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sciencehabit writes with this excerpt from Science magazine's colorful synopsis of a paywalled article at Current Biology "A day in the life of a male dung beetle goes something like this: Fly to a heap of dung, sculpt a clump of it into a large ball, then roll the ball away from the pile as fast as possible. However, it turns out that the beetles, who work at night, need some sort of compass to prevent them from rolling around in circles. New research suggests that the insects use starlight to guide their way. Birds, seals, and humans also use starlight to navigate, but this is the first time it's been shown in an insect." Also on the topic of How Animals Get Around Without GPS, new research has considerably heightened scientists understanding of birds' sensitivity to magnetic fields. For homing pigeons at least, this ability seems to be tied to a cluster of just 53 neurons (original paper, also behind a paywall).
sciencehabit writes "A purported conflict between the century-old theory of classical electrodynamics and Einstein's theory of special relativity doesn't exist, a chorus of physicists says. Last April, an electrical engineer claimed that the equation that determines the force exerted on an electrically charged particle by electric and magnetic fields — the Lorentz force law — clashes with relativity, the theory that centers on how observers moving at a constant speed relative to one another will view the same events. To prove it, he concocted a simple 'thought experiment' in which the Lorentz force law seemed to lead to a paradox. Now, four physicists independently say that they have resolved the paradox."
MikeChino writes "Instructables member Patrik has successfully transformed an old HP5150 inkjet printer into a DIY bioprinter. To do this he removed the plastic covers and panels and rewired the paper handling mechanism. Then he prepped ink cartridges to be able to handle biological materials by opening the lid, removing the ink, and washing it out with deionized water. For his first experiment, he printed a simple solution of arabinose onto filter paper."
ananyo writes "The proton, a fundamental constituent of the atomic nucleus, seems to be smaller than was previously thought. And despite three years of careful analysis and reanalysis of numerous experiments, nobody can figure out why. An new experiment published in Science only deepens the mystery. The proton's problems started in 2010, when research using hydrogen made with muons seemed to show that the particle was 4% smaller than originally thought. The measurement, published in Nature, differed from those obtained by two other methods by 4%, or 0.03 femtometers. That's a tiny amount but is still significantly larger than the error bars on either of the other measurements. The latest experiment also used muonic hydrogen, but probed a different set of energy levels in the atom. It yielded the same result as the Nature paper — a proton radius of 0.84 fm — but is still in disagreement with the earlier two measurements. So what's the problem? There could be a problem with the models used to estimate the proton size from the measurements, but so far, none has been identified. The unlikely but tantalizing alternative is that this is a hint of new physics."
Lasrick writes "The Guardian has an exclusive story regarding a secret uranium-enriching plant in the UK that was closed due to safety fears. From the article: 'A top-secret plant at Aldermaston that makes enriched uranium components for Britain's nuclear warheads and fuel for the Royal Navy's submarines has been shut down because corrosion has been discovered in its 'structural steelwork', the Guardian can reveal. The closure has been endorsed by safety regulators who feared the building did not conform to the appropriate standards. The nuclear safety watchdog demands that such critical buildings are capable of withstanding 'extreme weather and seismic events,' and the plant at Aldermaston failed this test. It has set a deadline of the end of the year for the problems to be fixed.'"
An anonymous reader points out that 9 years ago the Opportunity rover started to explore the red planet. "The older, smaller cousin of NASA's huge Mars rover Curiosity is quietly celebrating a big milestone Thursday — nine years on the surface of the Red Planet. NASA's Opportunity rover landed on Mars the night of Jan. 24, 2004 PST (just after midnight EST on Jan. 25), three weeks after its twin, Spirit, touched down. Spirit stopped operating in 2010, but Opportunity is still going strong, helping scientists better understand the Red Planet's wetter, warmer past."
John "Jack" R. Horner is the Curator of Paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies, adjunct curator at the National Museum of Natural History, and one of the most famous paleontologists in the world. Known in the scientific community for his research on dinosaur growth and whether or not some species lived in social groups, he is most famous for his work on Jurassic Park and being the inspiration for the character of Alan Grant. Horner caused quite a stir with the publication of his book, How to Build a Dinosaur: Extinction Doesn't Have to Be Forever, in which he proposes creating a "chickensaurus" by genetically "nudging" the DNA of a chicken. Jack has agreed to step away from the genetics lab and put down the bones in order to answer your questions. As usual, you're invited to ask as many questions as you'd like, but please divide them, one question per post.
giminy writes "Clay Shirky has a thought-provoking piece on depression in the hacker community. While hackers tend to be great at internet collaboration on software projects, we often fall short when it comes to helping each other with personal problems. The evidence is only anecdotal, but there seems to be a higher than average incidence of mental health issues among hackers and internet freedom fighters. It would be great to see this addressed by our community through some outreach and awareness programs."
sciencehabit writes "In a new study, researchers find that a single number that describes the complexity of feather patterns on bird chests, a parameter called the fractal dimension, is linked to whether a bird has a strong immune system or is malnourished. When scientists restricted the food of red-legged partridges, the patterns on their chests had a lower fractal dimension than those sported by their well-fed colleagues. The food-restricted birds, on average, weighed 13% less than their well-fed colleagues and had weaker immune systems, which makes fractal dimension an easily recognizable sign of a potential mate's health and vitality, the researchers contend."
skade88 writes "NPR is reporting on a study in which the author claims to have found the formula to predict the average life span of members of a species. It does not apply to specific individuals of that species, only to the average life span of members of the species as a whole. From the article: 'It's hard to believe that creatures as different as jellyfish and cheetahs, daisies and bats, are governed by the same mathematical logic, but size seems to predict lifespan. The formula seems to be nature's way to preserve larger creatures who need time to grow and prosper, and it not only operates in all living things, but even in the cells of living things. It tells animals for example, that there's a universal limit to life, that though they come in different sizes, they have roughly a billion and a half heart beats; elephant hearts beat slowly, hummingbird hearts beat fast, but when your count is up, you are over.'"
