Archive for June, 2012

Each Week, A Person is Murdered Over Land, Forests, and Natural Resources

By Veronique Greenwood | June 25, 2012 8:00 am

spacing is important
Logging in Brazil

When the chief of one Amazonian tribe counseled his people to fight back against illegal logging of their land, the loggers wasted no time in retaliating: they put a $100,000 bounty on his head.

Natural resources are growing scarcer and more valuable, and murders of people attempting to protect them are growing. According to a report by Global Witness, an organization that investigates and counters resource-related conflict and human rights abuses, killings motivated by forests and land have more than doubled over the past three years. In the last decade, 711 people—among them journalists, activists, and locals—have been killed, totaling more than one person per week. Most of the killers are not prosecuted, and information about such murders is hard to come by, but most of the killings are reported to be in Brazil, Colombia, the Phillipines, and Peru.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment

Global, Tragic Irony: That Which Saves Us From Heat Is Making Our Planet Hotter

By Sophie Bushwick | June 22, 2012 2:53 pm

air conditioners

As the summer heats up, air conditioners are being cranked to full blast. Once upon a time—that is, until the 1980s—the coolant gasses in these machines, which leaked into the atmosphere after units were junked, were a major threat to the ozone layer. Now manufacturers have replaced them with ozone-friendly versions. But the new coolants are still potent greenhouse gasses.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology

Amazing Shrinking Nanoparticles Could Sneak Into Tumors & Kill Them

By Sophie Bushwick | June 22, 2012 11:42 am

shrinking nanoparticle
In the presence of ultraviolet light, the nanoparticle
shrinks from 150 to 40 nanometers.

As anyone who has played with a powerful laser or just suffered a bad sunburn can attest, light has an impressive power to physically change objects. And now we know that light can make nanoparticles expand and contract like miniature Hoberman Spheres. MIT and Harvard researchers engineered nanoparticles that shrink to less than a third of their original size when exposed to ultraviolet rays; in the darkness or under visible light, they open back up to their more stable, larger size.

Nanoparticles have been touted as an effective way to deliver cancer-killing drugs straight to tumors without harming healthy cells in the process. But the structure of a tumor can block all but the smallest particles—those less than 100 nanometers (billionths of a meter)—from penetrating to the cancer’s heart. To deliver drugs to the entire tumor, the researchers suggest that the particles could be deployed while UV light keeps them in their smaller form, about 40 nanometers. Then, when the UV light is switched off, the particles will open to their full 150-nanometer size and release the drugs.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Technology

DEADLINE EXTENDED: We Want You To Send an Experiment to Space. We'll Give You $1500 To Do It.

By Veronique Greenwood | June 21, 2012 3:44 pm

Imagine having your own personal satellite orbiting the Earth. It’s got cameras and sensors galore, and you can use it to run experiments, take pictures, and even beam messages back to the blue marble.

Well, that geek fantasy will become a reality if the ArduSat project, which you can see here on Kickstarter, reaches its funding goal. The general public will be able to rent time on this small satellite and use it for whatever they please, courtesy of its Arduino processor.

UPDATE, June 25: The ArduSat Kickstarter project has reached its target of $35,000. But we’d love to raise more money, which would help build a more capable satellite with better steering and better cameras and other sensors. $75,000 would be ideal, so donate and spread the word!

UPDATE, July 9: The deadline for the contest has been extended! Keep sending in entries until July 15.

We at Discover Magazine think this is pretty neat. And we’d like to give away a development kit worth $1500 to the Kickstarter donor who submits the best idea for an in-space experiment before July 6th, 2012.

The kit includes Arduinos and an advanced sensor suite shipped to your home address, as well as one week of up-time on the satellite to run any experiment. You’ll be able to build the experiment yourself and have it be sent up on ArduSat when it takes to the skies.

Here’s what you have to do to enter the (drumroll) Discover Space Challenge:

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space, Technology

Ingenious Sensor Gives Robots Better-Than-Human Sense of Touch—and Fingerprints

By Sophie Bushwick | June 21, 2012 12:09 pm

Are your fingers resting on a slick touchscreen or a wooden desk? The sense of touch and ability to differentiate between textures provide invaluable information about the world around us—and now they may be able to transmit that information to robots and prosthetic hands at well.

Researchers have developed a mechanical “finger” called the BioTac, made up of a rigid central sensor surrounded by liquid and covered in a flexible skin. When the BioTac strokes a surface, that surface’s texture produces unique vibrations in the skin, which has ridges like those seen in a human fingerprint. And the BioTac’s software can interpret those vibrations, along with the force that the surface exerts on the mechanical finger, to identify 117 different textures with a 95 percent success rate. In fact, when it came to distinguishing between textures, the BioTac actually out-performed humans.

