cargoes. This article makes the case that 2014 will be a turning point for commercial space travel, the year that a nascent industry comes into its own. 'We should — finally — start to see the first flights into space by Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, and perhaps the first commercial flights of that vehicle as well, depending on how well their test program proceeds. In addition, we should also see the first test flights, although not necessarily into space, of XCOR's Lynx vehicle in 2014, and possibly even commercial flights by the end of the year if all goes well,' said Jeff Foust, editor of The Space Review. 'If these companies achieve those long-awaited, and sometimes long-delayed, major milestones, it will go far to erase any lingering doubts that suborbital space tourism is a real market, while also enabling opportunities for using those vehicles in other applications, like suborbital research and technology demonstration.'"
An anonymous reader writes "Reuters reports, 'In a study of adults who experienced psychosis for the first time, having smoked marijuana daily was linked to an earlier age of onset of the disorder.' ..."This is not a study about the association between cannabis and psychosis, but about the association between specific patterns of cannabis use ... and an earlier onset of psychotic disorders,' Dr. Marta Di Forti, who led the research at the Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College, said in an email. Among more than 400 people in South London admitted to hospitals with a diagnosed psychotic episode, the study team found the heaviest smokers of high-potency cannabis averaged about six years younger than patients who had not been smoking pot. Psychosis is a general term for a loss of reality, and is associated with several psychiatric diseases, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. ... "The thorny question is whether they might otherwise have developed the disease or would have not had mental illness. It's a distinction we haven't figured out yet," Compton said. ... It is still unclear whether there are safe levels of use for cannabis, she added. '"
An anonymous reader writes "Kazakh news site BNews.kz reports that Mukhtarbay Otelbaev, Director of the Eurasian Mathematical Institute of the Eurasian National University, is claiming to have found the solution to another Millennium Prize Problems. His paper, which is called 'Existence of a strong solution of the Navier-Stokes equations' and is freely available online (PDF in Russian), may present a solution to the fundamental partial differentials equations that describe the flow of incompressible fluids for which, until now, only a subset of specific solutions have been found. So far, only one of the seven Millennium problems was solved — the Poincaré conjecture, by Grigori Perelman in 2003. If Otelbaev's solution is confirmed, not only it might be the first time that the $1 million offered by the Clay Millennium Prize will find a home (Perelman refused the prize in 2010), but also engineering libraries will soon have to update their Fluid Mechanic books."
sciencehabit writes "Hidden ruins are customary in the wild jungles of South America or on the white shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Now, researchers have uncovered a long-lost culture closer to Western civilization — in New England. Using aerial surveys created by LiDAR, a laser-guided mapping technique, the team detected the barely perceptible remnants of a former 'agropolis' around three rural New England towns (abstract). Near Ashford, Connecticut, a vast network of roads offset by stone walls came to light underneath a canopy of oak and spruce trees. More than half of the town has become reforested since 1870, according to historical documents, exemplifying the extent of the rural flight that marked the late 1800s. Some structures were less than 2 feet high and buried in inaccessible portions of the forest, making them essentially invisible to on-the-ground cartography."
robert2cane points out a promising study from Cornell University about controlling the spread of cancer. There are many treatments for an isolated tumor, but once cancer cells reach the bloodstream and start spreading through the body, it's much more difficult to control. The new research (PDF), led by Michael King, developed a compound that is able to target and eliminate cancer cells in the blood of mice. "When attempting to develop a treatment for metastases, King faced two problems: targeting moving cancer cells and ensuring cell death could be activated once they were located. To handle both issues, he built fat-based nanoparticles that were one thousand times smaller than a human hair and attached two proteins to them. One is E-selectin, which selectively binds to white blood cells, and the other is TRAIL. He chose to stick the nanoparticles to white blood cells because it would keep the body from excreting them easily. This means the nanoparticles, made from fat molecules, remain in the blood longer and thus have a greater chance of bumping into freely moving cancer cells. There is an added advantage. Red blood cells tend to travel in the center of a blood vessel, and white blood cells stick to the edges. This is because red blood cells are lower density and can be easily deformed to slide around obstacles. Cancer cells have a similar density to white blood cells and remain close to the walls, too. As a result, these nanoparticles are more likely to bump into cancer cells and bind their TRAIL receptors."
braindrainbahrain writes "Mars One, the low-credibility effort to colonize Mars, is at least funding some interesting concept studies for their alleged plan to colonize the red planet. One of the most interesting is the effort to maintain uninterrupted communications with Mars. This is not as trivial as it may sound, as any satellite in Martian orbit will still have to deal with occultations between Mars and Earth due to the Sun. Surrey Satellite Technology will be performing the study."
