sciencehabit writes "In 1592, a British ship sank near the island of Alderney in the English Channel carrying an odd piece of cargo: a small, angular crystal. Once it was brought back to land, a few European scientists began to suspect the mysterious object might be a calcite crystal, a powerful 'sunstone' referred to in Norse legends which they believe Vikings and other European seafarers used to navigate before the introduction of the magnetic compass. Now, after subjecting the object to a battery of mechanical and chemical tests, the team has determined that the Alderman crystal is indeed a calcite and, therefore, could have been the ship's optical compass. Today, similar calcite crystals are used by astronomers to analyze the atmospheres of exoplanets—perhaps setting the stage for a whole new age of exploration."
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tcd004 writes "An article at PBS begins, 'Imagine this crazy scenario: A space vehicle we've sent to a distant planet to search for life touches down in an icy area. The heat from the spacecraft's internal power system warms the ice, and water forms below the landing gear of the craft. And on the landing gear is something found on every surface on planet Earth... bacteria. Lots of them. If those spore-forming bacteria found themselves in a moist environment with a temperature range they could tolerate, they might just make themselves at home and thrive and then, well... the extraterrestrial life that we'd been searching for might just turn out to be Earth life we introduced.' The article goes on to talk about NASA's efforts to prevent situations like this. It's a job for the Office of Planetary Protection. They give some examples, including the procedure for sterilizing the Curiosity Rover: 'Pieces of equipment that could tolerate high heat were subjected to temperatures of 230 to 295 degrees Fahrenheit for up to 144 hours. And surfaces were wiped down with alcohol and tested regularly.'"
ananyo writes "The incidence of autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes, has spiked in developed countries in recent decades. In three studies published today, researchers describe the molecular pathways that can lead to autoimmune disease and identify one possible culprit that has been right under our noses — and on our tables — the entire time: salt. Some forms of autoimmunity have been linked to overproduction of TH17 cells, a type of helper T cell that produces an inflammatory protein called interleukin-17. Now scientists have found sodium chloride turns on the production of these cells (abstract). They also showed that in a mouse model of multiple sclerosis, a high-salt diet accelerated the disease's progression (abstract)."
Trapezium Artist writes "The European Space Agency's far-infrared space observatory, Herschel, will soon run out of its liquid helium coolant, ending observations after more than three years of highly successful scientific operations. Predictions by ESA engineers are that Herschel will run out of helium later in March, at which point its instruments will warm up, rendering them effectively blind. Herschel was launched in 2009 along with ESA's Planck satellite to the Sun-Earth L2 point, roughly 1.5 million kilometers from Earth. At that location, the Sun and Earth remain along a more or less constant vector with respect to a spacecraft, meaning that it can cool to very low temperatures behind a sunshield. At such a large distance from Earth, however, there is no way of replenishing the coolant, and Herschel will be pushed off the L2 point to spend its retirement in a normal heliocentric orbit. With the largest monolithic mirror ever flown in space at 3.5 meters diameter and three powerful scientific instruments, Herschel has made exciting discoveries about the cool Universe, ranging from dusty starburst galaxies at high redshifts to star-forming regions spread throughout the Milky Way and proto-planetary disks of gas and dust swirling around nearby young stars. And with an archive full of data, much of it already public, Herschel is set to produce new results for years to come."
Kittenman writes "The BBC magazine has an article on human trust of robots. 'As manufacturers get ready to market robots for the home it has become essential for them to overcome the public's suspicion of them. But designing a robot that is fun to be with — as well as useful and safe — is quite difficult.' The article cites a poll done on Facebook over the 'best face' design for a robot that would be trusted. But we still distrust them in general. 'Eighty-eight per cent of respondents [to a different survey] agreed with the statement that robots are "necessary as they can do jobs that are too hard or dangerous for people," such as space exploration, warfare and manufacturing. But 60% thought that robots had no place in the care of children, elderly people and those with disabilities.' We distrust the robots because of the uncanny valley — or, as the article puts it, that they look unwell (or like corpses) and do not behave as expected. So, at what point will you trust robots for more personal tasks? How about one with the 'trusting face'?" It seems much more likely that a company will figure out sneaky ways to make us trust robots than make robots that much more trustworthy.
