New submitter monkeyhybrid writes "The Planetary Society's Emily Lakdawalla reports on the most detailed images of Uranus ever taken. The infrared sensitivity of the ground based Keck II telescope's NIRC2 instrument enabled astronomers to see below the high level methane based atmosphere that has hampered previous observations, and with unprecedented clarity. If you ever thought Uranus was a dull blue looking sphere then look again; you could easily mistake these images for being of Jupiter!"
ananyo writes "'Who told me to get out?' asked a diver, surfacing from a tank in which a whale named NOC lived. The beluga's caretakers had heard what sounded like garbled phrases emanating from the enclosure before, and it suddenly dawned on them that the whale might be imitating the voices of his human handlers. The outbursts began in 1984 and lasted for about four years, until NOC hit sexual maturity. NOC likely learned to imitate humans by listening to them speak underwater and on the surface. The whale's human-like calls are several octaves lower than normal whale calls, a similar pitch to human speech. Researchers trained NOC to 'speak' on command, and determined that he makes the sounds by increasing the pressure of the air that courses through his nasal cavities. They think that he then modified the sounds by manipulating the shape of his phonic lips, small vibrating structures that sit above each nasal cavity. A recording of NOC's speech is embedded in the story. He sounds remarkably like a kazoo."
caseyb89 writes "Open source projects Nginx, Railo CMS, and GlusterFS are powering Mars Curiosity's big data crunching. 'Taken together, the combination of cloud and open source enabled the Curiosity mission to provide beautiful images in real time, not months delayed; at high quality, not "good enough" quality. A traditional, proprietary approach would not have been this successful, given the short time to deployment and shifting requirements that necessitated the ultimate in agility and flexibility.'"
An anonymous reader notes that the BBC reports "Six Italian scientists and an ex-government official have been sentenced to six years in prison over the 2009 deadly earthquake in L'Aquila. A regional court found them guilty of multiple manslaughter. Prosecutors said the defendants gave a falsely reassuring statement before the quake, while the defence maintained there was no way to predict major quakes. The 6.3 magnitude quake devastated the city and killed 309 people." The scientists were first charged more than two years ago.
cylonlover writes "Geostationary satellites cost a fortune and, despite their sophistication, they break down or eventually run out of propellant to keep them oriented. This is unfortunate when the nearest garage is back on Earth, so NASA wants to remedy this with an orbital version of roadside service. The space agency is developing a service robot that can visit ailing satellites and refuel or even repair them on the spot. The refueling program is already at an advanced enough stage that a technology demonstrator called the Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) was delivered to the International Space Station (ISS) in July of last year. The RRM was installed on a temporary platform outside the station. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center wants a robot capable of carrying out what it calls the five 'Rs' – refueling, repositioning, remote survey, component replacement or repairing – on any satellite that might require its services."
concealment sends this quote from an article at The Physics of Baseball "This clip from Game 4 shows Marco Scutaro hitting the ball right near the tip of the barrel. The amplitude of the resulting vibration is so large that the bat breaks and the ball weakly dribbles off the bat. Note that the bat splinters toward the pitcher. The reason is that when the ball hits the barrel tip, the barrel of the bat bends backward toward the catcher and the center of the bat bulges forward toward the pitcher. That is the natural shape of the fundamental vibrational mode of the bat. Since the fracture occurs near the center which is bulging outward, that is how the bat splinters, as the wood fibers on the pitcher side of the bat are stretched to the breaking point. If the ball had impacted the bat near the center, the center would have bulged toward the catcher, as in the Yadier Molina clip. Had the vibrational amplitude been strong enough in the Molina case, the bat would have splintered toward the catcher."
Meshach writes "Research has suggested that human activity triggered an earthquake in Spain that killed nine and injured over three hundred. Drilling deeper and deeper wells to water crops over the past 50 years were identified as the culprit by scientist who examined satellite images of the area. It was noted that even without the strain caused by water extraction, a quake would likely have occurred at some point in the area but the extra stress of pumping vast amounts of water from a nearby aquifer may have been enough to trigger a quake at that particular time and place."
An anonymous reader writes "Confronted with a growing meningitis scare, states are coming under enormous pressure to meet federal requests that they contact more than 1,000 hospitals and clinics that received any injectable drugs from the company at the center of the deadly outbreak."