KentuckyFC writes "Last year, a group of theoretical physicists suggested a bizarre experiment based on a quantum phenomenon known as weak measurement. Unlike ordinary measurements that always change the state of a quantum object, a weak measurement extracts such a small amount of information that it leaves the quantum state intact. For example, a weak measurement can detect the presence of a photon by the deflection it causes when it bounces off a mirror. However, this does not change the photon's quantum state. The new idea was to make two weak measurements on a quantum system that is in a superposition of states, the goal being to separate the location of this quantum system from its properties, like a Cheshire cat. Now a group of experimentalists say they've observed a quantum Cheshire cat for the first time in an experiment involving neutrons. They passed a beam of neutrons through a magnetic field to align their spins and then sent them through an interferometer in which the neutrons pass down both arms of the experiment at the same time. They then used weak measurements to locate the neutrons in one arm while measuring their magnetic properties in the other. Voila! A quantum Cheshire cat."
astroengine writes "In research presented at the Meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society in London on Friday, astronomers discussed the dusty, stormy atmospheres of exoplanets and brown dwarfs and how they could be hothouses for the formation of prebiotic molecules. These are organic molecules that are known to form the building blocks for life as we know it. 'The atmospheres around exoplanets and brown dwarfs form exotic clouds that, instead of being composed of water droplets, are made of dust particles made of minerals,' said astronomer Craig Stark, of the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. The idea is that lightning storms generate copious amounts of highly charged ions and electrons, which then get stuck to dust particles, using them as miniature prebiotic chemistry factories. Of particular interest is the formation of formaldehyde, ammonia, hydrogen cyanide and the amino acid glycine, all of which underpin Earth's biosphere."
ananyo writes "The waters of the African lake seem calm and peaceful. A few migrant swallows flit near the surface. Suddenly, leaping from the water, a fish grabs one of the famously speedy birds straight out of the air. 'The whole action of jumping and catching the swallow in flight happens so incredibly quickly that after we first saw it, it took all of us a while to really fully comprehend what we had just seen,' says Nico Smit, director of the Unit for Environmental Sciences and Management at North-West University in Potchefstroom, South Africa. After the images did sink in, he adds, 'the first reaction was one of pure joy, because we realized that we were spectators to something really incredible and unique.' Rumours of such behaviour by the African tigerfish (Hydrocynus vittatus), which has been reported as reaching one metre in length, have circulated since the 1940s. But this is the first confirmed record of a freshwater fish preying on birds in flight, the team reports in the Journal of Fish Biology (PDF)."
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "These days, it seems just about every imaginable thing is 'connected.' There's connected thermostats, locks, refrigerators, forks, and so many more. Now we can add toothbrushes to the list. Brandon Griggs reports at CNN that the Kolibree toothbrush syncs wirelessly with an iPhone or an Android device to track brushing habits, announce whether you have brushed thoroughly enough and reward you for good oral hygiene. 'It works just like a regular toothbrush,' says Renee Blodgett. 'The only difference is that all the data is stored on your phone so you can see how you're brushing.' Users download a mobile app and connect via Bluetooth, and the Kolibree documents every brushing via three sensors that record 1) how long you brush, 2) whether you brush all four quadrants of your mouth, and 3) whether you brush up and down (good) instead of just side to side (bad). 'Before Kolibree, the issue is that there has been no easy and quick way to monitor whether you're doing an A+ job or a C- one when you brush, so how can you improve on a habit you don't have any data about?.' There's a bit of gameplay built in, which challenges users to do better next time, and the company has created an API, hoping that third-party developers will come up with additional apps that will inspire users to brush more and more effectively writes Daniel Terdiman. 'With individual health getting more attention than ever, it's certainly possible people will see the benefit of something that keeps a close eye on how well they're treating their teeth, and which challenges them to do better.'"
