Archive for September, 2008

Men With High Testosterone Levels Make Riskier Financial Decisions

By Eliza Strickland | September 30, 2008 5:12 pm

stock market tradersIn a finding that has particular relevance right now, as the American public looks for scapegoats for the current financial crisis, a new study has found that men with higher levels of testosterone are inclined to make riskier financial decisions. Just how much riskier? Those with 33 percent more testosterone than average men invested 10 percent more of their dough. The findings are based on saliva samples from 98 male Harvard students taken before they played an investment game with $250 in real money [Scientific American].

Researchers say they didn’t outright prove that it was Wall Street men’s hormones that got us into this mess, but that the evidence is strongly suggestive. “Although our findings do not address causality, we believe that testosterone may influence how individuals make risky financial decisions,” said researcher Coren Apicella…. A recent study also showed that stock market traders made more money on days when their testosterone levels were highest [LiveScience].

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Everglades Restoration Plan Is Failing, Report Says

By Eliza Strickland | September 30, 2008 3:36 pm

Everglades2An ambitious, multibillion-dollar effort to restore Florida’s Everglades is floundering due to bureaucratic delays, and the ecosystem may be close to a tipping point, according to a new congressionally mandated report. The longer the project remains stalled, the higher its cost will rise — even as the River of Grass that it’s supposed to rescue declines, the report from the National Research Council says. “If we don’t do something soon, we’re going to lose this really precious resource,” said [report coauthor] William Graf [St. Petersburg Times].

The report criticizes progress on the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, which was approved by Congress in 2000. The massive effort to restore natural water flow to about 4 million acres of wetlands was originally estimated to cost about $7.8 billion and take 30 years to complete — a price tag that has since ballooned due to rising costs…. The 2000 plan made the federal government and Florida 50-50 partners. To date, the state has committed more than $2 billion and pushed ahead alone with a few projects. Congress has only appropriated several hundred million dollars [AP].

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To Avoid a Viral Attack, Microbe Executes a "Cheshire Cat" Escape

By Eliza Strickland | September 30, 2008 1:38 pm

microbe life phasesA single-celled phytoplankton that forms enormous blooms in the ocean and plays a vital role in regulating the carbon cycle has an unusual defense against a virus: When the virus appears, the microbe switches into a different life phase, thereby avoiding an attack from the virus. Researchers call the clever defense a “Cheshire Cat escape strategy” after the cat in Alice in Wonderland that occasionally vanished.

“In this paper, we show how a species can escape from [environmental] pressure by switching to a life-cycle phase or form that’s not recognizable by a predator,” said Miguel Frada, a marine microbiologist [The Scientist]. The microbe, named Emiliania huxleyi, is so abundant in the ocean that its massive blooms can form turquoise patches visible from space, yet these blooms are often cut off abruptly in a boom-and-bust cycle. The new study suggests that the busts are caused when a virus causes the microbes to switch forms.

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It's Snowing on Mars!

By Eliza Strickland | September 30, 2008 10:02 am

Martian snowfallChalk another discovery up to the Mars Phoenix Lander. Several months after finding water ice beneath the Martian soil, the NASA robot has now turned its gaze upward to the sky, and has observed a light snowfall over the polar region. Scientists said the discovery of snow on Mars was made by an instrument that shined a laser into clouds about two miles above the ground, revealing the presence of ice crystals. “Nothing like this has ever been seen on Mars,” said [scientist] Jim Whiteway [Los Angeles Times].

The ice crystals quickly vaporized as they fell through the atmosphere of Mars, but researchers say they’ll be watching during the next two months to see if the snow ever reaches the ground. Over the past few months, as the Martian winter has moved in, Phoenix has also observed frost, ground fog, and clouds of ice crystals.

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Carnivorous Dinosaur With Bird-Like Lungs Discovered

By Eliza Strickland | September 30, 2008 8:44 am

dinosaur bird lungsA 33-foot long, carnivorous dinosaur that lived 85 million years ago had a breathing system similar to that used by modern birds, and researchers say the finding is further evidence of the evolutionary link between dinosaurs and birds. A fossil found in a riverbank in Argentina shows evidence of efficient air sacs that pumped air into the dinosaur’s lungs.

Lead researcher Paul Sereno named the new dinosaur Aerosteon riocoloradensis, which means “air bones from the Rio Colorado.” Instead of lungs that expand and contract, Sereno thinks this beast had air sacs that worked like a bellows, blowing air into the beast’s stiff lungs, much like modern birds…. Most paleontologists believe birds evolved from small, feathered meat-eating dinosaurs, and the earliest known birds were strikingly similar to these dinosaurs [Reuters].

