The Washington Post is one of many sources to report the possibly disappointing news that NASA's Curiosity rover has failed to find any methane on Mars. "[NASA planetary scientist Michael] Mumma had high hopes for a positive result because he and his colleagues believe they have detected methane on Mars remotely, from telescopes on Earth that can discern the chemical nature of Mars’s atmosphere. A European orbiter around Mars also spotted methane. But the methane has proved ephemeral — now you see it, now you don’t. Mumma said he and his colleagues are reviewing their work to see if there is some error in the mix. Perhaps the methane simply disappears quickly on Mars, through some unknown chemical process. 'It’s possible that we don’t understand something that’s going on in the Martian atmosphere,' said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program.'"
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From an article at Discovery News: "A bustling airport would hardly seem the place to find a new species of reclusive animal, but a team of California biologists recently found a shy new species of legless lizard living at the end of a runway at Los Angeles International Airport. What’s more, the same team discovered three additional new species of these distinctive, snake-like lizards that are also living in some inhospitable-sounding places for wildlife: at a vacant lot in downtown Bakersfield, among oil derricks in the lower San Joaquin Valley and on the margins of the Mojave desert." Here's some more information in the form of a press release from Cal State Fullerton, home to James Parham, one of the discoverers.
Reuters has a quick report that "[a] software glitch will delay Orbital Sciences' trial cargo ship from reaching the International Space Station until Tuesday, officials said on Sunday. The company's Cygnus capsule, which blasted off Wednesday from Virginia for a test flight, had been scheduled to reach the station on Sunday. ... Orbital Sciences said it had found the cause of the data discrepancy and was developing a software fix. ... The next opportunity for the capsule to rendezvous and dock with the station will be on Tuesday." The WSJ has a more detailed article, and notes "The mission is a challenge for Orbital, which has invested more than five years and about $500 million of its own funds to develop a commercial-cargo capability. But it also presents a dramatic test of NASA's plans to outsource to industry all U.S. resupply missions to the space station. The agency has paid Orbital about $285 million to spur development of the Cygnus and Antares rocket system."
schwit1 writes "In a paper published today on the Los Alamos astro-ph preprint service, astronomers propose that as many as eleven past extinction events can be linked to the Sun's passage through the spiral arms of the Milky Way. (You can download the paper here [pdf].) From the paper: 'A correlation was found between the times at which the Sun crosses the spiral arms and six known mass extinction events. Furthermore, we identify five additional historical mass extinction events that might be explained by the motion of the Sun around our Galaxy. These five additional significant drops in marine genera that we find include significant reductions in diversity at 415, 322, 300, 145 and 33 Myr ago. Our simulations indicate that the Sun has spent ~60% of its time passing through our Galaxy's various spiral arms.'"
An anonymous reader writes "Songbirds living along the Hudson River in New York state are exposed to levels of PCBs that don't kill them but do disrupt the songs they sing, reports a team of researchers from Cornell University. Their study reveals that birds residing in regions with higher environmental PCB contamination levels have higher total blood PCBs, which affects their singing behaviour: the team found these species' songs varied predictably based on their PCB load, and also based upon the type of PCBs. Thus, the scientists suggest that another of the many toxic effects of sublethal environmental PCB pollution are neurological effects that translate into observable behaviour changes that disrupt song quality used by birds to communicate."
R3d M3rcury writes with the story that "NASA and Boeing, along with other nations, are studying the feasibility of keeping the International Space Station in orbit until 2020 and possibly until 2028 — the 30 year anniversary of the launch of the first module." From the article: "To assess the long-term structural health of the station, Boeing engineers developed detailed computer models based on NASA's projected use -- the expected stresses caused by future dockings, reboosts, crew activity and thermal cycles -- and combined that with actual data from on-board accelerometers and strain gauges. ... "What we're looking at is theoretical crack growth," Pamela McVeigh, the engineer in charge of the Boeing structural analysis in Houston, told CBS News. "So the failure mode would be you'd have a crack beginning, probably (at) a bolt hole, and the crack would grow to another edge. So you'd lose like a flange on a C-beam, or an I-beam. The stiffness of your structure would then change, the bolt hole you that you were growing the crack out of, now that bolt wouldn't be effective."