MTorrice writes "Some biologists would like to train patients' own immune systems to treat diseases such as cancer and autoimmune disorders. They envision isolating a person's immune cells and then programming the cells to destroy tumors or to stop other parts of the immune system from attacking healthy tissue. Now a team of German researchers reports a method that traps immune cells in microscopic water droplets and exposes the cells to chemical signals that could teach them the difference between friend and foe (abstract). The droplets mimic the cellular environments in which immune cells typically trade information about what to attack."
tetrahedrassface writes "Observations of spectral emissions from the surface of Europa using state of the art ground based telescopes here on Earth have lent data that indicate the surface of the Jovian moon is linked with the vast ocean below. The observations carried out by Caltech's Mike Brown and JPL's Kevin Hand show that water is making it from the ocean below all the way up to the surface of the moon. In their study (PDF) they noticed a dip in the emission bands around lower latitudes of the moon, and quickly honed in on what they were seeing. The mineral of interest is epsomite, a magnesium sulfate compound that can only come from the ocean below. From the article: 'Magnesium should not be on the surface of Europa unless it's coming from the ocean,' Brown says. 'So that means ocean water gets onto the surface, and stuff on the surface presumably gets into the ocean water.' Not only does this mean the ocean and surface are dynamically interacting, but it also means that there may be more energy in the ocean than previously thought. Another finding is that the ocean below the icy surface of Europa is basically very similar to an ocean on Earth, giving the neglected and premier solar body for life past Earth another compelling reason for being explored."
astroengine writes "The idea of slingshotting a manned spacecraft around Mars isn't a new one. In the 1960's, NASA carried out a feasibility study into an 800-day flyby mission to the Red Planet. And it would have been awesome. AT&T/Bellcomm mathematician A. A. VanderVeen was working for NASA in 1967 and came up with 5 possible launch opportunities between 1978 and 1986 — two windows in 1979 and 1983 provided the shortest transit time between the planets. But launch mass and fuel requirements were a constant issue. So VanderVeen turned to physics to find an elegant, and scientifically exciting, solution: add a Venus flyby to the Mars trip. Mars, Earth, and Venus align with the sun five times every 32 years, but Venus and Mars alignments happen more frequently making double (Earth-Venus-Mars-Earth) or even triple (Earth-Venus-Mars-Venus-Earth) flybys a viable mission. Unfortunately, the flyby never happened."
willith writes "I spent two days at NASA's Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory in Houston, watching astronauts dive and getting a thorough tour of the facility. The largest indoor pool in the world contains 6.2M gallons of water and is filled with life-size replicas of International Space Station modules (though at 202'x101' and 40' deep, it isn't nearly enough to hold the entire station). Every spacewalk requires a huge amount of rehearsal, and that rehearsal is done right here in this pool. I talk at length with divers, astronauts, test coordinators, and test directors about how the facility works and what it takes to train folks to work in spacesuits. I also get to talk about the NBL's commercial future, and what's next for the big pool. Plus, lots and lots of pictures!"
Hugh Pickens writes writes "Science Daily Headlines reports that researchers have applied a recently developed technique to directly measure the polarization states of light overcoming some important challenges of Heisenberg's famous Uncertainty Principle and demonstrating that it is possible to measure key related variables, known as 'conjugate' variables, of a quantum particle or state directly. Such direct measurements of the wave-function had long seemed impossible because of a key tenet of the uncertainty principle — the idea that certain properties of a quantum system could be known only poorly if certain other related properties were known with precision. 'The reason it wasn't thought possible to measure two conjugate variables directly was because measuring one would destroy the wave-function before the other one could be measured,' says co-author Jonathan Leach. The direct measurement technique employs a 'trick' to measure the first property in such a way that the system is not disturbed significantly and information about the second property can still be obtained. This careful measurement relies on the 'weak measurement' of the first property followed by a 'strong measurement' of the second property. First described 25 years ago, weak measurement requires that the coupling between the system and what is used to measure it be, as its name suggests, 'weak,' which means that the system is barely disturbed in the measurement process. The downside of this type of measurement is that a single measurement only provides a small amount of information, and to get an accurate readout, the process has to be repeated multiple times and the average taken. Researchers passed polarized light through two crystals of differing thicknesses: the first, a very thin crystal that 'weakly' measures the horizontal and vertical polarization state; the second, a much thicker crystal that 'strongly' measures the diagonal and anti-diagonal polarization state. As the first measurement was performed weakly, the system is not significantly disturbed, and therefore, information gained from the second measurement was still valid. This process is repeated several times to build up accurate statistics. Putting all of this together gives a full, direct characterization of the polarization states of the light."
terbeaux writes "The fact that Rep Ed Orcutt (R — WA) wants to tax bicycle use is not extraordinary. The representative's irrational conviction is. SeattleBikeBlog has confirmed reports that Orcutt does not feel bicycling is environmentally friendly because the activity causes cyclists to have 'an increased heart rate and respiration.' When they contacted him he clarified that 'You would be giving off more CO2 if you are riding a bike than driving in a car...' Cascade blog has posted the full exchange between Rep Ed Orcutt and a citizen concerned about the new tax."
An anonymous reader writes in with news of a breakthrough in the treatment of HIV. "A baby born with the AIDS virus two years ago in Mississippi who was put on antiretroviral therapy within hours of birth appears to have been cured of the infection, researchers said Sunday at a scientific conference in Atlanta. Whether the cure is complete and permanent, or only partial and long-lasting, is not certain. Either way, the highly unusual case raises hope for the more than 300,000 babies born with the infection around the world each year."
