Aciel writes "Ruby has long been popular in the web/business community, while Python dominates the scientific community. One new project seeks to bring balance to the force: SciRuby. We've already introduced a linear algebra library called NMatrix (currently alpha status). There's at least one fellowship available for students interested in working on the project this summer."
Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive
The Bad Astronomer writes "For the first time, astronomers have detected the light from a 'super-Earth' exoplanet. The planet 55 Cancri e (with twice the radius and 8 times the mass of Earth) circles its host star every 18 hours, and is so hot it glows in the infrared. By observing in that wavelength, the astronomers measured the dip in light as the planet's glow was blocked by the star itself. This is the reverse of the usual method of detecting a planet as it blocks the light of its host star."
Qedward writes "Chief operating officer Kevin Turner says Microsoft will be 'carbon neutral across all our direct operations including data centers, software development labs, air travel, and office buildings' from July 1, the start of the 2012 fiscal year. Turner added: 'We are hopeful that our decision will encourage other companies, large and small, to look at what they can do to address this important issue."
OverTheGeicoE writes "Savannah Barry, a Colorado teenager, was returning home from a conference in Salt Lake City. She is a diabetic and wears an insulin pump to control her insulin levels 24/7. She carries documentation of her condition to assist screeners, who usually give her a pat-down search. This time the screeners listened to her story, read her doctor's letter, and forced her to go through a millimeter-wave body scanner anyway. The insulin pump stopped working correctly, and of course, she was subjected to an invasive manual search. 'My life is pretty much in their hands when I go through a body scan with my insulin pump on,' she says. She wants TSA screeners to have more training. Was this a predictable outcome, considering that no one outside TSA has access to millimeter-wave scanners for testing? Would oversight from the FDA or FCC prevent similar incidents from happening in the future?"
scibri writes "An overlooked factor could shrink the habitable zone for planets around M-class dwarf stars by as much as 50%. For these smaller, cooler stars, the habitable zone was thought to extend to relatively close orbits. But as you get closer to a star, the tidal force it exerts on a planet increases. Since planets do not have perfectly circular orbits, tidal forces cause the planet to flex and unflex each time it moves closer to or further from its star; kneading its interior to produce massive quantities of frictional heat — enough to scour the planet of any liquid water. Because M-class dwarf stars are the most numerous in the galaxy, and close-in planets are easier to spot than more distant ones, such stars have been a major target for planet hunters seeking Earth-like worlds. But now it seems we may have been looking in the wrong place for Earth's twin."
Hugh Pickens writes "The Washington Times reports that the Food and Drug Administration may soon permit Americans to obtain some drugs used to treat conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes without obtaining a prescription. They may allow patients to diagnose their ailments by answering questions online or at a pharmacy kiosk in order to buy current prescription-only drugs for conditions such as high cholesterol, certain infections, migraine headaches, asthma or allergies. Some pharmacists embrace the notion that they should be able to dole out medication for patients' chronic conditions without making them go through a doctor. 'This could eliminate the need for a physician visit for certain meds that may have been prescription prior to this change,' said Ronna Hauser, vice president of policy and regulatory affairs for the National Community Pharmacists Association. 'However, there may be circumstances when a patient might need a physician visit and diagnosis and original prescription to start therapy but could continue on that therapy with pharmacist refill authorization capabilities.'" (Read more, below.)
Fluffeh writes "The Heartland Institute is a lovely group of folks who take issue with mainstream climate science. They organize an annual get-together of like minded folk and talk trash about environmental change. 'The people who still believe in man-made global warming are mostly on the radical fringe of society.' (That's from a press release!). Recently, when they were tricked by a researcher into sending him a lot of internal documents, they decided to go on the offensive and also get some more media attention. After all, any story is a good story, right? Launching a billboard with the Unabomber on it with the slogan 'I still believe in Global Warming. Do You?' was just the start, with the institute planning Fidel Castro, Charles Manson and possibly even Osama Bin Laden. That's when even their stout backers threatened to walk away, backing started to dry up — and it seems that common sense started to prevail — but only so far as to stop them from making their message too public."
sciencehabit writes "A new study reveals that people who grow up in more rural environments are less likely to develop allergies. The reason may be that environments rich with species harbor more friendly microbes, which colonize our bodies and protect against inflammatory disorders." From the article: "To test whether or not biodiversity does indeed create a shield against such conditions, the team investigated the microbial diversity of 118 teenagers. The study participants, who had lived in the same houses their whole lives, were chosen at random from a 100-by-150-kilometer block in eastern Finland. Some kids lived on rural, isolated farms, while others lived in larger towns. ... surveyed all of the types of plants growing around the adolescents' homes. The participants were part of a separate long-term allergy study, so the researchers took advantage of that data to investigate the connection between biodiversity and allergies. ... Whether there is just something special about Finland's native plants or whether this finding can be applied around the world is still an open question, Hanski says. 'Many research groups worldwide could easily attain these data from their study populations, and then we'd know how general these results might be.'"