An anonymous reader writes with a story excerpt that may inspire envy in some readers: "Most beer guts are the result of consuming fermented brew, but a new case study describes a rare syndrome that had one man's gut fermenting brew, not consuming it. It's called gut fermentation syndrome or auto-brewery syndrome, and it's 'a relatively unknown phenomenon in Western medicine' according to a study published in July's International Journal of Clinical Medicine. 'Only a few cases have been reported in the last three decades' according to Dr. Barbara Cordell, the dean of nursing at Panola College in Carthage, Texas, and Dr. Justin McCarthy, a Lubbock gastroenterologist, the study's authors." (More at NPR.)
Taco Cowboy writes "'NASA is calling off attempts to find its Deep Impact comet probe after a suspected software glitch shut down radio communications in August, officials said on Friday.' Last month, engineers lost contact with Deep Impact and unsuccessfully tried to regain communications. The cause of the failure was unknown, but NASA suspects the spacecraft lost control, causing its antenna and solar panels to be pointed in the wrong direction. NASA had hoped Deep Impact would play a key role in observations of the approaching Comet ISON, a suspected first-time visitor to the inner solar system that was discovered in September 2012 by two Russian astronomers. The comet is heading toward a close encounter with the sun in November, a brush that it may not survive." Deep Impact has had a pretty good run, though: from its original mission to launch a copper slug at a comet (hence the name), to looking for Earth-sized planets.
Sockatume writes "By now you have likely read about the 'alien life forms' discovered in the upper atmosphere over Yorkshire, via the mass media reprinting a press release from the University of Sheffield. Unfortunately, the paper comes from researchers with an infamous tendency to identify inanimate objects as aliens, and is published in a journal that seems to principally exist to print unlikely astrobiological claims. Phil Plait points out flaws in a number of their claims. Quoting: 'They found what appears to be a fragment of a frustrule, the hard outer casing around a diatom. It certainly does look like one. But is it? Weirdly, they apparently didn’t even check. Seriously, in the paper they describe the photo of the object and say [emphasis mine], "On one stub was discovered part of a diatom which, we assume, is clear enough for experts on diatom taxonomy to precisely identify." That implies very strongly they didn’t ask an expert in diatoms to look at their sample. That’s bizarre. If I were claiming this were an ET plant, that’s the very first thing I’d do!'"
minty3 writes "Found in the Ocucaje Desert in southern Peru, the fossils belong to a group called Achaeocetes, or ancient whales, that possess both land and sea-dwelling characteristics. Over time, the ancient land animals adapted to water environments where their legs became fin-like and their bodies began to resemble modern sea mammals like dolphins and whales."
Funksaw writes "Here's an op-ed by first-time politician, long-time Slashdotter Brian Boyko, where he talks about his experiences testifying at the Texas Board of Education in favor of having real science in science textbooks. But beyond that, he also tries to examine, philosophically, why there is such hardened resistance to the idea of evolution in Texas. From the article: '[W]hat is true is that evolution tests faith. The fact of evolution is incontrovertible and supported by mounds of empirical evidence. Faith, on the other hand, is fragile. It is supported only by the strength of human will. And this is where it gets tricky. Because to many believers, faith, not works, is the only guarantee that one can pass God's litmus test and gain access to His divine kingdom. To lose one's faith is to literally damn oneself. So tests to that faith must be avoided at all costs. Better to be a philosophical coward than a theological failure.'"
An anonymous reader writes "A recent Slate article makes the argument that manned space exploration is not useful and we should concentrate on Robots. The article makes the claim that manned space exploration was never popular and by diverting money to robotic space exploration we can get more bang for the buck. From the article: 'Most of the arguments in favor of manned space exploration boil down to the following: a) We need to explore space using people since keeping the entire human race on a single piece of rock is a bad strategy, and even if we send robots first, people would have to make the journey eventually; and b) humans can explore much better than robots. Both these arguments are very near-sighted—in large part because they assume that robots aren’t going to get any better. They also fail to recognize that technology may radically change humans in the next century or so.'"
ananyo writes "Russia's lower house of parliament, the State Duma, approved controversial reforms to the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) on 18 September. More than 330 members of the Duma voted in favor of the law, with only 107 against, in a move critics say will deprive the 289-year-old body of its independence and halt attempts to revitalize Russia's struggling science system. If, as is widely expected, the parliament's upper house and Russian President Vladimir Putin approve the law, the 436 institutes and 45,000 research staff of Russia's primary basic-research organization will be managed by a newly established federal agency that reports directly to Putin. The agency will manage the academy's 60-billion-rouble (US$1.9-billion) budget and extensive property portfolio, which includes lucrative sites in Moscow and St Petersburg, and will also have a say in the appointment of institute directors. 'This is not a reform — this is a liquidation of science in Russia,' says Alexander Kuleshov, director of the academy's Institute for Information Transmission Problems in Moscow."