An anonymous reader writes "3D printers are transforming the business, medical, and consumer landscapes by creating objects like airplane parts, lamps, jewellery, and even artificial human bones. Now astronomers are experimenting with the technology to transform astronomy education, turning images from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope into tactile 3D pictures for people who cannot explore celestial wonders visually."
Science_afficionado writes "Astronomers have discovered a surprising new class of 'hypervelocity stars' that are moving at more than a million miles per hour, fast enough to escape the gravitational grasp of the Milky Way galaxy. The 20 hyper stars are about the same size as the sun and, other than their extreme speed, have the same composition as the stars in the galactic disk. The big surprise is that they don't seem to come from the galaxy's center. The generally accepted mechanism for producing hypervelocity stars relies on the extreme gravitational field of the supermassive black hole that resides in the galaxy's core."
sciencehabit writes "A molecule nearly identical to one in rhubarb may hold the key to the future of renewable energy. Researchers have used the compound to create a high-performance 'flow' battery, a leading contender for storing renewable power in the electric utility grid. If the battery prototype can be scaled up, it could help utilities deliver renewable energy when the wind is calm and the sun isn't shining." Abstract.
First time accepted submitter vrml writes "Critical situations in which participant's actions lead to the death of (virtual) humans have been employed in a study of moral dilemmas which just appeared in the Social Neuroscience journal. The experiment shows that participants' behavior becomes more utilitarian (that is, they tend to minimize the number of persons killed) when they have to take a decision in Virtual Reality rather than the more traditional settings used in Moral Psychology which ask participants to read text descriptions of the critical situations. A video with some of the VR moral dilemmas is available, as is the paper."
ananyo writes "A swarm of small satellites set to deliver close to real-time imagery of swathes of the planet is launching today. San Francisco-based Planet Labs, founded in 2010 by three former NASA scientists, is scheduled to launch 28 of its 'Doves' on 9 January. Each toaster-sized device weighs about 5 kilograms and can take images at a resolution of 3–5 metres. Meanwhile Skybox Imaging plans to launch a swarm of 24 satellites, each weighing about 100 kilograms, which will take images of 1 meter resolution or better. Skybox launched its first satellite on 21 November (and captured the first HD video of the world from space) and plans to launch another this year, followed by the remainder between 2015 and 2017. In a first — at least for civilian satellites — Skybox's devices will also stream short segments of near-live high-resolution video footage of the planet. So, too, will UrtheCast, a start-up based in Vancouver, Canada, whose cameras will hitch a ride on the International Space Station. Because the swarms are still to be launched, scientists have yet to fully assess the quality of the imagery. But the satellites' spatial resolutions of 1–5 metres are much higher than those of most scientific satellites. Landsat, NASA's Earth-observation workhorse, for example, has a resolution of 15–100 metres depending on the spectral frequency, with 30 metres in the visible-light range."
Taco Cowboy writes "Japanese researchers are planning an experiment to better understand what transpires during a nuclear meltdown by attempting to create a controlled nuclear meltdown. Using a scaled down version of a nuclear reactor — essentially a meter long stainless steel container — the experiment will involve the insertion of a foot long (30 cm) nuclear fuel rod, starting the fission process, and then draining the coolant. The experiment is scheduled to take place later this year."
An anonymous reader writes with news that funding has been secured for the ISS through at least 2024. From NASA: "'...We are pleased to announce that the Obama Administration has approved an extension of the International Space Station until at least 2024. We are hopeful and optimistic that our ISS partners will join this extension effort and thus enable continuation of the groundbreaking research being conducted in this unique orbiting laboratory for at least another decade. ... A further benefit of ISS extension is it will give NASA and its private-sector partners time to more fully transition to the commercial space industry the transportation of cargo and crew to low-Earth-orbit, allowing NASA to continue to increase its focus on developing the next-generation heavy-lift rocket and crew capsule necessary for deep-space exploration."