An anonymous reader writes with a link to this Reuters story, from which he excerpts: "Italy's supreme court has upheld a ruling that said there was a link between a business executive's brain tumor and his heavy mobile phone usage, potentially opening the door to further legal claims. The court's decision flies in the face of much scientific opinion, which generally says there is not enough evidence to declare a link between mobile phone use and diseases such as cancer and some experts said the Italian ruling should not be used to draw wider conclusions about the subject. 'Great caution is needed before we jump to conclusions about mobile phones and brain tumors,' said Malcolm Sperrin, director of medical physics and clinical engineering at Britain's Royal Berkshire Hospital. The Italian case concerned company director Innocenzo Marcolini who developed a tumor in the left side of his head after using his mobile phone for 5-6 hours a day for 12 years. He normally held the phone in his left hand, while taking notes with his right hand. Marcolini developed a so-called neurinoma affecting a cranial nerve, which was apparently not cancerous but nevertheless required surgery that badly affected his quality of life."
Hugh Pickens writes "Karen Kaplan reports in the LA Times that Craig Venter is making plans to send a DNA sequencer to Mars. Assuming there is DNA to be found on the Red Planet – a big assumption, to be sure – the sequencer will decode its DNA, beam it back to Earth, put those genetic instructions into a cell and then boot up a Martian life form in a biosecure lab. Venter's 'biological teleporter' (as he dubbed it) would dig under the surface for samples to sequence. If they find anything, 'it would take only 4.3 minutes to get the Martians back to Earth,' says Venter, founder of Celera Genomics and the Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR). 'Now we can rebuild the Martians in a P4 spacesuit lab.' It may sound far-fetched, but the notion of equipping a future Mars rover to sequence the DNA isn't so crazy, and Venter isn't the only one looking for Martian DNA. MIT research scientist Christopher Carr is part of a group that's 'building a a miniature RNA/DNA sequencer to search for life beyond Earth,' according to the MIT website 'The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Genomes.' SETG will test the hypothesis that life on Mars, if it exists, shares a common ancestor with life on Earth. Carr told Tech Review that one of the biggest challenges is shrinking Ion Torrent's 30-kilogram machine down to a mere 3 kg – light enough to fit on a Mars rover."
An anonymous reader writes "At its headquarters in Longueuil, Que. Friday, the Canadian Space Agency rolled out a fleet of about a half-dozen prototype rovers that are the forerunners of vehicles that may one day explore the moon or Mars. The agency said the terrestrial rovers bring it one step closer to developing the next generation for space exploration."
scibri writes "Scientists have learned how to discover what you are dreaming about while you sleep. A team of Japanese researchers scanned the brains of three people as they slept, and compared the scans to those of the same people looking at photos of common objects. They were then able to tell, with 75% — 80% accuracy, if one of those images appeared in a dream."
MTorrice writes "A beam of electrons can pick up and carry nanoparticles, according to a new study (abstract). The so-called electronic tweezers could help scientists in diverse tasks, such as building up new materials nanoparticle-by-nanoparticle, and measuring the forces between nanoparticles and living cells, the researchers say. In the past, scientists have manipulated microsized particles, including single cells, using a beam of laser light called optical tweezers. But the force required to trap a particle with optical tweezers increases as the particle gets smaller, making grappling with nanoparticles difficult. Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory developed an alternative to optical tweezers by modifying a transmission electron microscope, which produces images by passing a stream of electrons through a sample." Reader Sven-Erik adds news of a tractor beam generated with laser light that can pull microscopic particles over distances of 30 micrometers (abstract).
ananyo writes "A first analysis of the ice that froze onto the drillbit used in last February's landmark drilling to a pristine Antarctic lake shows no native microbes came up with the lake water, according to Sergey Bulat of Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute (Russia). The very uppermost layer of Lake Vostock appears to be 'lifeless' so far, says Bulat, but that doesn't mean the rest of it is. Bulat and his colleagues counted the microbes present in the ice sample and checked their genetic makeup to figure out the phylotypes. They counted fewer than 10 microbes/ml — about the same magnitude they would expect to find in the background in their clean room."
call -151 writes "Many years ago, a human-generated intentionally nonsense paper was accepted by the (prominent) literary culture journal Social Text. In August, a randomly-generated nonsense mathematics paper was accepted by one of the many low-tier 'open-access' research mathematics journals. The software Mathgen, which generated the accepted submission, takes as inputs author names (or those can be randomly selected also) and generates nicely TeX'd and impressive-sounding sentences which are grammatically correct but mathematically disconnected nonsense. This was reviewed by a human, (quickly, for math, in 12 days) and the reviewers' comments mention superficial problems with the submission (PDF). The references are also randomly-generated and rather hilarious. For those with concerns about submitting to lower-tier journals in an effort to promote open access, this is not a good sign!"
