The Bad Astronomer writes "A new study finds that there may be 100 billion alien planets in the Milky Way alone, with 17 billion of them the size of Earth. Announcements like this have been made before, but this new research is more robust than previous studies, using data from the Kepler planet-hunting spacecraft over a longer period and analyzing it in a more statistically solid way (PDF). They also found that smaller planets are not as picky about their host stars, with terrestrial planets forming around stars like the Sun or as small as tiny, cool red dwarfs with equal ease."
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2muchcoffeeman writes "The cause of the great increase in violent crime that started in the 1960s and peaked in the 1990s may have been isolated: lead. This leads directly to the reason for the sharp decline in violent crime since then: lead abatement programs and especially the ban of tetraethyl lead as an anti-knock agent in gasoline starting in 1996. There are three reasons why this makes sense. First, the statistics correlate almost perfectly. Second, it holds true worldwide with no exceptions. Every country studied has shown this same strong correlation between leaded gasoline and violent crime rates. Third, the chemistry and neuroscience of lead gives us good reason to believe the connection. Decades of research has shown that lead poisoning causes significant and probably irreversible damage to the brain. Not only does lead degrade cognitive abilities and lower intelligence, it also degrades a person's ability to make decisions by damaging areas of the brain responsible for emotional regulation, impulse control, attention, verbal reasoning, and mental flexibility. Another thing that stands out: if you overlay a map showing areas with higher incidence of violent crime with one showing lead contamination, there's a strikingly high correlation."
First time accepted submitter Edgewood_Dirk writes that a giant squid has been filmed in its natural habitat for the first time. "Scientists and broadcasters have captured footage of an elusive giant squid, up to eight meters (26 feet) long that roams the depths of the Pacific Ocean. Japan's National Science Museum succeeded in filming the deep-sea creature in its natural habitat for the first time, working with Japanese public broadcaster NHK and the U.S. Discovery Channel. The massive invertebrate is the stuff of legend, with sightings of a huge ocean-dwelling beast reported by sailors for centuries.'" The first live footage of a giant squid was captured in 2006 by Japan's National Science Museum researcher, Tsunemi Kubodera, after it was hooked and brought to the surface.
fsterman writes "Without any prompting from the U.S. Metric Association, a We The People petition to standardize the U.S. on the metric system has received 13,000 signatures in six days. That's half the number needed for an official response from the White House. It looks like ending the U.S.'s anti-metric alliance with Liberia and Burma (the only other countries NOT on the metric system) might rank up there with building a death star."
Janek Kozicki writes "It has been long thought that dwarf galaxies orbiting Andromeda galaxy (M31), or any other galaxy for that matter, are distributed more or less randomly around the host galaxy. It seemed so obvious in fact that nobody took time to check this assumption. Until a 15-year-old student, Neil Ibata, working with his father at the astronomic observatory, wanted to check it out. It turned out that dwarf galaxies tend to be placed on a plane around M31. The finding has been published in Nature. Local press (especially in France) is ecstatic that a finding by a 15-year-old got published in Nature. However, there's another more important point: what other obvious things didn't we really bother to check?"
Hugh Pickens writes writes "Want to buy a 15,000-foot landing strip? How about a place to assemble rocket ships or a parachute-packing plant? Have we got a deal for you. The Orlando Sentinel reports that with the cleanup and wind-down of the shuttle program, NASA is quietly holding a going-out-of-business sale for the its space-shuttle facilities including Launch Pad 39A, where shuttles were launched; space in the Vehicle Assembly Building, the iconic 526-foot-tall structure first used to assemble Saturn V-Apollo rockets; the Orbiter Processing Facilities, essentially huge garages where the shuttles were maintained; Hangar N and its high-tech test equipment; the launch-control center; and various other buildings and chunks of undeveloped property. 'The facilities out here can't be in an abandoned state for long before they become unusable,' says Joyce Riquelme, NASA's director of KSC planning and development. 'So we're in a big push over the next few months to either have agreements for these facilities or not.' The process is mostly secret, because NASA has agreed to let bidders declare their proposals proprietary, keeping them out of the view of competitors and the public. Frank DiBello, thinks the most attractive facilities are those that can support launches that don't use the existing pads at KSC and adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. 'Anything that still has cleaning capabilities or satellite-processing capabilities, the parachute facility, the tile facility, the OPF, all three of them, they have real value to the next generation of space activity,' says Frank DiBello, President of Space Florida, an Independent Special District of the State of Florida, created to foster the growth and development of a sustainable and world-leading space industry in Florida. 'If the infrastructure helps you reach market, then it has value. If it doesn't, then it's just a building, it's just a launchpad, and nobody wants it.'"
hypnosec writes "CERN has revealed that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is going into hibernation and will be shut down for a period of two years for upgrades. The LHC will go through a maintenance and upgrade phase starting in March that will bring the atom smasher up to speed with its maximum energy levels. From the article: 'The machine that last year helped scientists snare the elusive Higgs boson – or a convincing subatomic impostor – faces a two-year shutdown while engineers perform repairs that are needed for the collider to ramp up to its maximum energy in 2015 and beyond. The work will beef up electrical connections in the machine that were identified as weak spots after an incident four years ago that knocked the collider out for more than a year.'"
coondoggie writes "Toyota is going to show off its autonomous car/accident avoidance technology at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas nest week. The 2013 Lexus LS uses what the car company calls its Intelligent Transport System and is fitted with on-board radar, video cameras and sensors to monitor the road, surroundings, and the driver all with the goal of preventing accidents and avoiding problems."