sciencehabit writes "Looking a bit like a dolphin, but with a long slim snout filled with pointy teeth, one species of ichthyosaur was practically invisible in the murky depths of Jurassic seas, thanks to dark pigmentation that covered its entire body. That's one conclusion of a new study that provides an unprecedented peek at the coloration of sea creatures alive during or soon after the dinosaur era. The approach involves bombarding fossils with charged particles and then analyzing the particles that are knocked from the surface, which reveals remnants of ancient pigments. Dark pigmentation may have helped ichthyosaurs and other predators camouflage themselves in the murky depths while they hunted prey."
benonemusic writes "Three computer scientists at Stony Brook University in New York believe they have found some rules through a computer program that might predict which fiction books will be successful. Their algorithm had as much as an 84 percent accuracy rate when applied to already published manuscripts in Project Gutenberg and other sources. Among their findings was that more successful books relied on verbs describing thought processes rather than actions and emotions. However, some disagree with the findings. Author Ron Hansen said style is not the key, but instead readers' interest in the topics in the book." There has been work done already on finding the formula for a hit song, and using analytics to craft a blockbuster movie.
ananyo writes "Astronomers say that they have discovered the first example of a long-sought cosmic oddity: a bloated, dying star with a surprise in its core — an ultradense neutron star. Such entities, known as Thorne-Zytkow objects, are theoretically possible but would alter scientists' understanding of how stars can be powered. Since Thorne-Zytkow objects were first proposed in 1975, researchers have occasionally offered up candidates, but none have been confirmed."
the_newsbeagle writes "When surgeons set out to repair holes in the walls of the heart's chambers or in blood vessels, they often do invasive open-heart surgery and use sutures, staples, and glue to keep a patch in place. But the sutures and staples are a rough fix, and many of the glues on the market today don't work well on wet tissue that's continually flexed by the heart's contractions and the movement of pumping blood. Today biomaterial researchers announced a new light-activated glue that could make surgery less invasive, quicker, and easier. The adhesive was inspired by slugs' and sandcastle worms' sticky secretions, which work underwater, and it can be applied with slender tools during minimally invasive surgery. A flash of UV light then sets the glue, which bends and flexes with the tissue."
ClockEndGooner writes "A giant coronal mass ejection from the Sun yesterday has resulted in a higher than normal level of radioactivity, and in turn, forced Orbital Sciences to postpone their first mission launch of the Cygnus space truck to the International Space Station. Citing concerns of the effect increased levels of space radiation may have on the Antares launcher and Cygnus avionics, the NASA and Orbital launch team is now evaluating if conditions will improve for a launch on Thursday, which would have Cygnus arriving at the ISS on Sunday morning." In other ISS news, the Orlando Sentinel is reporting that NASA has gotten approval from the White House to extend the ISS's mission for another four years, pushing the end date back to 2024. An official announcement is expected later this week.
KentuckyFC writes "In 2012, Richard Branson, Larry Page, and Eric Schmidt announced the launch of Planetary Resources, an ambitious start up with the goal of mining nearby asteroids for natural resources. Now an academic survey of ore-bearing asteroids estimates that only about 10 are likely to have resources worth mining. The new approach is to create a Drake-like equation that starts with the total number of asteroids and determines the percentage that are close enough to Earth, the percentage of these that contain valuable resources, the percentage of these large enough to pay for a space mining mission and so on. Each of these factors is filled with uncertainty but the bottom line is that when it comes to platinum group metals such as platinum, palladium, and iridium there are likely to be very few worth exploiting. That has significant implications for the future of space exploration. With so few commercially-viable space rocks out there, knowing which ones to pursue will be hugely valuable information, concludes the study. And that means the prospecting of asteroids is likely to become a highly secretive commercial endeavor in the not-too-distant future."
ananyo writes "By pouring cash into science and technology faster than its economy has expanded, China has for the first time overtaken Europe on a key measure of innovation: the share of its economy devoted to research and development. In 2012, China invested 1.98% of its gross domestic product (GDP) into R&D — just edging out the 28 member states of the European Union, which together managed 1.96%, according to the latest estimates of research intensity, to be released this month by the OECD. The figures show that China's research intensity has tripled since 1998, whereas Europe's has barely increased (see graph). The numbers are dominated by business spending, reflecting China's push in the manufacturing and information- and communication-technology industries."