at10u8 writes "The ITU-R and BIPM are holding a joint workshop on the Future of the International Time Scale. This is the next of many steps toward the possibility that radio broadcasts of time signals might abandon leap seconds. All of the presentations are online and the press release for the workshop indicates there will be video interviews afterwards."
astroengine writes "NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has been scouring the thin Martian atmosphere for methane — a potential tracer for the presence of Martian life. However, since the gas also can be produced geologically, any findings promised a meaty debate. That discussion can be shelved, perhaps permanently, new findings from a team of Curiosity scientists shows. The most extensive search yet for methane in Mars' atmosphere has come up empty. 'It's disappointing, of course. We would have liked to get [to Gale Crater] and found lots of methane and measure all the isotopes,' lead researcher Christopher Webster, with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., told Discovery News."
MTorrice writes "The same wells that energy companies drill to extract natural gas from shale formations could become repositories to store large quantities of carbon dioxide. A new computer model suggests that wells in the Marcellus shale, a 600-sq-mile formation in the northeastern U.S. that is a hotbed for gas extraction, could store half the CO2 emitted by the country's power plants from now until 2030."
KentuckyFC writes "Astronomers think that near-Earth Asteroids the size of apartment blocks number in the millions. And yet they spot new ones at the rate of only about 30 a year because these objects are so faint and fast moving. Now astronomers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory have developed a technique called synthetic tracking for dramatically speeding up asteroid discovery. Insteads of long exposures in which near-Earth asteroids show up as faint streaks, the new technique involves taking lots of short exposures and adding them together in a special automated way. The trick is to shift each image so that the pixels that record the asteroid are superimposed on top of each other. The result is an image in which the asteroid is sharp point of light against a background of star streaks. They say synthetic tracking has the capability to spot 80 new near Earth asteroids each night using a standard 5 metre telescope. That'll be handy for spotting rocks heading our way before they get too close and for identifying targets for NASA's future asteroid missions."
cold fjord writes with this excerpt from Wired: "Most of what humanity knows about the outer planets came back to Earth on plutonium power. ... The characteristics of this metal's radioactive decay make it a super-fuel. ... there is no other viable option. Solar power is too weak, chemical batteries don't last, nuclear fission systems are too heavy. So, we depend on plutonium-238, a fuel largely acquired as by-product of making nuclear weapons. But there's a problem: We've almost run out. 'We've got enough to last to the end of this decade. That's it,' said Steve Johnson, a nuclear chemist at Idaho National Laboratory. And it's not just the U.S. reserves that are in jeopardy. The entire planet's stores are nearly depleted. ... what's left has already been spoken for and then some. ... Political ignorance and shortsighted squabbling, along with false promises from Russia, and penny-wise management of NASA's ever-thinning budget still stand in the way of a robust plutonium-238 production system." The plutonium shortage has been deepening for a long time, leading to some creative solutions. The Wired article alludes to the NASA project underway to create more, but leans toward gloom.
Kristian vonBengtson writes "Objective Europa aims to send human beings to Jupiter's icy moon, Europa, on a one way mission in search of extraterrestrial life while expanding the borders of exploration and knowledge for all mankind. The starting point of Objective Europa is purely theoretical (Phase I) but will move into more advanced phases including prototyping, technology try-outs, and eventually a crewed launch. Objective Europa is a crowd-researched project made up of an international team of volunteers. Many people from a wide range of backgrounds have already joined and become a vital part of the mission. ... [Europa's] deep ocean and active geology provide a solid platform for extraterrestrial life, making Europa one of the most enticing locations to explore in the solar system. The 600-day flight required to reach Europa is manageable with today's technology, and the many challenges of such a mission pose a perfect starting point for new research and innovative thinking."