MatthewVD writes "Infrared cameras on satellites and night vision goggles could soon use lasers to cool their components. According to the study published in Nature, researchers in Singapore were able to cool the semiconductor cadmium sulfide from 62 degrees fahrenheit to -9 degrees by focusing a green laser on it and making it fluoresce and lose energy as light. Since they require neither gas nor moving parts, they can be more compact, free from vibration and not prone to mechanical failure."
Zothecula writes "NASA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) have begun practicing satellite refueling in space on a test bed outside the International Space Station (ISS). In a series of tests that started on January 14 and are scheduled to continue until the 25th, the two space agencies are using the Robotic Refueling Module (RRM) and Canada's Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator, or Dextre, robot to carry out simulated refueling operations. The purpose of these tests is to develop refueling methods aimed at extending the life of satellites and reducing the amount of space debris orbiting the Earth."
angry tapir writes "An international team of astronomers has used the CSIRO-run Australia Telescope Compact Array to measure the cooling of the universe since the Big Bang. According to the CSIRO, it is the most accurate reading yet of how hot the universe used to be. When the universe was half its current age its temperature was -267.92 degrees Celsius (5.08 Kelvin), the team found, which is warmer than today's universe (-270.27 degrees Celsius)."
sciencehabit writes "Male scientists — especially at the upper echelons of the profession — are far more likely than women to commit misconduct. That's the bottom line of a new analysis by three microbiologists of wrongdoing in the life sciences in the United States. Ferric Fang of the University of Washington, Seattle; Joan Bennett of Rutgers University; and Arturo Casadevall of Albert Einstein College of Medicine combed through misconduct reports on 228 people released by the U.S. Office of Research Integrity (ORI) over the last 19 years. They then compared the gender balance — or imbalance, in this case — against the mix of male and female senior scientists and trainees to gauge whether misconduct was more prevalent among men. A remarkable 88% of faculty members who committed misconduct were men, or 63 out of 72 individuals. The number of women in that group was one-third of what one would expect based on female representation in the life sciences."
SternisheFan sends news of researchers who encoded an MP3, a PDF, a JPG, and a TXT file into DNA, along with another file that explains the encoding. The researchers estimate the storage density of this technique at 2.2 petabytes per gram (abstract). "We knew we needed to make a code using only short strings of DNA, and to do it in such a way that creating a run of the same letter would be impossible. So we figured, let's break up the code into lots of overlapping fragments going in both directions, with indexing information showing where each fragment belongs in the overall code, and make a coding scheme that doesn't allow repeats. That way, you would have to have the same error on four different fragments for it to fail – and that would be very rare," said one of the study's authors. "We've created a code that's error tolerant using a molecular form we know will last in the right conditions for 10 000 years, or possibly longer," said another.
astroengine writes "Scientists have long puzzled over why the surface of the sun is cooler than its corona, the outer hazy atmosphere visible during a solar eclipse. Now, thanks to a five-minute observation by a small, but very high-resolution ultraviolet telescope, they have some answers. Hi-C, which was launched aboard a suborbital rocket to study the sun without interference from Earth's atmosphere, revealed interwoven magnetic fields braided like hair. When the braids relaxed, they released energy, heating the corona (abstract). 'I had no idea we would see structures like that in the corona. Seeing these braids was very new to me,' astrophysicist Jonathan Cirtain with NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., told Discovery News."
Jeremiah Cornelius writes "Researchers with the European Food Safety Authority discovered variants of the Cauliflower mosaic virus 35S in the most widely harvested varieties of genetically-modified crops, including Monsanto's RoundupReady Soy and Maze. According to the researchers, Podevin and du Jardin, the particular 'Gene VI' is responsible for a number of possible consequences that could affect human health, including inhibition of RNA silencing and production of proteins with known toxicity. The EFSA is endorsing 'retrospective risk assessment' of CaMV promoter and its Gene VI sequences — in an attempt to give it a clean bill of health. It is unknown if the presence of the hidden viral genes were the result of laboratory contamination or a possible recombinant product of the resultant organism. There are serious implications for the production of GMO for foodstuffs, given either possibility."
coondoggie writes "A new company intends by 2015 to send a fleet of tiny satellites to mine passing asteroids for high-value metals. Deep Space Industries Inc.'s asteroid mining proposal begins in 2015, when the company plans to send out a squadron of 55lb cubesats, called Fireflies, that will explore near-Earth space for two to six months looking for target asteroids. The company's CEO said, 'Using resources harvested in space is the only way to afford permanent space development. More than 900 new asteroids that pass near Earth are discovered every year. They can be like the Iron Range of Minnesota was for the Detroit car industry last century — a key resource located near where it was needed. In this case, metals and fuel from asteroids can expand the in-space industries of this century. That is our strategy.'"
MTorrice writes "About 320,000 soldiers returning from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have struggled with neurological problems associated with traumatic brain injury, according to the Rand Corporation. Some veterans experience symptoms, such as memory loss and anxiety, without noticeable physical signs of brain injury. Now researchers report a possible chemical signature: Levels of a certain lipid spike in the brains of mice exposed to mild explosions (abstract; full article paywalled). This lipid could serve as a way to diagnose people who are at risk of developing neurological disorders after a blast, the scientists say."