Category: News Roundup

The Internet's 5 Best Things on NASA's Curiosity Mars Lander

By Sophie Bushwick | August 3, 2012 10:30 am

Get excited: the new Mars rover Curiosity is set to land early next week. And the Internet wants you to be prepared, circulating articles, explanations, and lots of videos, the highlights of which we’ve collected here:

Why Do We Have Curiosity?
Considering that we already have one working rover on the surface of the Red Planet, what’s with all the brouhaha over this one? To find out why we’re sending Curiosity to Mars, Ph.D Comics went to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to talk to scientists, ogle the full-sized replica of Curiosity, and learn about the new rover’s scientific instruments, which include, among other things, a rock-shooting laser.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: News Roundup, Space, Technology, Top Posts

What Would a Government Shutdown Mean for Science, Medicine, & Engineering?

By Valerie Ross | April 8, 2011 2:50 pm

What’s the News: With Congress yet to pass a budget, the country is facing a government shutdown unless lawmakers reach an agreement by midnight tonight. In addition to shuttering many government offices, the shutdown would likely cause present serious difficulties for federal government-funded research.

Difficulties Such As…

Today's Best Science: Power Lines For Fukushima, Monkeys Recognize Their Buddies, and Plans for the Largest Tidal Array

By Patrick Morgan | March 17, 2011 11:01 pm

Image: flickr / daveeza

CATEGORIZED UNDER: News Roundup

Today's Best Science: Mercury Orbiting, Toxin-Sucking Bananas, Language Colors Perception

By Patrick Morgan | March 16, 2011 10:28 pm
  • Orbit time! Launched in 2004, NASA’s Messenger spacecraft will this Friday become the first probe to orbit Mercury—potentially uncovering polar ice or explaining why the planet is oddly dense.
  • Older AND wiser: When scientists played recordings of lion roars for elephants, they discovered that the oldest female elephants were the most sensitive, and even discerned the calls of lions from lionesses.
  • Health experts say that this year’s cholera epidemic in Haiti could affect double the UN’s prediction of 400,000 people. The UN’s “crude” predictions assumed only a certain percentage of the population would be affected, whereas the new estimate takes water supplies and immunity into consideration.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: News Roundup

Today's Best Science: Waste-to-Water, Smarts Through Plants, and Rat-Brain Scanners

By Patrick Morgan | March 15, 2011 7:24 pm
  • Clear thinking: The city of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates is taking a new approach to fresh water production: They’re harnessing the wasted heat from power plants to drive their water-desalination process, upping thermal efficiency from 43% to 90% in the process.
  • Food for thought: A new study suggests that merely surrounding yourself with indoor plants boosts your attention span.
  • A sensor that looks like a miniature breath mint may be a boon for cancer treatment: It’s so small that it can be implanted right into the body to sense tumor growth, allowing doctors to avoid invasive—and sometimes harmful—biopsies.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: News Roundup

News Roundup: Japan Nuclear Fears, Sperm-Whale Names, Internet on Steroids

By Patrick Morgan | March 14, 2011 9:21 pm
  • Japan update: Authorities have been having trouble keeping enough water around Fukushima Daiichi’s  nuclear fuel rods, leading Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano to respond, when asked whether they were melting: “Although we cannot directly check it, it’s highly likely happening.” Still, radiation levels remain at “tolerable levels.”
  • Call me Ishmael: Slight variations in sperm-whale calls may act as “whale names,” or personal identifiers that allow these social creatures to tell individuals apart.
  • Star wars turns to trash: NASA is looking to create a cheap, ground-based laser that would be capable of blasting (ok, slightly nudging, slowing down, and de-orbiting) Earth-orbiting space junk in danger of crashing.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, News Roundup

The Science of Japan's Earthquake, Illustrated by Harrowing Video

By Patrick Morgan | March 11, 2011 6:14 pm

Oil refineries aflame. Train tracks twisted like string. Buildings ripped from their foundations. Japan’s 8.9-magnitude earthquake has left its mark, especially in the expected death toll of over 1,000 people. This video roundup shows the science behind what happened today in Japan.