Google has announced the formation of a new company called Calico, which aims to promote health and fight aging. Larry Page said, "That’s a lot different from what Google does today. And you’re right. But as we explained in our first letter to shareholders, there’s tremendous potential for technology more generally to improve people’s lives. So don’t be surprised if we invest in projects that seem strange or speculative compared with our existing Internet businesses." He expanded upon this in an interview with Time: "I'm not proposing that we spend all of our money on those kinds of speculative things. But we should be spending a commensurate amount with what normal types of companies spend on research and development, and spend it on things that are a little more long-term and a little more ambitious than people normally would. More like moon shots." The new company's CEO will be Arthur Levinson, who is currently the chairman of Apple and biotech company Genentech. Apple CEO Tim Cook said, "For too many of our friends and family, life has been cut short or the quality of their life is too often lacking. Art is one of the crazy ones who thinks it doesn't have to be this way."
New submitter Lee_Dailey sends this news from Quanta Magazine: "Physicists have discovered a jewel-like geometric object that dramatically simplifies calculations of particle interactions and challenges the notion that space and time are fundamental components of reality. 'This is completely new and very much simpler than anything that has been done before,' said Andrew Hodges, a mathematical physicist at Oxford University who has been following the work. The revelation that particle interactions, the most basic events in nature, may be consequences of geometry significantly advances a decades-long effort to reformulate quantum field theory, the body of laws describing elementary particles and their interactions. Interactions that were previously calculated with mathematical formulas thousands of terms long can now be described by computing the volume of the corresponding jewel-like "amplituhedron," which yields an equivalent one-term expression."
Months after a successful test launch of the Antares rocket with a dummy payload, today Orbital Sciences Corp successfully launched their demo cargo mission to the ISS. Their Cygnus resupply craft detached from the second stage and at 11:33 a.m. deployed its solar array. From NASA: "Solar array deployment is complete for Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus spacecraft, now traveling 17,500 mph in Earth's orbit to rendezvous with the International Space Station on Sunday, Sept. 22, for a demonstration resupply mission. The spacecraft will deliver about 1,300 pounds (589 kilograms) of cargo, including food and clothing, to the space station's Expedition 37 crew, who will grapple and attach the capsule using the orbiting laboratory's robotic arm." There's an updates weblog, and some pictures.
RocketAcademy writes "The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has launched a new program to develop a reusable first-stage launch vehicle. Experimental Spaceplane 1 (XS-1) would be capable of flying 10 times in 10 days, with a small ground crew, reaching speeds of Mach 10, and deploying a small upper stage to place a 3,000-pound satellite into orbit. The XS-1 program is complementary to the Air Force's Boeing X-37, which is a reusable upper stage. The X-37 is currently launched by an expendable Atlas rocket but could be launched by a vehicle derived from XS-1 in the future. Military planners have dreamed of a two-stage, fully reusable Military Spaceplane for several years, but funding has not materialized up to now."
New submitter sandbagger writes "Stephen Harper and the Canadian government have made headlines several times for stifling opinions that dissent with their own. This also applies to respected, peer-reviewed science. Canadian scientists have chafed at being gagged and having evidence take a back seat when forming policy, so they're grabbing their slide rules and marching in protest. 'Hundreds of participants gathered in 17 cities for rallies on Monday. In Toronto some donned lab coats while in Vancouver protesters were seen wearing gags adorned with the Conservative Party logo – a reference to the alleged muzzling of federal scientists by political overseers. ... Dr. Gibbs and colleagues said they hoped the rallies would alert the public to scientists’ concerns that the federal government has shifted funding markedly toward commercially driven research at the expense of public-interest science. ... Dr. Gibbs said her group would consult with the Canadian research community and look to other countries in trying to craft recommended policies for science in government. In recent years explicit scientific integrity rules have been adopted by many U.S. federal departments and agencies, after accusations of censorship and politicization of science during the administration of former president George W. Bush. 'Canadian scientists are where American scientists were maybe a decade ago,' said Michael Halpern, a Washington, D.C.-based program manager with the Union of Concerned Scientists. 'They're trying to figure out how to protect themselves from a government that’s increasingly focused on message control over a more open discussion of the facts.'"
vinces99 writes "As NOAA announces a new record for the extent of sea ice in Antarctica, a new modeling study to be published in the Journal of Climate shows that stronger polar winds lead to an increase in Antarctic sea ice, even when Earth's overall climate is getting warmer. The study (abstract) by Jinlun Zhang, a University of Washington oceanographer, shows that stronger westerly winds swirling around the South Pole can explain 80 percent of the increase in Antarctic sea ice volume during the past three decades. The polar vortex that swirls around the South Pole is not just stronger than it was when satellite records began in the 1970s, it also shoves the sea ice together to cause ridging. Stronger winds also drive ice faster, which leads to still more deformation and ridging. This creates thicker, longer-lasting ice, while exposing surrounding water and thin ice to the blistering cold winds that cause more ice growth. A computer simulation that includes detailed interactions between wind and sea shows that thick ice — more than 6 feet deep — increased by about 1 percent per year from 1979 to 2010, while the amount of thin ice stayed fairly constant. The end result is a thicker, slightly larger ice pack that lasts longer into the summer."