Hugh Pickens writes writes "The first dogs descended from wolves about 14,000 years ago but according to Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods humans didn't domesticate dogs — dogs sought out humans and domesticated us. Humans have a long history of eradicating wolves, rather than trying to adopt them which raises the question: How was the wolf tolerated by humans long enough to evolve into the domestic dog? 'The short version is that we often think of evolution as being the survival of the fittest, where the strong and the dominant survive and the soft and weak perish. But essentially, far from the survival of the leanest and meanest, the success of dogs comes down to survival of the friendliest.' Most likely, it was wolves that approached us, not the other way around, probably while they were scavenging around garbage dumps on the edge of human settlements. The wolves that were bold but aggressive would have been killed by humans, and so only the ones that were bold and friendly would have been tolerated. In a few generations, these friendly wolves became distinctive from their more aggressive relatives with splotchy coats, floppy ears, wagging tails. But the changes did not just affect their looks but their psychology. Protodogs evolved the ability to read human gestures. 'As dog owners, we take for granted that we can point to a ball or toy and our dog will bound off to get it,' write Hare and Woods. 'But the ability of dogs to read human gestures is remarkable. Even our closest relatives — chimpanzees and bonobos — can't read our gestures as readily as dogs can. 'With this new ability, these protodogs were worth knowing. People who had dogs during a hunt would likely have had an advantage over those who didn't. Finally when times were tough, dogs could have served as an emergency food supply and once humans realized the usefulness of keeping dogs as emergency food, it was not a huge jump to realize plants could be used in a similar way.' This is the secret to the genius of dogs: It's when dogs join forces with us that they become special," conclude Hare and Woods. 'Dogs may even have been the catalyst for our civilization.'"
An anonymous reader writes "A multi-university team of researchers has artificially engineered a unique multilayer material that could lead to breakthroughs in both superconductivity research and in real-world applications. The researchers can tailor the material, which seamlessly alternates between metal and oxide layers, to achieve extraordinary superconducting properties — in particular, the ability to transport much more electrical current than non-engineered materials."
astroengine writes "Acquired by the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT), an infrared observation shows a portion of the disk of gas and dust around the star HD 100546, located 335 light-years away in the constellation Musca. By physically blocking out the light from the star itself by means of an opaque screen, the light from the protoplanetary disk around HD 100546 can be seen, revealing a large bright clump that's thought to be a planet in the process of formation (PDF). If it is indeed a baby planet, it's a big one — as large as, or perhaps even larger than, Jupiter."
Despite having some trouble with maneuvering thrusters a few days ago, SpaceX's Dragon cargo capsule has successfully reached the International Space Station. from the article: "Astronauts aboard the outpost used the station's robotic arm to pluck the capsule from orbit at 5:31 a.m. EST as the ships sailed 250 miles over northern Ukraine. Flight controllers at NASA's Mission Control in Houston then stepped in to drive the capsule to its berthing port on the station's Harmony connecting node."
New submitter physlord writes in with a story about tadpoles with eyes on their tails. "Using embryos from the African clawed frog (Xenopus), scientists at Tufts' Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology were able to transplant eye primordia—basically, the little nubs of flesh that will eventually grow into an eye—from one tadpole's head to another's posterior, flank, or tail....Amazingly, a statistically significant portion of the transplanted one-eyes could not only detect LED changes, but they showed learning behavior when confronted with electric shock."
alancronin writes "NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has been temporarily put into 'safe mode,' as scientists monitoring from Earth try to fix a computer glitch, the US space agency said. Scientists switched to a backup computer Thursday so that they could troubleshoot the problem, said to be linked to a glitch in the original computer's flash memory. 'We switched computers to get to a standard state from which to begin restoring routine operations,' said Richard Cook of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the project manager for the Mars Science Laboratory Project, which built and operates Curiosity."
An anonymous reader writes "Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson talks stopping extinction-level meteor hits: '...Here in America, we're really good at blowing stuff up and less good at knowing where the pieces land, you know...So, people who have studied the problem generally – and I'm in this camp – see a deflection scenario is more sound and more controllable. So if this is the asteroid and it's sort of headed toward us, one way is you send up a space ship and they'll both feel each other. And the space ship hovers. And they'll both feel each other's gravity. And they want to sort of drift toward one another. But you don't let that happen. You set off little retro rockets that prevent it. And the act of doing so slowly tugs the asteroid into a new orbit.'"
curtwoodward writes "Now that President Obama's federal health care reform is past its major political hurdles — and with renewed focus on out-of-control costs in healthcare — companies that sell 'big data' software are licking their chops. The reason: Healthcare has huge piles of information that is being used in new ways, to track patient admissions, spending, and much more. From hospitals to insurance companies, they'll all need new ways of crunching those numbers. It's basically an entirely new field that will dwarf the spending growth in traditional data-heavy industries like finance, retail and marketing, a Microsoft regional sales GM says."