theodp writes "Writing in the NY Times, Dr. Haider Javed Warraich shares a dirty little medical secret: doctors do 'Google' their patients, and the practice is likely to only become more common. And while he personally feels the practice should be restricted to situations where there's a genuine safety issue, an anecdote Warraich shares illustrates how patient search could provide insight into what otherwise might be unsolved mysteries — or lead to a snap misdiagnosis: 'I was once taking care of a frail, older patient who came to the hospital feeling very short of breath. It wasn't immediately clear why, but her breathing was getting worse. To look for accidental ingestions, I sent for a drug screen and, to my great surprise, it came back positive for cocaine. It didn't make sense to me, given her age and the person lying before me, and I was concerned she had been the victim of some sort of abuse. She told me she had no idea why there was cocaine in her system. When I walked out of the room, a nurse called me over to her computer. There, on MugShots.com, was a younger version of my patient's face, with details about how she had been detained for cocaine possession more than three decades earlier. I looked away from the screen, feeling like I had violated my patient's privacy. I resumed our medical exam, without bringing up the finding on the Internet, and her subsequent hospital course was uneventful.'"
ananyo writes "From a few fragments out of a collection of 23-century-old Chinese bamboo strips, historians have pieced together what they say is the world's oldest example of a multiplication table in base 10. Each strip is about 7 to 12 millimeters wide and half a meter long, and has a vertical line of ancient Chinese calligraphy painted on it in black ink. The bamboo pieces constitute 65 ancient texts and are thought to be among the most important artifacts from the Warring States period before the unification of China. But 21 bamboo strips contained only numbers and, on closer inspection, turned out to be a multiplication table. As in a modern multiplication table, the entries at the intersection of each row and column in the matrix provide the results of multiplying the corresponding numbers. The table can also help users to multiply any whole or half integer between 0.5 and 99.5. The researchers suspect that officials used the multiplication table to calculate surface area of land, yields of crops and the amounts of taxes owed."
The Bad Astronomer writes with news that the Gemini Planet Imager is officially online "The Gemini Planet Imager is a camera that is designed to take direct photos of exoplanets, alien worlds orbiting other stars. In a test run last November it spotted the exoplanet Beta Pictoris b, a dusty ring around a nearby star, and even snapped a portrait of Jupiter's moon Europa. Up to now, only about a dozen exoplanets have been directly imaged; GPI is expected to find dozens more in the next few years." From the Gemini project: "'Even these early first-light images are almost a factor of 10 better than the previous generation of instruments. In one minute, we are seeing planets that used to take us an hour to detect,' says Bruce Macintosh of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory who led the team that built the instrument." The announcement has pictures.
New submitter ihtoit writes "Astronomers using the ALMA radio telescope in Chile have released images and data showing the oft-postulated but unobserved (until now) dust shell ejected by the supernova remnant SN1987A. 'We have found a remarkably large dust mass concentrated in the central part of the ejecta from a relatively young and nearby supernova,' astronomer Remy Indebetouw, of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) and the University of Virginia, said in a statement. 'This is the first time we've been able to really image where the dust has formed, which is important in understanding the evolution of galaxies.' SN1987A was the first cataloged supernova event in our Galactic neighborhood in 1987. It lies 168,000 light years (987 quadrillion miles) away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, which means that at the time of the explosion, woolly mammoths still roamed Europe and Mitochondrial Eve saw her first sunrise." From the article, the significance: "'Really early galaxies are incredibly dusty and this dust plays a major role in the evolution of galaxies,' Mikako Matsuura, a scientist associated with the study ... said ... 'Today we know dust can be created in several ways, but in the early universe most of it must have come from supernovas. We finally have direct evidence to support that theory.'"