An anonymous reader writes "'The smaller an animal is, and the faster its metabolic rate, the slower time passes for it, scientists found. This means that across a wide range of species, time perception is directly related to size, with animals smaller than us seeing the world in slow motion.' No wonder it took so long to grow up!" Here's the original paper.
sciencehabit writes "Ever send a bottle of wine back at a restaurant? If you weren't just being a pretentious snob, then it was probably because the wine seemed 'corked' — had a musty odor and didn't taste quite right. Most likely, the wine was contaminated with a molecule called 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA), the main cause of cork taint. But a new study by Japanese researchers concludes that you do not smell TCA directly; rather, TCA blocks up your sense of smell and distorts your ability to detect odors. The findings could help the food and beverage industry improve its products and lead to less embarrassment for both you and your waiter."
minty3 writes "The new snail species, Zospeum tholussum, has no eyes or pigmentation on its shell and is considered to be a true eutroglobiont or cave-dweller. It was found by a team of cavers and biologists from the Croatian Biospeleological Society. While on an expedition to determine the cave’s depth, they collected animal specimens including one of the previously unidentified snails along with eight of its empty shells."
An anonymous reader writes "The Department of Defense has just declassified a copy of its 2009 Concept of Operations Plan for an Influenza Pandemic. Among the Plan's scary yet reasonable assumptions are that in the United States, such a pandemic will kill 2 percent of the infected population, or about 2 million people. The plan also assumes that a vaccine won't be available for at least 4 to 6 months after confirmation of sustained human transmission, and that the weekly vaccine manufacturing capability will only produce 1 percent of the total US vaccine required. State and local governments will be overwhelmed, and civilian mortuary operations will require military augmentation. Measures such as limiting public gatherings, closing schools, social distancing, protective sequestration and masking will be required to limit transmission and reduce illness and death. International and interstate transportation will be restricted to contain the spread of the virus. If a pandemic starts outside the US, it will enter the country at multiple locations and spread quickly to other parts of the country. A related document, CONPLAN 3591-09, was released by DoD in 2010."
schliz writes "An Australian-German team of researchers has developed the most detailed map of gravitational variations ever, using satellite data, gravitational readings and small-scale topographical models. They say the data will help civil engineers and miners, and will be available for free online. Gravitational fields vary because the Earth isn't perfectly spherical. According to the new map, the field is 0.7% greater near the North Pole (9.83ms-2) than at Peru's Nevado Huascaran summit (9.76ms-2). The difference is 40% more than previously expected."
An anonymous reader writes "A leaked copy of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has made the rounds and the good news is that the predicted temperature rise expected as a result of man-made emissions of carbon dioxide is lower than predicted in 2007. From the article: 'Admittedly, the change is small, and because of changing definitions, it is not easy to compare the two reports, but retreat it is. It is significant because it points to the very real possibility that, over the next several generations, the overall effect of climate change will be positive for humankind and the planet. Specifically, the draft report says that "equilibrium climate sensitivity" (ECS)—eventual warming induced by a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which takes hundreds of years to occur—is "extremely likely" to be above 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit), "likely" to be above 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.4 degrees Fahrenheit) and "very likely" to be below 6 degrees Celsius (10.8 Fahrenheit). In 2007, the IPPC said it was "likely" to be above 2 degrees Celsius and "very likely" to be above 1.5 degrees, with no upper limit. Since "extremely" and "very" have specific and different statistical meanings here, comparison is difficult.'"