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Serious Malfunction on the Hubble Telescope Delays Repair Mission

By Eliza Strickland | September 29, 2008 5:48 pm

Hubble Space TelescopeA breakdown aboard the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope will delay the final space shuttle mission to upgrade and repair the aging telescope, which was scheduled to launch on October 14. NASA said today that the malfunction of a command and data-handling system means the telescope is unable to capture and beam down the data used to produce its stunning deep space images for which the Hubble is famous [Orlando Sentinel]. NASA officials said that system can’t be fixed remotely but added that they’re currently trying to activate a backup system.

The space shuttle Atlantis is already on the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in preparation for its trip to the Hubble, but NASA says the unexpected glitch may delay the shuttle’s mission until early next year. Whenever Atlantis does fly, NASA may send up a replacement part for the failed component. It would take time to test and qualify the old replacement part and train the astronauts to install it in the telescope, said NASA spokesman Michael Curie. NASA also would have to work out new mission details for the astronauts who have trained for two years to carry out five Hubble repair spacewalks [AP].

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space, Technology

Mathematicians May Win $100,000 Prize for Prime Number Discovery

By Eliza Strickland | September 29, 2008 3:44 pm

numbersMathematicians at UCLA believe they have found a very long and very special prime number: It clocks in at nearly 13 million digits, and belongs to an elite group of numbers called Mersenne primes. If the math checks out, the discovery will win UCLA’s math department a $100,000 prize that was offered for the first Mersenne prime found with over 10 million digits.

Primes are numbers like three, seven and 11 that are divisible by only two whole positive numbers: themselves and one. Mersenne primes — named for their discoverer, 17th century French mathematician Marin Mersenne — are expressed as 2P-1, or two to the power of “P” minus one. P is itself a prime number. For the new prime, P is 43,112,609 [AP].

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MORE ABOUT: math, numbers, prime numbers

Brazilian Ants Sacrifice a Few Relatives Each Day for the Greater Good

By Eliza Strickland | September 29, 2008 1:03 pm

antsIn a striking example of the evolutionary benefits of altruism, researchers have found a species of ants that sends a few workers out each evening on a suicide mission to ensure the continued survival of the colony. The tiny ant Forelius pusillus, which makes its home in sugar cane fields in Brazil, makes a nightly ritual of covering the entrance to its nest with sand. To be sure that the entrance is sealed shut tightly, a few ants remain outside each evening to finish kicking sand over the hole. Those ants, stuck outside in the cold and the wind, die during the night.

“In a colony with many thousands of workers, losing a few workers each evening to improve nest defense would be favored by natural selection,” said co-author Francis Ratnieks…. The ants stuck outside might be old or sick, [co-author Adam] Tofilski conjectured. Thus, they may have essentially sacrificed themselves for the greater good, being more expendable members of the colony [ScienceNOW Daily News].

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MORE ABOUT: altruism, evolution, insects

Internet Millionaire's Privately Funded Rocket Reaches Orbit

By Eliza Strickland | September 29, 2008 9:43 am

SpaceX rocket liftoffThe private space company Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, successfully launched a rocket into orbit on Sunday, marking a major milestone in the growth of privately funded space ventures. The achievement followed three failed launches of the Falcon 1 rocket over the past two years.

“That was frickin’ awesome,” Elon Musk, SpaceX’s millionaire founder and chief executive officer, told cheering employees…. “There were a lot of people who thought we couldn’t do it … but, you know, as the saying goes, ‘The fourth time’s the charm,'” he said after the rocket soared into orbit from its launch pad on Omelek Island, 2,500 miles (4,000 kilometers) southwest of Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean [MSNBC].

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space, Technology

After a Successful Spacewalk, Chinese Astronauts Return Home

By Eliza Strickland | September 29, 2008 8:25 am

China rocketThree Chinese astronauts returned to earth on Sunday after completing a mission that made China the third nation to send its astronauts outside their spacecraft and into the dangerous darkness of space on a spacewalk. The successful mission is being hailed as a national triumph in China, and the astronauts were bedecked with flowered garlands on their return and given a heroes’ welcome in Beijing.

State broadcaster CCTV showed the astronauts’ return Sunday after their Shenzhou 7 ship’s re-entry vehicle burst through the Earth’s atmosphere to make a landing under clear skies in the grasslands of China’s northern Inner Mongolia region. The vessel floated down gently while attached to a giant red-and-white striped parachute, marking the end of the 68-hour endeavor. “It was a glorious mission, full of challenges with a successful end,” said mission commander Zhai Zhigang, a fighter pilot. “We feel proud of the motherland” [AP].

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MORE ABOUT: China, space flight

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