KentuckyFC writes "General relativity is mathematically challenging and yet widely appreciated by the public. This state of affairs is almost entirely the result of one the most famous analogies in science: that the warping of spacetime to produce gravity is like the deformation of a rubber sheet by a central mass. Now physicists have tested this idea theoretically and experimentally and say it doesn't hold water. It turns out that a marble rolling on deformed rubber sheet does not follow the same trajectory as a planet orbiting a star and that the marble's equations of motion lead to a strangely twisted version of Kepler's third law of planetary motion. And experiments with a real marble rolling on a spandex sheet show that the mass of the sheet itself creates a distortion that further complicates matters. Indeed, the physicists say that a rubber sheet deformed by a central mass can never produce the same motion of planet orbiting a star in spacetime. So the analogy is fundamentally flawed. Shame!"
astroengine writes "Speaking at the 223rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington D.C., astronomers have announced the discovery of an Earth-mass exoplanet that has a thick, puffed-up atmosphere making it 60% bigger than Earth. The exoplanet's mass is the first to be derived using transit timing variation (TTV) data from NASA's Kepler space telescope. 'Rather than looking for a wobbling star, we essentially look for a wobbling planet,' said co-investigator David Nesvorny, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI). 'Kepler saw two planets transiting in front of the same star over and over again. By measuring the times at which these transits occurred very carefully, we were able to discover that the two planets are locked in an intricate dance of tiny wobbles giving away their masses.' With this information, astronomers are now trying to understand how such a planet (with a very compact orbit around its star) evolved. The leading idea is that it might have been a Neptune-like gas giant that had the bulk of its atmosphere ripped away by stellar radiation."
rbrandis writes "The eruption of a 'supervolcano' hundreds of times more powerful than conventional volcanoes – with the potential to wipe out civilization as we know it – is more likely than previously thought, a study has found. An analysis of the molten rock within the dormant supervolcano beneath Yellowstone National Park in the United States has revealed that an eruption is possible without any external trigger, scientists said."
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Reuters reports that the Midwestern United States is shivering through the region's lowest temperatures in twenty years as forecasters warn that life-threatening cold is heading eastward as a polar vortex of freezing Arctic weather sweeps across the United States. 'The coldest temperatures in almost two decades will spread into the northern and central U.S. today behind an arctic cold front,' says the National Weather Service. 'Combined with gusty winds, these temperatures will result in life-threatening wind chill values as low as 60 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit/minus 51 degrees Celsius).' The coldest temperature reported in the lower 48 states on Sunday was minus 40 F (-40 C) in the towns of Babbitt and Embarrass, Minnesota. Meteorologists warn that the wind-chill factor could make it feel twice as cold, causing frostbite to exposed parts of the body within minutes. Eleven people have already died in weather-related incidents in the past week, including a 71-year-old woman with Alzheimer's who wandered from her home in upstate New York and was found frozen to death only 100m away. Polar vortexes occur seasonally at the North Pole, and their formation resembles that of hurricanes in more tropical regions: fast-moving winds build up around a calm center. Unlike a hurricane, these are frigid polar winds, circling the Arctic at more than 100 miles per hour. The spinning winds typically trap this cold air in the Arctic. But the problem comes when the polar vortex weakens or splits apart, essentially flinging these cold wind patterns out of the Arctic and into our backyards. 'All the ingredients are there for a near-record or historic cold outbreak,' says meteorologist Ryan Maue. 'If you're under 40, you've not seen this stuff before.'"
Nerval's Lobster writes "There may be a giant ring of dark matter invisibly encircling the Earth, increasing its mass and pulling much harder on orbiting satellites than anything invisible should pull, according to preliminary research from a scientist specializing the physics of GPS signaling and satellite engineering. The dark-matter belt around the Earth could represent the beginning of a radically new understanding of how dark matter works and how it affects the human universe, or it could be something perfectly valid but less exciting despite having been written up by New Scientist and spreading to the rest of the geek universe on the basis of a single oral presentation of preliminary research at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in December. The presentation came from telecom- and GPS satellite expert Ben Harris, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Texas- Arlington, who based his conclusion on nine months' worth of data that could indicate Earth's gravity was pulling harder on its ring of geostationary GPS satellites than the accepted mass of the Earth would normally allow. Since planets can't gain weight over the holidays like the rest of us, Harris' conclusion was that something else was adding to the mass and gravitational power of Earth – something that would have to be pretty massive but almost completely undetectable, which would sound crazy if predominant theories about the composition of the universe didn't assume 80 percent of it was made up of invisible dark matter. Harris calculated that the increase in gravity could have come from dark matter, but would have had to be an unexpectedly thick collection of it – one ringing the earth in a band 120 miles thick and 45,000 miles wide. Making elaborate claims in oral presentations, without nailing down all the variables that could keep a set of results from being twisted into something more interesting than the truth is a red flag for any scientific presentation, let alone one making audacious claims about the way dark matter behaves or weight of the Earth, according to an exasperated counterargument from Matthew R. Francis, who earned a Ph.D. in physics and astronomy from Rutgers in 2005, held visiting and assistant professorships at several Northeastern universities and whose science writing has appeared in Ars Technica, The New Yorker, Nautilus, BBC Future and others including his own science blog at Galileo's Pendulum."