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "John Gever reports at MedPage Today on a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Buffalo, which found that people with more cavities in their teeth are 32 percent less likely to suffer from head and neck cancers. 'To our knowledge, the present study suggests, for the first time, an independent association between dental caries and head and neck squamous cell carcinoma.' The researchers proposed a mechanism for the apparent protective effect: that cariogenic, lactic acid-producing bacteria prompt cell-mediated Th1 immune responses that suppress tumor formation. The team examined records of patients older than 21 seen in the university's dental and maxillofacial prosthetics department from 1999 to 2007, identifying 399 who were newly diagnosed with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. Assuming that the association between caries and reduced cancer risk is real, the team suggests that one could regard the cariogenic bacteria as beneficial overall, with caries 'a form of collateral damage.' Therefore an appropriate strategy could be to target that effect specifically without aggressively targeting the bacteria. 'Antimicrobial treatment, vaccination, or gene therapy against cariogenic bacteria may lead to more harm than good in the long run.'"
New submitter TaleSlinger sends this quote from Nature: "Afshordi's team realized that if the bulk universe contained its own four-dimensional (4D) stars, some of them could collapse, forming 4D black holes in the same way that massive stars in our Universe do: they explode as supernovae, violently ejecting their outer layers, while their inner layers collapse into a black hole. In our Universe, a black hole is bounded by a spherical surface called an event horizon. Whereas in ordinary three-dimensional space it takes a two-dimensional object (a surface) to create a boundary inside a black hole, in the bulk universe the event horizon of a 4D black hole would be a 3D object — a shape called a hypersphere. When Afshordi's team modeled the death of a 4D star, they found that the ejected material would form a 3D brane surrounding that 3D event horizon, and slowly expand. The authors postulate that the 3D universe we live in might be just such a brane — and that we detect the brane's growth as cosmic expansion. 'Astronomers measured that expansion and extrapolated back that the Universe must have begun with a Big Bang — but that is just a mirage,' says Afshordi."
SpaceGhost writes "Sky News reports that the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) has launched an orbital telescope on a new generation rocket from the Uchinoura Space Centre in Kagoshima, in southwestern Japan. The Epsilon rocket uses an onboard AI for autonomous launch checks by the rocket itself (launch video). A product of renewed focus on reducing costs, the new vehicle required two laptops and a launch team of eight, compared to the 150 people needed to launch the previous platform, the M-5. Because of the reduced launch team and ease of construction, production and launch costs of the Epsilon are roughly half that of the M-5. The payload, a SPRINT-A telescope, is designed for planetary observation."
Daniel_Stuckey writes "Researchers recently spent some time forcing dogs and robots to hang out together, in order to better understand the social qualities of interactive robots. The scientists had two objectives: to find out whether canines would interact with a robot and also to see whether they would ascribe social qualities to a non-living, non-human-like being. Dogs were divided into two groups: one would have a social interaction with the robot while the other would have an asocial interaction. They were allowed to watch their owners interact with the robot before meeting it themselves, which was then followed by a session wherein the canine subjects had to obey gestural cues from either a robot or a human. The robot purposely did not look human, save for its arms and gloved hand, as the researchers wanted to explore sociality apart from anthropoid features. As it turns out, dogs were interested in the robots, especially if the robots themselves were social and they saw owners interact with the robot, but ultimately were not as responsive or successful in following cues as they would otherwise be with humans."
Have you ever wondered how much energy is needed to power a phaser set to kill? A trio of researchers at the University of Leicester did, so they ran some tests and found out it would take roughly 2.99 GJ to vaporize an average-sized adult human body. Quoting: "First, consider the true vaporization – the complete separation of all atoms within a molecule – of water. With a simple molecular structure containing an oxygen atom bonded to two hydrogen atoms, it takes serious energy to break these bonds. In fact, it takes 460 kilojoules of energy to break just one mole of oxygen-hydrogen bonds — around the same energy that a 2,000-pound car going 70 miles per hour on the highway has in potential. And that's just 18 grams of water! So as you can see, it would take a gargantuan amount of energy to separate all the atoms in even a small glass of water — especially if that glass of water is your analog for a person. The human body is a bit more complicated than a glass of water, but it still vaporizes like one. And thanks to our spies spread across scientific organizations, we now have the energy required to turn a human into an atomic soup, to break all the atomic bonds in a body. According to the captured study, it takes around three gigajoules of death-ray to entirely vaporize a person — enough to completely melt 5,000 pounds of steel or simulate a lightning bolt."