SpaceX's Dragon launch to the ISS earlier today went off smoothly, but the mission encountered trouble shortly after: three sets (of four) of the craft's maneuvering thrusters didn't work. CNET quotes SpaceX founder Elon Musk: "It looks like there was potentially some blockage in the oxidizer pressurization (system). It looks like we've been able to free that blockage, or maybe a stuck valve. We've been able to free that up by cycling the valves, essentially pressure hammering the valves, to get that to loosen. It looks like that's been effective. All the oxidizer tanks are now holding the target pressure on all four (thruster) pods. I'm optimistic we'll be able to bring all four of them up and then we'll work closely with NASA to figure out what the next step is for rendezvousing with space station," and follows up with the good news that "Shortly after the briefing concluded, engineers reported all four sets of thrusters were back on line and that testing was underway to verify the health of the system." Barring further problems, Dragon could reach the ISS as soon as Sunday.
New submitter oag2 writes "Discover Magazine has a new slideshow of NASA's pie-in-the-sky (or, rather, toroid-in-the-sky) mock-ups of what space colonies would look like, complete with verdant mountains, flowing rivers, cocktail parties, and a guy on a floating bicycle. Though the designs are retro-futuristic, the artist who made them was prescient in other ways. From the accompanying article: "In the context of the 70s, when we had some sense of momentum from Apollo as far as expanding the human presence in space, it seemed like the kind of thing we could have just picked up and moved with," Davis says. "And it's still possible. It's just a matter of where we decide to spend our money." But Guidice remembers a more telling prophecy from O'Neill. "One of the most memorable things I ever heard him say was, 'If we don't do it right now,' meaning in the next 20 years, and that was 20 years ago, 'then we'll never do it, because we'll be overpopulated and the strain on the natural resources will be the number one priority. We will not have any sort of inclination to see this through."'" The O'Neill referenced above is Gerard K. O'Neill, physicist and founder of the Space Studies Institute. He wrote a book in 1976 called The High Frontier which featured these mock-up paintings, and explained in great detail how the space habitats would function. It's a fascinating book, and well worth reading if the pictures pique your curiosity.
An anonymous reader sends word that NASA scientists using the Relativistic Electron Proton Telescope (REPT) about the Van Allen Probes have discovered a third radiation belt surrounding Earth. Scientists have been aware of the Van Allen radiation belts since the 1950s, but it was thought that there were only two of them. The probes were sent up to simply map the belts in fine detail; the discovery of a third belt was a complete surprise. Deputy mission scientist Shri Kanekal said, "By the fifth day REPT was on, we could plot out our observations and watch the formation of a third radiation belt. We started wondering if there was something wrong with our instruments. We checked everything, but there was nothing wrong with them. The third belt persisted beautifully, day after day, week after week, for four weeks." Part of the reason they caught a glimpse of this belt was that they turned the REPT on early, so it would overlap with another probe that had reached end-of-life and was about to de-orbit. If they hadn't decided to do so, or if the REPT hadn't worked perfectly, we still might be in the dark about a third Van Allen belt.
Bennett Haselton writes "The U.S. government recently announced that academic papers on federally-funded research should become freely available online within one year of publication in a journal. But the real question is why academics don't simply publish most papers freely anyway. If the problem is that traditional journals have a monopoly on the kind of prestige that can only be conferred by having your paper appear in their hallowed pages, that monopoly can easily be broken, because there's no reason why open-access journals can't confer the same imprimatur of quality." Read on for the rest of Bennett's thoughts on the great free-access debate.
the_newsbeagle writes "This year, a biotech company called Ion Torrent will introduce a new chip for its genome sequencing machine, which should enable researchers and doctors to scan a complete human genome for $1000 and in just a couple of hours. Compare that to the effort required to complete the first human genome: $3 billion and 13 years. Ion Torrent has nearly reached the $1000-genome milestone by virtue of a process called 'semiconductor sequencing,' and the company's founder says his chip-based sequencing machine benefits from all the efficiencies of the computer industry. At a price point of $1000, genome scans could become a routine part of medicine. And the price could keep dropping. To test out the technology, and to investigate just how useful genome scans are these days for your typical, reasonably healthy person, the IEEE Spectrum reporter got her own genome scanned and analyzed."