Bruce66423 writes "An article at The Guardian discusses the prospects for food from radically different sources than the ones we're used to. 'Sweet fried crickets' anyone? Quoting: '... artificial steak is still a way off. Pizza toppings are closer. The star of the Dutch research into in-vitro meat, Dr Mark Post, promised that the first artificial hamburger, made from 10bn lab-grown cells, would be ready for "flame-grilling by Heston Blumenthal" by the end of 2012. At the time of writing it is still on the back burner. Post (who previously produced valves for heart surgery) and other Dutch scientists are currently working over the problem of how to turn the "meat" from pieces of jelly into something acceptably structured: an old-fashioned muscle. Electric shocks may be the answer. ... The technological problems of producing the new hi-tech foods are nothing compared to the trouble the industry is having with the consumers – the "yuck factor," as the food technology scientists across the world like to put it. Shoppers' squeamishness has turned the food corporations, from whom the real money for R&D will have to come, very wary, and super-secretive about their work on GM in America.'"
On Friday we discussed news of researchers getting a quantum gas to go below absolute zero. There was confusion about exactly what that meant, and several commenters pointed out that negative temperatures have been achieved before. Now, Rutgers physics grad student Aatish Bhatia has written a comprehensible post for the layman about how negative temperatures work, and why they're not actually "colder" than absolute zero. Quoting: "...you first need to engineer a system that has an upper limit to its energy. This is a very rare thing – normal, everyday stuff that we interact with has kinetic energy of motion, and there is no upper bound to how much kinetic energy it can have. Systems with an upper bound in energy don’t want to be in that highest energy state. ...these systems have low entropy in (i.e. low probability of being in) their high energy state. You have to experimentally ‘trick’ the system into getting here. This was first done in an ingenious experiment by Purcell and Pound in 1951, where they managed to trick the spins of nuclei in a crystal of Lithium Fluoride into entering just such an unlikely high energy state. In that experiment, they maintained a negative temperature for a few minutes. Since then, negative temperatures have been realized in many experiments, and most recently established in a completely different realm, of ultracold atoms of a quantum gas trapped in a laser."
An anonymous reader writes "The Forbes list of 'least stressful jobs' for 2013 is headlined by... university professors. This comes at a time in which the academic community has been featured on controversies about 100-hour week work journeys, doctors live on food stamps, tenured staff is laid off large science institutions, and the National Science Foundation suffers severe budget cuts, besides the well known (and sometimes publicized) politics of publish or perish. The Forbes reporter has received abundant feedback and published a shy, foot-note 'addendum'; however, the cited source, CareerCast (which does not map to any recognizable career journalist, but rather to a Sports writer), does not seem to have had the same luck. The comments of the Forbes reporter on the existence of a Summer break for graduates ('I am curious whether professors work that hard over the summer') are particularly noteworthy." Here is the CareerCast report the article is based on, and a list of the "stress factors" they considered. The author of the Forbes article passed on a very detailed explanation of how tough a university professor's job can be.
This morning at 08:58 UTC a magnitude 7.5 earthquake struck off the coast of southeastern Alaska. The depth was just shy of 10km. The quake occurred roughly 106km from the city of Craig and about 341km from the capital city of Juneau. A tsunami warning was issued shortly after the quake, but later canceled when it became apparent that sea level changes would be minor, with no widespread destructive wave. The observed tsunami was no more than six inches high. The earthquake was felt on land, shaking houses and tossing objects to the floor, but as yet there are no reports of injuries. The U.S. Geological Survey said, 'At the location of this earthquake, the Pacific plate is moving approximately northwestward with respect to the North America plate at a velocity of 51 mm/yr. This earthquake is likely associated with relative motion across the Queen Charlotte fault system offshore of British Columbia, Canada, which forms the major expression of the Pacific:North America plate boundary in this region. The surrounding area of the plate boundary has hosted 8 earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater over the past 40 years."
Zothecula writes "To paraphrase an old saying, if the astronaut can't go to the asteroid, then the asteroid must come to the astronaut. In a study released by the Keck Institute for Space Studies, researchers outlined a mission (PDF) to tow an asteroid into lunar orbit by 2025 using ion propulsion and a really big bag. The idea is to bring an asteroid close to Earth for easy study and visits by astronauts without the hazards and expense of a deep space mission. Now, Keck researchers say NASA officials are evaluating the plan to see whether it's something they want to do. The total cost is estimated to be roughly $2.6 billion."
An anonymous reader writes "Scientists have long suspected that big brains come with an evolutionary price — but now they've published the first experimental evidence to support that suspicion, based on their efforts to breed big-brained fish. A Swedish team found it relatively easy to select and interbreed common guppies to produce bigger (or smaller) brains — as much as 9.3 percent bigger, to be precise (abstract). But the bigger-brained fish also tended to have smaller guts and produce fewer babies."
Freddybear writes "Former anti-GMO activist Mark Lynas, who opposed genetically modified food in the 1990s, said recently, at the Oxford Farming Conference: 'I want to start with some apologies. For the record, here and upfront, I apologize for having spent several years ripping up GM crops. I am also sorry that I helped to start the anti-GM movement back in the mid 1990s, and that I thereby assisted in demonizing an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment. As an environmentalist, and someone who believes that everyone in this world has a right to a healthy and nutritious diet of their choosing, I could not have chosen a more counter-productive path. I now regret it completely. So I guess you'll be wondering — what happened between 1995 and now that made me not only change my mind but come here and admit it? Well, the answer is fairly simple: I discovered science, and in the process I hope I became a better environmentalist.' To vilify GMOs is to be as anti-science as climate-change deniers, he says. To feed a growing world population (with an exploding middle class demanding more and better-quality food), we must take advantage of all the technology available to us, including GMOs. To insist on 'natural' agriculture and livestock is to doom people to starvation, and there’s no logical reason to prefer the old ways, either. Moreover, the reason why big companies dominate the industry is that anti-GMO activists and policymakers have made it too difficult for small startups to enter the field."