New submitter _prime writes "Until recently the mechanism by which cells make proteins in low-oxygen environments has been unknown. As published in Nature (paywall) this week, the discovery of the mechanism by an Ottawa-based team of researchers potentially means it could be 'very easy to kill cancer cells' without harming normal cells because cancer cells leverage the same low-oxygen protein synthesis mechanism even in the presence of normal oxygen levels."
astroengine writes "As we recently discussed, on June 5 or 6 this year — the exact time and date depends on where you are in the world — Venus will be visible as a small black circle crossing the disk of the sun. Usually, the Hubble Space Telescope would have no business observing this event — the sun is too close for its optics. But plans are afoot for Hubble to observe the reflected sunlight bouncing off the lunar surface during the transit. As the sunlight will pass through the Venusian atmosphere, the transit will provide invaluable spectroscopic data about Venus' atmospheric composition. This, in turn, will help astronomers in characterizing the atmospheres of planets orbiting other stars."
The Bad Astronomer writes "Using the monster 8.2-meter Subaru telescope, astronomers have identified the most distant cluster of galaxies ever found: a collection of galaxies at a staggering distance of 12.7 billion light years. This is the most distant cluster ever seen that has been confirmed spectroscopically (PDF). Technically, it's a protocluster, since it's so young — seen only a billion years after the Big Bang itself — the cluster must still be in the process of formation."
New submitter crazyjj writes "As reported in Wired, a recent National Research Council report indicates a growing concern for NASA, the NOAA, and USGS. While there are currently 22 Earth-observing satellites in orbit, this number is expected to drop to as low as six by the year 2020. The U.S. relies on this network of satellites for weather forecasting, climate change data, and important geologic and oceanographic information. As with most things space and NASA these days, the root cause is funding cuts. The program to maintain this network was funded at $2 billion as recently as 2002, but has since been scaled back to a current funding level of $1.3 billion, with only two replacement satellites having definite launch dates."
fishmike sends this excerpt from a Reuters report: "Scientists have figured out how to stop brain cell death in mice with brain disease and say their discovery deepens understanding of the mechanisms of human neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. British researchers writing in the journal Nature (abstract) said they had found a major pathway leading to brain cell death in mice with prion disease, the mouse equivalent of Creutzfeld-Jacob Disease (CJD). ... Mallucci's team found that the buildup of mis-folded proteins in the brains of mice with prion disease activated a natural defense mechanism in cells, which switches off the production of new proteins. This would normally switch back on again, the researchers explained, but in these ill mice the continued build-up of misshapen proteins keeps the switch turned off. This is the trigger point leading to brain cell death, because key proteins essential for cell survival are not made. By injecting a protein that blocks the "off" switch, the scientists were able to restore the production of the survival proteins and halt the neurodegeneration."
A new study suggests that the sophistication of the human brain may be due to a mistake in cell division long ago. From the article: "A copyediting error appears to be responsible for critical features of the human brain that distinguish us from our closest primate kin, new research finds. When tested out in mice, researchers found this 'error' caused the rodents' brain cells to move into place faster and enabled more connections between brain cells."
An anonymous reader writes "Biochemist Pierre Calleja has a solution to reducing carbon emissions that doesn't require us to cut back on our use of carbon-producing devices. Calleja has developed a lighting system that requires no electricity for power. Instead it draws CO2 from the atmosphere and uses it to produce light as well as oxygen as a byproduct. The key ingredient to this eco-friendly light? Algae. Certain types of algae can feed off of organic carbon as well as sunlight, and in the process produce carbohydrate energy for themselves as well as oxygen as a waste product. Cajella's lamps consist of algae-filled water along with a light and battery system. During the day the algae produce energy from sunlight that is then stored in the batteries. Then at night the energy is used to power the light. However, as the algae can also produce energy from carbon, sunlight isn't required for the process to work. That means such lights can be placed where there is no natural light and the air will effectively be cleaned on a daily basis."