Later today, the U.S. government will enter the sequestration process, a series of across-the-board budget cuts put into place automatically because U.S. politicians are bad at agreeing on things. "At that moment, somewhere in the bowels of the Treasury Department, officials will take offline the computers that process payments for school construction and clean energy bonds to reprogram them for reduced rates. Payments will be delayed while they are made manually for the next six weeks." The cuts will directly affect science- and tech-related spending throughout the country. Tom Levenson writes, '[s]equester cuts will strike bluntly across the scientific community. The illustrious can move a bit of money around, but even in large labs, a predictable result will be a reduction in the number of graduate student and post – doc slots available — and as those junior and early-stage researchers do a whole lot of the at-the-bench level research, such cuts will have an immediate effect on research productivity. The longer term risk is obvious too: fewer students and post-docs mean on an ongoing drop from baseline in the amount of work to be done year over year.' The former director of the National Institute of Health says it will set back medical science for a generation. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has laid out how the cuts will affect the U.S. space program. He said, "The Congress wasn’t able to do what they were supposed to do, so we’re going to suffer." The sequester will also prevent billions of dollars from flowing into the tech industry. This comes at a time when there's a pressing need in the tech sector for professionals versed in the use of Linux, and salaries for those workers are on the rise.
Today at 10:10am ET (15:10 UTC) SpaceX will be launching an unmanned Dragon capsule, perched atop a Falcon9 rocket, to the International Space Station. The capsule is filled with about 1,200 pounds of supplies for the ISS crew, and it is scheduled to arrive early Saturday morning. The return trip, on March 25, will bring over 2,000 pounds of cargo back to Earth when Dragon re-enters the atmosphere and falls into the Pacific Ocean. Both NASA and SpaceX are covering the launch live. For text and pictures, you can watch on SpaceX Launch Central or NASA's launch blog. For streaming video, check out NASA TV. Spaceflight Now has both, and their live updates provide a bit more detail. SpaceX's press kit for the mission (PDF) explains how the launch will proceed: "At 1 minute, 10 seconds after liftoff, Falcon 9 reaches supersonic speed. The vehicle will pass through the area of maximum aerodynamic pressure—max Q—15 seconds later. This is the point when mechanical stress on the rocket peaks due to a combination of the rocket’s velocity and resistance created by the Earth’s atmosphere. Around 170 seconds into the flight, two of the first-stage engines will shut down to reduce the rocket’s acceleration. (Its mass, of course, has been continually dropping as its propellants are being used up.) The remaining engines will cut off around 3 minutes into the flight—an event known as main-engine cutoff, or MECO. At this point, Falcon 9 is 80 kilometers (50 miles) high, traveling at 10 times the speed of sound. Five seconds after MECO, the first and second stages will separate. Seven seconds later, the second stage’s single Merlin vacuum engine ignites to begin a 6-minute burn that brings Falcon 9 and Dragon into low-Earth orbit."
drew30319 writes "NPR reports that a team of researchers at the University of Rome required a group of surgical residents to play video games on a Nintendo Wii for an hour a day, five days a week, for four weeks resulting in 'statistically better' performance than a control group for laparoscopic skills. The study includes some interesting stats (e.g. while the control group showed a 10% improvement in accuracy, the Wii-playing group's accuracy improved by 83%). The study's authors add that '[t]he Nintendo Wii may be adopted in lower-budget Institutions or at home by younger surgeons to optimize their training on simulators before performing real procedures.'"
call -151 writes "An editorial appearing in the ACM notices complains about the effects of the Elsevier boycott particularly with respect to academics refusing to do unpaid review for for-profit journals, particularly the extortionate Elsevier journals. Mathematician Tim Gowers's post gave energy to this about a year ago and recently he reflected on progress in several directions, including developing new arXIv overlay journals. Not disclosed in the ACM editorial is that the author serves on three Elsevier editorial boards; I take it that his complaining about the difficulty of finding referees is an indication that the boycott is having some good effect. Open access issues in academic publishing have been discussed on Slashdot before and it's a good sign that the broader issue has been getting good exposure, including a reasonable White House directive in response to a strong petition effort."
ananyo writes "The brains of two rats on different continents have been made to act in tandem. When the first, in Brazil, uses its whiskers to choose between two stimuli, an implant records its brain activity and signals to a similar device in the brain of a rat in the United States. The U.S. rat then usually makes the same choice on the same task. Miguel Nicolelis, a neuroscientist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, says that this system allows one rat to use the senses of another, incorporating information from its far-away partner into its own representation of the world. 'It's not telepathy. It's not the Borg,' he says. 'But we created a new central nervous system made of two brains.' Nicolelis says that the work, published today, is the first step towards constructing an organic computer that uses networks of linked animal brains to solve tasks. But other scientists who work on neural implants are skeptical."