sciencehabit writes "In a cosmic coup, astronomers have found a celestial beacon known as a pulsar in orbit with not one, but two other stars. The first-of-its-kind trio could soon be used to put Einstein's theory of gravity, or general relativity, to an unprecedented test. 'It's a wonderful laboratory that nature has given us,' says Paulo Freire, a radio astronomer at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, who was not involved in the work. 'It's almost made to order.'"
Philip Ross writes "New research into Pompeiians' daily lives is broadening our understanding of this ancient Roman culture, particularly their eating habits, before Mt. Vesuvius brought it all crumbling down nearly 2,000 years ago. Over the past decade, archaeologists excavating a row of building plots discovered remnants of food that would have been widely available and inexpensive in ancient Italy, like grains, fruits, olives, lentils, local fish, nuts and chicken eggs. They also uncovered evidence that Pompeiians enjoyed a variety of exotic foods, some of which would have been imported from outside Italy, including sea urchins, flamingos and even the butchered leg joint of a giraffe."
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "George Johnson writes in the NYT that cancer is on the verge of overtaking heart disease as the No. 1 cause of death and although cancer mortality has actually been decreasing bit by bit in recent decades, the decline has been modest compared with other threats. The diseases that once killed earlier in life — bubonic plague, smallpox, influenza, tuberculosis — were easier obstacles. For each there was a single infectious agent, a precise cause that could be confronted. But there are reasons to believe that cancer will remain much more resistant because it is not so much a disease as a phenomenon, the result of a basic evolutionary compromise. As a body lives and grows, its cells are constantly dividing, copying their DNA — this vast genetic library — and bequeathing it to the daughter cells. They in turn pass it to their own progeny: copies of copies of copies. Along the way, errors inevitably occur. Some are caused by carcinogens but most are random misprints. Mutations are the engine of evolution. Without them we never would have evolved. The trade-off is that every so often a certain combination will give an individual cell too much power. It begins to evolve independently of the rest of the body and like a new species thriving in an ecosystem, it grows into a cancerous tumor. 'Given a long enough life, cancer will eventually kill you — unless you die first of something else (PDF). That would be true even in a world free from carcinogens and equipped with the most powerful medical technology,' concludes Johnson. 'Maybe someday some of us will live to be 200. But barring an elixir for immortality, a body will come to a point where it has outwitted every peril life has thrown at it. And for each added year, more mutations will have accumulated. If the heart holds out, then waiting at the end will be cancer.'"
biobricks writes "New York Times reports on how the county council on the Big Island of Hawaii banned GMOs. 'Urged on by Margaret Wille, the ban’s sponsor, who spoke passionately of the need to “act before it’s too late,” the Council declined to form a task force to look into such questions before its November vote. But Mr. Ilagan, 27, sought answers on his own. In the process, he found himself, like so many public and business leaders worldwide, wrestling with a subject in which popular beliefs often do not reflect scientific evidence. At stake is how to grow healthful food most efficiently, at a time when a warming world and a growing population make that goal all the more urgent.'"
theodp writes "While vacationing aboard a cruise ship in the Galapagos Islands, where the State Department warns the quality of medical facilities and services are 'generally well below U.S. standards', Gawker reports that Jeff Bezos was rescued by the Ecuadorian Navy so he could receive treatment for a kidney stone attack on New Year's Day. The Ecuadorian Navy confirmed Bezos' rescue, which involved taking Bezos by Navy helicopter from Academy Bay in Santa Cruz Island to his private jet stationed on Baltra Island."