rippeltippel writes "The Independent reports on a scientific breakthrough which would allow us to synthesize petrol from thin air. Quoting from the article: 'Air Fuel Synthesis in Stockton-on-Tees has produced five liters of petrol since August when it switched on a small refinery that manufactures gasoline from carbon dioxide and water vapor. The company hopes that within two years it will build a larger, commercial-scale plant capable of producing a ton of petrol a day. It also plans to produce green aviation fuel to make airline travel more carbon-neutral. ... Tim Fox, head of energy and the environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London, said: "It sounds too good to be true, but it is true. They are doing it and I've been up there myself and seen it. The innovation is that they have made it happen as a process. It's a small pilot plant capturing air and extracting CO2 from it based on well known principles. It uses well-known and well-established components but what is exciting is that they have put the whole thing together and shown that it can work." Although the process is still in the early developmental stages and needs to take electricity from the national grid to work, the company believes it will eventually be possible to use power from renewable sources such as wind farms or tidal barrages. "We've taken carbon dioxide from air and hydrogen from water and turned these elements into petrol," said Peter Harrison, the company's chief executive, who revealed the breakthrough at a conference at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London."
ananyo writes "Climate records from a Japanese lake are set to improve the accuracy of carbon dating, which could help to shed light on archaeological mysteries such as why Neanderthals became extinct. Carbon dating is used to work out the age of organic material. But the technique assumes that the amount of carbon-14 in the atmosphere was constant — any variation would speed up or slow down the clock. Since the 1960s, scientists have started accounting for the variations by calibrating the clock against the known ages of tree rings. The problem is that tree rings provide a direct record that only goes as far back as about 14,000 years. Now, using sediment from bed of Lake Suigetsu, west of Tokyo, researchers have pushed the calibration limit back much further. Two distinct sediment layers have formed in the lake every summer and winter over tens of thousands of years. The researchers collected roughly 70-meter core samples from the lake and painstakingly counted the layers to come up with a direct record stretching back 52,000 years. The re-calibrated clock could help to narrow the window of key events in human history. Take the extinction of Neanderthals, which occurred in western Europe less than 30,000 years ago. Archaeologists disagree over the effects changing climate and competition from recently arriving humans had on the Neanderthals' demise. The more accurate carbon clock should yield better dates for any overlap of humans and Neanderthals, as well as for determining how climate changes influenced the extinction of Neanderthals."
An anonymous reader writes "Looks like the evolution in multi-core computing is something nature has already figured out. Dolphins will sleep one core while the other remains vigilant, running background tasks necessary for survival. From the article: 'The scientists wrote: "From an anthropomorphic viewpoint, the ability of the dolphin to continuously monitor its environment for days without interruption seems extreme. However, the biological, sensory and cognitive ecology of these animals is relatively unique and demanding. If dolphins sleep like terrestrial animals, they might drown. If dolphins fail to maintain vigilance, they become susceptible to predation. As a result, the apparent 'extreme' capabilities these animals possess are likely to be quite normal, unspectacular, and necessary for survival from the dolphin's perspective."'"
SchrodingerZ writes "Last week the Mars Curiosity Rover spotted a shiny metallic-looking object in the martian soil. This week scientists have confirmed that it is plastic that has fallen off the 1-ton rover. However, the discovery of this trans-planetary littering has opened up another mystery for the science team. On October 12th the rover took a sample of soil from the ground, feeding it into its Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instruments for analysis, and a picture of the hole dug by the rover's claw revealed metallic particles in the dirt. The sample was subsequently dropped due to fears that particles from the rover had made it into the dirt. Further study now suggests that the metallic particles are actually native to Mars, as the photo reveals that they are embedded in the soil in clumps. In 2007 the older rover Spirit found evidence of silica for the first time, more testing will occur over the next few days to determine truly if this is again just Curiosity's littler, or something more profound."
Richard Dawkins is an author and an evolutionary biologist. For 13 years, he held the Simonyi Professorship at the University of Oxford. His 1976 book The Selfish Gene helped popularize the gene-centric view of evolution and coined the word "meme." Several other of his books, including Climbing Mount Improbable, River Out of Eden, and The Greatest Show on Earth have helped to explain aspects of evolution in a way non-scientists can more easily understand. Dawkins is a frequent opponent of creationism and intelligent design, and he generated widespread controversy and debate in 2006 with The God Delusion, a book that subjected common religious beliefs to unyielding scientific scrutiny. He wrote, "One of the truly bad effects of religion is that it teaches us that it is a virtue to be satisfied with not understanding." Most recently, Dawkins wrote The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True, a graphic book that aims to introduce kids to science. He's also recently begun a video series titled "Sex, Death, and the Meaning of Life" about how our world would look without religion. Mr. Dawkins has graciously agreed to answer some questions for us. Post your suggestions in the comments below, but please limit yourself to one question per post. We'll post his responses sometime next week.