Dr. Richard Feynman's lectures on physics have been iconic standards of physics education for the past five decades. Videos of the series were put online at Microsoft Research a few years ago, but now the entirety of Volume 1 is available over simple HTML (mirror). In a letter to members of the Feynman Lectures Forum, editor Mike Gottlieb said, "It was an idea conceived many years ago, when through FL website correspondence I became aware of the many eager young minds who could benefit from reading FLP, who want to read it, but for economic or other reasons have no access to it, while at the same time I was becoming aware of the growing popularity of horrid scanned copies of old editions of FLP circulating on file-sharing and torrent websites. A free high-quality online edition was my proposed solution to both problems. All concerned agreed on the potential pedagogical benefits, but also had to be convinced that book sales would not be harmed. The conversion from LaTeX to HTML was expensive: we raised considerable funds, but ran out before finishing Volumes II and III, so we are only posting Volume I initially. (I am working on finishing Volumes II and III myself, as time permits, and will start posting chapters in the not-too-distant future, if all goes as planned.)"
Zothecula writes "A very promising vaccine candidate for HIV/AIDS has shown the ability to completely clear the simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), a very aggressive form of HIV that leads to AIDS in monkeys. Developed at the Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute at the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU), the vaccine proved successful in about fifty percent of the subjects tested and could lead to a human vaccine preventing the onset of HIV/AIDS and even cure patients currently on anti-retroviral drugs."
alphadogg writes "Harvard University's August Sanders Theater will play host tonight to a glittering collection of scientific luminaries, in a ceremony dedicated to recognizing some of the most important research of the year. And it will probably involve stuff like green hair, dead salmon brains, and monkey butts. Yes, it's time again for the annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony, where the weirdest and least useful scientific discoveries of the year are paraded before the public in a festival of bizarre nerd pageantry." Slashdot programmer David Hand will be in the crowd, too, triggering a flood of justified envy. Update: 09/13 14:23 GMT by S : Here are the winners.
GameboyRMH writes "A gear mechanism has been discovered [paywalled original paper here, for those with access] for the first time in nature in the nymph of the Issus, a small plant-hopping insect common in Europe. It uses the gears to synchronize the movement and power of its hind legs, forcing the legs to propel it in a straight line when jumping, which would otherwise be impossible for the insect if it had to control the timing and force of its leg muscles independently."
astroengine writes "After a 35-year, 11-billion mile journey, NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft left the solar system to become the first human-made object to reach interstellar space, new evidence from a team of scientists shows. 'It's kind of like landing on the moon. It's a milestone in history. Like all science, it's exploration. It's new knowledge,' long-time Voyager scientist Donald Gurnett, with the University of Iowa, told Discovery News. The first signs that the spacecraft had left the solar system's heliopause was a sudden drop in solar particles and a corresponding increase in cosmic rays in 2012, but this evidence alone wasn't conclusive. Through indirect means, scientist analyzing oscillations along the probe's 10-meter (33-foot) antennas were able to deduce that Voyager was traveling through a less dense medium — i.e. interstellar space." You can watch NASA's briefing on the probe's progress here.
An anonymous reader writes "The discovery that even the most distant galaxies have supermassive black holes at their cores is a puzzle for astrophysicists. These objects must have formed relatively soon after the Big Bang. But if a galaxy is only a billion years old and contains a black hole that is a billion times more massive than the Sun, how did it get so big, so quickly? Now one cosmologist says he has the answer: black holes feed off the quantum foam that makes up the fabric of spacetime. This foam is 'nourishing' because it contains quantum black holes that can contribute to the black hole's growth. This idea leads to a prediction: that the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way must also be growing in this way and at a rate that we should be able to measure. Just watch out for the burps."
sciencehabit writes "Researchers have discovered a surprisingly effective way to 'reprogram' mature mouse cells into an embryolike state, able to become any of the body's cell types (abstract). Their recipe: Let the transformation happen in a living animal instead of a petri dish. The finding could help scientists better understand how reprogramming works and it may one day help breed replacement tissues or organs in the lab—or in living patients."
bmahersciwriter writes "When Rafe Brown started doing field research in the Philippines, he constantly found himself in the long shadow of Edward Taylor, an irascible giant of herpetology (the study of amphibians) from the mid-20th century, whose legacy was tarnished by accusations of fraud, questions about his naming methods, and rumours of a double life working for the U.S. government. Brown forged a bond with his predecessor and has begun to restore a collection of Taylor's specimens that were lost during the Second World War, and which could aid in allocating resources for conservation. He has meanwhile found out more about Taylor's extracurricular activities, which included work with the organization that would eventually become the CIA."