Last Thursday, we discussed news that millionaire Dennis Tito was planning a private mission to Mars in 2018, but details were sparse. Now, reader RocketAcademy writes that Tito has provided more information about the tip, and that he intends the mission to be manned: "Dennis Tito, the first citizen space explorer to visit the International Space Station, has created the Inspiration Mars Foundation to raise funds for an even more dramatic mission: a human flyby of the planet Mars. Tito, a former JPL rocket scientist who later founded the investment firm Wilshire Associates, proposes to send two Americans — a man and a woman — on a 501-day roundtrip mission which would launch on January 5, 2018. Technical details of the mission can be found in a feasibility analysis (PDF), which Tito is scheduled to present at the IEEE Aerospace Conference in March. Former NASA flight surgeon Dr. Jonathon Clark, who is developing innovative ways of dealing with radiation exposure during the mission, called the flight 'an Apollo 8 moment for the next generation.'"
astroengine writes "Astronomers have directly measured the spin of a black hole for the first time by detecting the mind-bending relativistic effects that warp space-time at the very edge of its event horizon. By monitoring X-ray emissions from iron ions (iron atoms with some electrons missing) trapped in the black hole's accretion disk, the rapidly-rotating inner edge of the disk of hot material has provided direct information about how fast the black hole is spinning. Astronomers used NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) — that was launched into Earth orbit in June 2012 — and the European observatory XMM-Newton measured X-ray radiation as a tool to directly infer the spin of NGC 1365's black hole. 'What excites me is the fact that we are able to do this for the very massive black holes at the centers of galaxies but we can also make the same measurement for black holes in our galaxy ... black holes that resulted from the explosion of a star ... The fact we can extend this from billions of solar masses to 10 solar masses is pretty cool,' Fiona Harrison, professor of physics and astronomy at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif., and principal investigator of the NuSTAR mission, told Discovery News."
Velcroman1 writes "Biochemical engineers can now download a piece of software and with a few simple clicks, assemble the DNA for new life forms through their laptops. 'With the proper computer tools, biologists can write their own genetic code — and then turn that code into life,' said biochemist Omri Amirav-Drory, who founded Genome Compiler Corp., the company that sells the software. He demonstrated at a coffee shop early one morning by manipulating a bacteria's genes on his laptop. The synthetic biology app is still in beta; on Jan. 15, the company added an undo feature and support for new DNA file formats. Building creatures is increasingly like word processing, it would seem. But such is the strange reality in the age of cheap genome sequencing, DNA synthesizing and 'bioinformatics.'"
astroengine writes "Helped by the extensive coverage of eyewitness cameras, CCTV footage and a fortuitous observation made by the Meteosat-9 weather satellite, Jorge Zuluaga and Ignacio Ferrin of the University of Antioquia in Medellin, Colombia, have been able to reconstruct the most likely orbit of the meteoroid that slammed into the atmosphere over the Russian Urals region on Feb. 15. What's more, they know what type of space rock it was — the Chelyabinsk-bound meteoroid originated from an Apollo-class asteroid (PDF). Apollo asteroids are well-known near-Earth asteroids that cross the orbit of Earth. Around 5,200 Apollo asteroids are currently known, the largest being 1866 Sisyphus — a 10 kilometer-wide monster that was discovered in 1972."
New submitter jollyrgr3 writes "If William Shatner gets his wish, one of Pluto's two new moons will be named Vulcan. The two small moons were discovered recently, and the SETI Institute launched an online poll to let people choose names. Captain Kirk himself suggested the names Vulcan and Romulus. Vulcan was accepted as a candidate, and Shatner exhorted his Twitter followers to vote. Vulcan ended up winning by a landslide, taking 174,000 of the 450,000 total responses. The next highest was Cerberus at just shy of 100,000. The names still have to be approved by the International Astronomical Union, as they have the final say. Leonard Nimoy approves."
AstroPhilosopher writes "In a move not far removed from the model T-101, U.S. researchers have succeeded in re-animating a dead sparrow. Duke scientists were studying male behavior aggression among sparrows. They cleverly decided to insert miniaturized robotics into an empty sparrow carcass and operate it like a puppet (abstract). It worked; they noticed wing movements were a primary sign of aggression. Fortunately the living won out this time. The experiment stopped after the real sparrows tore off the robosparrow's head. But there's always a newer model on the assembly-line. Good luck sparrows." Bad Horse has not yet made a decision on the researchers' application.
Hugh Pickens writes "UPI reports that for the first time in the history of Nobel Prize, one of the Nobel Prize medals, along with the diploma presented by the Nobel committee, is on auction — with an opening bid of $250,000. Awarded to Francis Crick, who along with James Watson and Maurice Wilkins won the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1962 'for their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material,' the medal will be auctioned off in New York City, by Heritage Auctions. The medal has been kept in a safe deposit box in California since Crick's widow passed away in 2007 and a portion of the proceeds will go to the Francis Crick Institute of disease research scheduled to open in London in 2015. '"By auctioning his Nobel it will finally be made available for public display and be well looked after. Our hope is that, by having it available for display, it can be an inspiration to the next generation of scientists," says Crick's granddaughter, Kindra Crick. "My granddad was honored to have received the Nobel Prize, but he was not the type to display his awards; his office walls contained a large chalkboard, artwork and a portrait of Charles Darwin."'"