Rambo Tribble writes "Reminding us of beer's pivotal role in the civilization of humankind, the BBC comments on the discovery of an Ancient Egyptian tomb, belonging to the distinguished 'head of beer production' in the Pharaoh's court. From the article: 'Experts say the tomb's wall paintings are well preserved and depict daily life as well as religious rituals. Antiquities Minister Mohamed Ibrahim told the Egyptian al-Ahram newspaper that security had been tightened around the tomb until excavation works are complete.'"
An anonymous reader writes "The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) today successfully launched its heavy-duty rocket — the Geo Synchronous Satellite Launch vehicle (GSLV). The communication satellite, GSAT-14 was launched from Isro's spaceport at Sriharikota, about 80 km from Chennai. ISRO had to develop the cryogenic technology from scratch after the United States prevented Russia from transferring the technology to the India in 1993. Today's successful launch marks the culmination of a 20 year effort to develop the engine."
An anonymous reader writes "The Foursquare blog has an interesting post about some of the math they use to evaluate and verify the massive amount of user-generated data that enters their database. They need to figure out the likelihood that any given datapoint accurately represents reality, so they've worked out a complicated formula that will minimize abuse. Quoting: 'By choosing the points based on a user's accuracy, we can intelligently accrue certainty about a proposed update and stop the voting process as soon as the math guarantees the required certainty. ... The parameters are automatically trained and can adapt to changes in the behavior of the userbase. No more long meetings debating how many points to grant to a narrow use case. So far, we've taken a very user-centric view of p-sub-k (this is the accuracy of user k). But we can go well beyond that. For example, p-sub-k could be "the accuracy of user k's vote given that they have been to the venue three times before and work nearby." These clauses can be arbitrarily complicated and estimated from a (logistic) regression of the honeypot performance. The point is that these changes will be based on data and not subjective judgments of how many "points" a user or situation should get."
An anonymous reader writes "Sure, the Universe is expanding, the galaxies are accelerating away from one another, and it's looking more and more like they'll never re-collapse. The timeline of the far future looks pretty grim on large scales. But what's to come of our Solar System: of the Earth, our Moon and our Sun? This tour of the far future of the Solar System, scaling the timescales to the Big Bang being '1 Universe year' ago, puts it all in perspective."
schwit1 writes with news that one of the big presentations at next week's Consumer Electronics Show will be a set of contact lenses that are designed to augment a user's vision. A company called iOptik will be demonstrating a functioning prototype. The lenses themselves are actually only part of the display — they're paired with eyeglasses that are fitted with micro-projectors which generate the imagery shown on the lenses. "[B]y utilizing the specialized lenses to help users focus on both close and faraway objects — an issue when putting panoramic images inches from the eyes — in conjunction with the glasses to project the media and overlays, Innovega is able to do two things when most wearables do just one. First, it can project 'glance-able' displays, like Google Glass does exclusively where data is pushed to the periphery. But by utilizing the contact lenses with the glasses, it can also project a full-screen HUD, in other words operate in a heads-up display mode similar to what goggle wearables like the gaming-focused Oculus Rift offer. ... 'All the usual optics in the eyewear are taken away and there is a sub-millimeter lens right in the center,' [iOptik CEO Stephen Willey] explained. 'It's shaped, so the outside of the lens is shaped to your prescription if you need one and the very center of the lens is a bump that allows you to see incredibly well half an inch from your eye.' The second component involved is the optical filter that directs light. 'Light coming from outside the world is shunted to your normal prescription. Light from that very near display goes through the center of the lens, the optical filter,' Willey said."
schwit1 writes "A spy plane used by the U.S. Air Force is about to get a new home: a garage at Kennedy Space Center that once housed NASA orbiters during the space shuttle era. The move was announced Friday by Boeing, the Chicago-based company that built the X-37B orbital test vehicle and is in charge of repairing the spacecraft whenever it returns to Earth. Previously, Boeing had refurbished the 29-foot-long spacecraft at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, but the company decided to relocate its fix-up shop in Florida, where the vehicle now launches."