Big Hairy Ian writes, quoting the BBC: "A DNA analysis shows that the number of creatures began to decrease much earlier than previously thought as the world's climate changed. It also shows that there was a distinct population of mammoth in Europe that died out around 30,000 years ago. ... Dr Dalen worked with researchers in London to analyse DNA samples from 300 specimens from woolly mammoths collected by themselves and other groups in earlier studies ... [The researchers] speculate that it was so cold that the grass on which they fed became scarce. The decline was spurred on as the Ice Age ended, possibly because the grassland on which the creatures thrived was replaced by forests in the south and tundra in the north."
Modern Farmer magazine has an article about NASA's efforts into growing food in space, a slow, difficult process that's nonetheless necessary if humanity is to have any significant presence away from Earth's surface. Quoting: "This December, NASA plans to launch a set of Kevlar pillow-packs, filled with a material akin to kitty litter, functioning as planters for six romaine lettuce plants. The burgundy-hued lettuce (NASA favors the 'Outredgeous' strain) will be grown under bright-pink LED lights, ready to harvest after just 28 days. NASA has a long history of testing plant growth in space, but the goals have been largely academic. Experiments have included figuring out the effects of zero-gravity on plant growth, testing quick-grow sprouts on shuttle missions and assessing the viability of different kinds of artificial light. But [the Vegetable Production System] is NASA's first attempt to grow produce that could actually sustain space travelers. Naturally, the dream is to create a regenerative growth system, so food could be continually grown on the space station — or, potentially, on moon colonies or Mars. ... Plant size is a vital calculation in determining what to grow on the space station, where every square foot is carefully allotted. Harvest time is also of extreme importance; the program wants to maximize growth cycles within each crew’s (on average) six-month stay."
Researchers taking advantage of retreating ice shelves in Antarctica have discovered evidence of life that's been sealed away for nearly 100,000 years. Lake Hodgson on the Antarctic Peninsula, once covered by over 400 meters of ice, is now obscured only by a thin layer three to four meters thick. Scientists carefully drilled through the ice and took samples (abstract) from the layers of mud at the bottom (as much as 93 meters below the lake's surface). "The top few centimetres of the core contained current and recent organisms which inhabit the lake but once the core reached 3.2 m deep the microbes found most likely date back nearly 100,000 years. ... Some of the life discovered was in the form of Fossil DNA showing that many different types of bacteria live there, including a range of extremophiles which are species adapted to the most extreme environments. These use a variety of chemical methods to sustain life both with and without oxygen. One DNA sequence was related to the most ancient organisms known on Earth and parts of the DNA in twenty three percent has not been previously described."
cold fjord notes that the X Prize Foundation has opened up a new mission: to quantify the acidification of the world's oceans, excerpting from a description on Nature's blog of the project's focus: "Scientists who study ocean acidification must confront a fundamental problem: It is hard to measure exactly how much the ocean's pH is changing. Today's sensors don't work well at depth or over long periods of time, and they are too expensive to deploy widely. That is where the US$2 million Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health X Prize comes in. The 22-month competition will award two $1 million prizes, one to the best low-cost sensor and one to the most accurate. The competition's organizers decided to award two prizes because the two goals present different engineering challenges. ... As carbon dioxide levels rise in the atmosphere, ocean water takes up some of the gas and becomes more acidic. This can harm shell-building marine life like coral, whose calcium carbonate skeletons dissolve in the increasingly acidic water. All of this research is bedeviled by the simple lack of technology to monitor ocean pH in real time across the world."
crabel writes "According to WHO, 127 millions of pre-school children worldwide suffer from vitamin A deficiency, causing some 500,000 cases of irreversible blindness every year. This deficiency is responsible for 600,000 deaths among children under the age of 5. Golden Rice might be a solution to this problem. The only problem? It's GMO. In an interview inventor Potrykus, now close to 80 years old, answers questions about the current state of approval, which might happen in the next couple of months."
schliz writes "A team of scientists from Japan and New Zealand have helped baker's yeast live 50% longer than usual by artificially stabilizing a genetic sequence called ribosomal DNA. The study's authors say that rDNA is a 'hot spot for production of the aging signal.' Because rDNA genes are very similar in yeast and humans, they say their experiment is a first step towards anti-aging drugs."