Billy the Mountain writes "A small UK company is bringing new technology online that could reduce the prices of tantalum and titanium ten-fold. According to this piece in The Economist: A tantalising prospect, the key is a technique similar to smelting aluminum with a new twist: The metallic oxides are not melted as with aluminum but blended in powder form with a molten salt that serves as a medium and electrolyte. This technology is known as the FFC Cambridge Process. Other metals include Neodymium, Tungsten, and Vanadium."
carmendrahl writes "Photos used to be second-class citizens in the art world, not considered as prestigious as paintings or sculpture. But that changed in the 1990s. As daguerrotypes and the like started selling for millions of dollars, fakes also slipped in. Unfortunately, the art world didn't have good ways of authenticating originals. Cultural heritage researchers had to play catch-up, and quickly. Two fraud cases, one involving avant garde photographer Man Ray, turned photo conservation from a niche field into a mature science."
astroengine writes "According to preliminary orbital prediction models, comet C/2013 A1 will buzz Mars on Oct. 19, 2014. C/2013 A1 was discovered by ace comet-hunter Robert McNaught at the Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales, Australia, on Jan. 3. When the discovery was made, astronomers at the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona looked back over their observations to find "prerecovery" images of the comet dating back to Dec. 8, 2012. These observations placed the orbital trajectory of comet C/2013 A1 through Mars orbit on Oct. 19, 2014. Due to uncertainties in the observations — the comet has only been observed for 74 days (so far), so it's difficult for astronomers to forecast the comet's precise location in 20 months time — comet C/2013 A1 may fly past at a very safe distance of 0.008 AU (650,000 miles). But to the other extreme, its orbital pass could put Mars directly in its path."
Lasrick writes "This is just fascinating: Joe Henrich and his colleagues are shaking the foundations of psychology and economics, and explain why social science studies of Westerners — and Americans in particular — don't really tell us about the human condition: 'Given the data, they concluded that social scientists could not possibly have picked a worse population from which to draw broad generalizations. Researchers had been doing the equivalent of studying penguins while believing that they were learning insights applicable to all birds.'"
An anonymous reader writes "A small U.S. university has come up with a novel solution to reduce the possibility of using a dead person's hand to get past a fingerprint scanner through the use of hemoglobin detection. The device quickly checks the fingerprint and hemoglobin 'non-intrusively' to verify the identity and whether the individual is alive. This field of research is called Biocryptology and seeks to ensure that biometric security devices can't be easily bypassed."
ananyo writes "The drowned remnants of an ancient micro-continent may lie scattered beneath the waters between Madagascar and India, a new study suggests. Evidence for the long-lost land comes from Mauritius, a volcanic island about 900 kilometers east of Madagascar (abstract) The oldest volcanic rocks on the island date to about 8.9 million years ago. Yet grain-by-grain analyses of beach sand collected at two sites on the Mauritian coast revealed around 20 zircons — tiny crystals of zirconium silicate that are exceedingly resistant to erosion or chemical change — that were far older. One of these zircons was at least 1.97 billion years old. The researchers that made the discovery think that geologically recent volcanic eruptions brought shards of the buried continent to the Earth's surface, where the zircons eroded from their parent rocks to pepper the island's sands. Analyses of Earth's gravitational field reveal several broad areas where sea-floor crust at the bottom of the Indian ocean is much thicker than normal — at least 25 to 30 kilometers thick, rather than the normal 5 to 10 kilometers. Those crustal anomalies may be the remains of a landmass that researchers have now dubbed Mauritia, which they suggest split from Madagascar when tectonic rifting and sea-floor spreading sent the Indian subcontinent surging northeast millions of years ago."
Lasrick writes "A Reuters blog post by Yousaf Butt explains the science, or lack thereof, behind recent claims that Iran is closer to building the bomb. Butt has been writing in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, most recently blasting the unsourced AP 'Iranian graph' that claimed to show nuclear testing activity as well as the Washington Post story about Iran's alleged order of 100,000 magnets for their centrifuges."
Z80xxc! writes "The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced a "policy memorandum" today requiring any federal agency with over $100 million in R&D expenditures each year to develop plans for making all research funded by that agency freely available to the public within one year of publication in any peer-reviewed scholarly journal. The full memorandum is available on the White House website. It appears that this policy would not only apply to federal agencies conducting research, but also to any university, private corporation, or other entity conducting research that arises from federal funding. For those in academia and the public at large, this is a huge step towards free open access to publicly funded research." Edward Tufte calls the move timid and unimaginative, linking to a Verge article that explains that it's not quite as sweeping as the summary above sounds.