[via Pop Sci]

Video courtesy of University of Southern California

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology

Super-Malware Flame was Developed by US & Israel, Who Used It To Launch Stuxnet

By Veronique Greenwood | June 21, 2012 11:28 am

Ever since Flame, a gigantic piece of malware that lifts data from infected computers, was uncovered by security researchers three weeks ago, people have been wondering who could have built such a thing. Its powers, and the fact that it had apparently been operating in secret for years, shocked experts, who called it “one of the most complex threats ever discovered.”

More revelations followed: World-class mathematicians had worked on it, doing new science to develop its attacks. At first it was thought that Flame had nothing in common with Stuxnet, the US and Israeli-built virus that targeted Iran’s nuclear program and has become synonymous with the new age of cyberwarfare. Closer analysis, however, revealed that an early module of Flame had identified and exploited a then-unknown weakness in Microsoft Windows. The same capability showed up later in Stuxnet. The two pieces of malware had apparently communicated at least once, with Flame, which primarily gathers information, passing data to Stuxnet, which used that data to inflict damage.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology

Humans Have Been Making Art for a Lot Longer Than We Thought

By Sophie Bushwick | June 21, 2012 8:30 am

Panel of Hands
One of the prints in El Castillo Cave’s Panel of Hands
was created more than 37,300 years ago.

A new study has revealed that Spain’s El Castillo Cave contains the oldest known cave paintings in Europe, with a handprint dating back 37,300 years and a red circle that was daubed onto the wall at least 40,600 years ago.

Instead of testing the paint’s age, a team of British and Spanish researchers measured the age of the stone that had formed around the drawings. In a cave, mineral-rich water drips over the walls, eventually depositing stalactites, stalagmites, and the sheet-like formations called flowstone. Some prehistoric artists had painted over flowstone made out of the mineral calcite, and then water flowed over the paint and deposited even more calcite, leaving the drawings sandwiched between mineral layers. The researchers used uranium-thorium dating to accurately determine the age of the mineral layers and therefore the window when the art itself was created; unlike the similar, more conventional carbon-14 method, uranium-thorium dating gives accurate results without damaging the subject.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Human Origins

We Have Contact: Chinese Spacecraft Docks With Orbiting Module

By Sophie Bushwick | June 20, 2012 1:02 pm

Long March 2F carrier rocket
The launch of the Long March-2F rocket carrying Shenzhou-9 into space

On Monday, Chinese spaceship Shenzhou-9 docked with Tiangong-1, the first time that China connected a manned craft with an orbiting module. Liu Yang, one of the three crew members, also became the nation’s first woman in space.

China’s ground base regulated the docking by remote control, and then Yang, along with fellow crew member Liu Wang and mission commander Jing Haipeng, entered the Tiangong-1 module for a 10-day stay in space. Although China did not send a man into space until 2003, becoming the third nation to do so behind both Russia and the United States, its space program does not lack for ambition. It plans to launch more manned space missions, possibly even to the moon, and to replace tiny Tiangong-1 with a larger 60-ton space station by 2020.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space

Look at This: Side-by-Side Comparison of Humanity's Notable Spaceships

By Sophie Bushwick | June 19, 2012 1:19 pm

spaceship sizes

Ever wondered how the Tiangong-1 module of China’s in-progress space station measures up to, say, the International Space Station? Over at the astronomy blog Supernova Condensate, molecular astrophysicist Invader Xan has created an infographic comparing the sizes of various spacefaring vessels. It’s fun to see how different ships stack up next to each other, like the British spaceplane Skylon versus the U.S.’s recently retired spaceplane (i.e., the Space Shuttle). And Invader Xan also made a bonus image to demonstrate how our past may compare to the future, where no man has gone before.

[via Boing Boing]

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space, Technology

The Air Force's Second Secret Space Plane Returns From More Than A Year in Orbit

By Veronique Greenwood | June 19, 2012 12:38 pm

It’s been a month of reminders that actually, yes, the US government has a lot of giant, high-tech toys that it’s not telling us about. Two weeks ago, it was, “Wait, we have a secret Hubble-sized space telescope? Wait, we have TWO of them?”

This week (especially if you missed the first one’s flight in 2010), it’s, “Wait, we have a secret space plane? Wait…TWO of them?!”

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space, Technology
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