Archive for July, 2011

Calling All Egyptology Geeks: Help Decipher Ancient Papyri

By Veronique Greenwood | July 29, 2011 12:43 pm

transcribe
Is that an alpha or a beta?

Sometimes you need a little help from your friends. Taking a leaf from reCaptcha‘s book, archaeologists from the Egypt Exploration Society and Oxford University have taken a voluminous store of ancient Egyptian papyri online in a bid to have web users transcribe the fragments, which come from a lost city known to its inhabitants as the City of the Sharp-Nosed Fish.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology

Powerful Magnetic Waves Help Make Sun's Atmosphere Hotter Than Sun Itself

By Joseph Castro | July 29, 2011 8:34 am

spacing is important

What’s the News: An international team of researchers, led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, has learned that large magnetic waves are partly to blame for the Sun’s immensely hot corona. The study, published in the journal Nature, also suggests that the waves could be the driving force behind the solar wind.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space

Larger Beaks Help Birds Beat the Heat

By Joseph Castro | July 28, 2011 4:10 pm

spacing is importantThe marsh-loving song sparrow uses its beak to stay cool.

What’s the News: Scientists have long known that the size and shape of a bird’s beak is largely dependent on its diet. A hummingbird’s long, thin beak, for example, allows it to reach deep down into a tubular flower to get nectar. But in a new study in the journal Ecography, scientists have found that birds in warm climates have evolved beaks larger than their cooler-climate counterparts as a means of staying cool (birds, like most animals, don’t sweat). The new study adds weight to past research suggesting the same thing.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World
MORE ABOUT: animals, birds, evolution, heat

Building New Life in a Lab May Succeed Before We Find It Among the Stars

By Veronique Greenwood | July 28, 2011 1:16 pm

Early Earth’s chemical seas are presumed to have given rise to the first life, but how could anything so complex have come from such a disorganized stew of molecules? That’s the question Gerald Joyce of the Scripps Research Institute is exploring with his swarms of self-replicating RNA, which can evolve over time. Along with Steve Benner, Craig Venter, Jack Szostak, and others, he is on the road to creating life in the lab, thus giving us insight into both our origins and what, exactly, “life” is. As Dennis Overbye writes in a look at the field in the New York Times:

The possibilities of a second example of life are as deep as the imagination. It could be based on DNA that uses a different genetic code, with perhaps more or fewer than four letters; it could be based on some complex molecule other than DNA, or more than the 20 amino acids from which our own proteins are made, or even some kind of chemistry based on something other than carbon and the other elements that we take for granted, like phosphorous or iron. Others wonder whether chemistry is necessary at all. Could life manifest itself, for example, in the pattern of electrically charged dust grains in a giant interstellar cloud, as the British astronomer and author Fred Hoyle imagined in his novel “The Black Cloud”?

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World

Researchers Induce Hibernation in Squirrels (But Only When the Time's Right)

By Joseph Castro | July 28, 2011 9:20 am

spacing is important

Researchers at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks have discovered a way to induce hibernation in arctic ground squirrels—by administering a substance that stimulates the brain receptors of adenosine, a molecule involved in slowing nerve cell activity. Induced hibernation could someday be used to preserve the brain functions of human stroke victims, though that’s still a ways off as the current technique only works on the arctic ground squirrels during hibernation season.

[Read more at the Australian and ScienceDaily]

Image: Flickr/Threat to Democracy

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World

Light-Activated, Injectable Gel Could Help Build New Faces

By Veronique Greenwood | July 27, 2011 5:22 pm

gel
Before LED light is shined on it, the injected gel is still fluid and
can fill up any gaps of spaces under the skin.

What’s the News: Scientists have developed a gel that could be used to rebuild the faces of crash victims. Activated by light, it solves several of the problems inherent in the usual methods.

What’s the Context:

  • Dealing with damaged soft tissue is often more complex than dealing with damaged bone and skin. The shape of someone’s face is dependent on the fat, muscle, and other tissue below the surface, and doctors trying to restore someone’s facial structure must contend with scar tissue, swelling, and loss of movement.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine

Human Brains Shrink As They Age, Perhaps From the Weight of Years

By Valerie Ross | July 26, 2011 2:43 pm

What’s the News: The human brains, capable as it is of amazing mental feats, comes with a downside: it shrinks as we get older, contributing to memory loss, reduced inhibitions, and the other cognitive dysfunctions of age. But even chimpanzees, our closest living relatives, don’t suffer this sort of brain loss, according to a study published online yesterday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This unusual shrinkage of the human brain, the researchers say, may be a result of our long lifespan. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Mind & Brain

Will Your Next Furnace Be A Server Farm?

By Veronique Greenwood | July 26, 2011 1:28 pm

server

What’s the News: Computers are hot. Too hot, really, for their own good—not only can laptops burn users’ thighs, but big clusters of servers require constant air conditioning, leading cloud-computing companies to consider situating them in places like Iceland to save on costs.

On the other hand, for part of the year in a good chunk of the globe, humans are cold. Analysts at Microsoft Research wondered whether they couldn’t somehow make these two things match up.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology, Top Posts

Crater with Mysterious Mountain Will Be the Landing Site for Next Mars Rover

By Veronique Greenwood | July 25, 2011 1:04 pm

What’s the News: On Friday, after five years of deliberation over 100 candidates, NASA announced its choice of landing site for Curiosity, the next Mars rover: Gale crater, a massive pit with a three-mile-high mound in its center.  The mission’s primary goal is to assess whether conditions suitable for microbial life ever existed on the Red Planet; Gale was selected over the three other finalists in part because its mountain promises access to layered sediments extending deep into the Martian past.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space

Did Methane Cause the Mass Extinction That Made Way for the Dinosaurs?

By Veronique Greenwood | July 25, 2011 9:51 am

triassic

What’s the News: Two hundred million years ago, half of the Earth’s species vanished in the blink of a geological eye, clearing the way for rise of the dinosaurs in the Jurassic. The cause of that mass extinction, a new study suggests, may have been gigatons of methane released from the sea floor after a slight rise in the earth’s temperature, triggering much greater warming. And if that sounds familiar, it’s because scientists are worried the same thing will happen today.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Top Posts
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