Copper Nikus writes "In yet another fascinating example of insects being smarter than we give them credit for, this article describes how fruit flies are able to fight back against deadly wasps by using alcohol. Quoting: 'These wasps lay eggs on the larva or pupa of the flies, and their offspring feed on the animal internally, often killing them in the process. (Flies have larval stages, during which we call them maggots, and pupate just as butterflies do before emerging in their adult form.) Once infected, there isn't much one of the larva can do to get rid of the parasite. Its one option: booze (abstract). Fruit flies, as their name implies, like to dine on fruit, especially during the larval stages. In many cases, that involves ingesting the alcohol that's produced by natural fermentation of rotting fruit (this can approach 20 percent alcohol content). Some species of flies have developed the ability to tolerate this alcohol as they chew through the fruit as maggots. But for most of the wasp species, even moderate levels of alcohol are toxic."
eldavojohn writes "A new report from China's environment ministry has resulted in long-overdue self-realizations as well as possible explanations for 'cancer villages.' The term refers to villages (anywhere from 247 to 400 known of them) that have increased cancer rates due to pollution from nearby factories and industry. The report revealed that many harmful chemicals that are prohibited and banned in developed nations are still found in China's water and air. Prior research has shown a direct correlation between industrialization/mining and levels of poisonous heavy metals in water. As a result, an air pollution app has grown in popularity and you can see the pollution from space. China has also released a twelve-year plan for environmental protection."
New submitter Gunilla sends this news from an AP report: "It turns out this year's flu shot is doing a startlingly dismal job of protecting older people, the most vulnerable age group. The vaccine is proving only 9 percent effective in those 65 and older against the harsh strain of the flu that is predominant this season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday. Health officials are baffled as to why this is so. But the findings help explain why so many older people have been hospitalized with the flu this year. Despite the findings, the CDC stood by its recommendation that everyone over 6 months get flu shots, the elderly included, because some protection is better than none, and because those who are vaccinated and still get sick may suffer less severe symptoms." An anonymous reader adds information about a new drug that treats influenza by hijacking its own infection mechanism. The compound "binds to an enzyme on the surface of the flu virus called neuraminidase. This enzyme is responsible for severing the connection between the flu virus and human cell so it can move on and infect other cells. The new class of drugs — DFSAs — permanently bind to the enzyme, blocking its action and stopping it from spreading further, the journal Science reported (abstract). Currently available antivirals also work by attaching to this enzyme. But DFSAs do so in such a way that the flu virus cannot evolve to be resistant to the drug without rendering itself useless."
cylonlover writes "In the wake of the meteor blast over Russia and the close-quarter flyby of asteroid 2012 DA14 last week, many people's thoughts have turned to potential dangers from above. It is timely then that the Canadian Space Agency will next week launch NEOSSat (Near-Earth Object Surveillance Satellite), the world's first space telescope for detecting and tracking asteroids, satellites and space debris." The meteor incident in Russia has spurred interested in asteroid defense across the globe; donations are pouring in for asteroid-related projects, government officials are making a show of seeming interested, and researchers are stepping up their efforts. Unfortunately, as a related article at Wired notes, we're still a long, long way from having anything more than early warning systems. Quoting: "A new endeavor coming online in 2015 named the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System Project (ATLAS) will provide an early warning system that could provide one week’s notice for city-destroying 45-meter asteroids and three week’s notice for potentially devastating 140-meter objects. ... A more targeted effort comes from the B612 Foundation, which plans to launch the Sentinel telescope in late 2016. This spacecraft would sit inside the orbit of Venus and constantly be on the lookout for killer asteroids, whichever direction they come from. Sentinel will spot nearly all asteroids 150 meters or larger and identify a significant portion of those down to 30 meters in diameter."
Hugh Pickens writes "The LA Times reports that in a new report aimed at improving healthcare and controlling runaway costs, a coalition of leading medical societies has identified nearly 100 medical procedures, tests and therapies that are overused and often unnecessary. The medical interventions — including early cesarean deliveries, CT scans for head injuries in children and annual Pap tests for middle-aged women — may be necessary in some cases, but are often not beneficial and may even cause harm. 'We are very concerned about the rapidly escalating cost of healthcare,' says Dr. Bruce Sigsbee. 'This is not healthy for the country, and something has to be done.' Each of the specialty medical societies has provided a list of five procedures that physicians and patients should question about the overuse of medical tests and procedures that provide little benefit and in some cases harm. A 2012 report from the independent Institute of Medicine estimated total waste in the system at 30%, or $750 billion a year. 'Millions of Americans are increasingly realizing that when it comes to healthcare, more is not necessarily better,' says Dr. Christine K. Cassel." According to pigrabbitbear, it's the robots we should be wary of. He writes "'We are committed to helping victims of robot surgery receive the medical care and compensation they deserve. As both a lawyer and a licensed medical doctor, Dr. Francois Blaudeau has made it his mission to fight for the victims of traumatic complications as a result of botched robot surgery.' That's the opening salvo from the medical malpractice lawyers who run the slick fear factory of a website, BadRobotSurgery.com. According to the doctor-lawyers behind it—doctor-lawyers like Francois Blaudeau, MD, JD, FACHE, FCLM—'thousands of people have suffered severe and critical complications at the hands of surgical robots. In fact, 'robotic surgery has been linked to many serious injuries and severe complications, including death.'