Why (Most) Buildings Didn’t Crumble

The death toll is estimated around 1,000, which is bad enough, but it would have been much higher without good engineering, mandated by strict building codes. But these codes haven’t been strict for long. In the 7.3-magnitude Kobe earthquake in 1995, 6,500 Japanese people died, and engineers looked on in horror as many buildings came crashing down; the most deadly ones were built before 1981, when building standards were still lower.

The Kobe tragedy, says The Telegraph‘s Peter Foster, compelled Japanese officials to tighten building regulations for residential offices and transportation infrastructure. Engineers made buildings  “earthquake proof” by outfitting them with “deep foundation and massive shock absorbers that dampen seismic energy,” and by enabling the bases of buildings to move “semi-independently to its superstructure, reducing the shaking caused by a quake.” Skyscrapers now sway during an earthquake but don’t collapse, Foster says, and that helps explain why damage to buildings in Tokyo was kept to a minimum this time around. [The Atlantic Wire]

Why Couldn’t Geologists Predict It?

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, News Roundup, Top Posts

What Happened in the Japanese Earthquake—and Why It Could've Been Worse

By Patrick Morgan | March 11, 2011 2:15 pm

Japan’s massive earthquake today may be over, but we’re still feeling the effects, from nuclear reactor scares in Japan to tsunami warnings along the entire west coast of North America, from Mexico to Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. Much is still unknown about this earthquake, including official destruction assessments and total death tolls, but here’s what we do know:

Two preliminary earthquakes with magnitudes of 7.2 and 6.3  struck off the coast of Honshu, Japan, the day before the major blow: This 8.9-magnitude quake—the largest in Japan’s recorded history—struck at 2:46 pm local time on Friday, its epicenter located about 231 miles northeast of Tokyo at a depth of 15 miles. Even after this large one, over thirty aftershocks—the strongest measuring 7.1 in magnitude—continued to batter the island nation.

The Immediate Effects

Fires and collapsed buildings were the main cause of injuries and death early on, from conflagrations sweeping an oil refinery in Chiba prefecture near Tokyo to the roof collapsing during a graduation ceremony in Tokyo. But fears soon centered on Japan’s nuclear facilities: Four power plants successfully shut down, but one experienced problems:

According to Nature’s Tokyo correspondent, David Cyranoski, Japanese media are reporting that the emergency core cooling system (ECCS) at the Fukushima #1 plant is not working due to a loss of electrical power, and problems with the backup diesel generator. The reactor is currently relying on an alternate cooling system that circulates water using a pump system. This system can operate for about 7 to 8 hours. According to the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency of the government’s industry ministry, this is the first time in Japan that the ECCS of a nuclear power station has not functioned. [Nature]

The local governments near the Fukushima plant urged the area’s 2,000 residents to evacuate, though no leaks have been detected and the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum assured everyone (pdf) that Fukushima reactor’s core “still has a sufficient amount of water for cooling, with no danger of the nuclear fuel being exposed”.

Why It Could Have Been Worse

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, News Roundup, Top Posts

Daily Roundup: Robotic Moths, Cancer Battles, Electricity Vending Machines

By Patrick Morgan | March 10, 2011 9:38 pm
  • All bats aren’t created equal: Using robotic moths, scientists discovered that bats emitting non-stop radar-like calls catch more insects than their intermittent-emitting brethren—and they do this by hearing the “siren-like” echoes of flying bugs. This suggest that bats evolved their echolocation abilities to increase their nightly catch.
  • Scientists reported that ovarian cancer survival rates have doubled in the UK in the past 30 years, a change they attribute to better treatments, such as broader access to chemotherapy.
  • Cheetos, Snickers, and electricity: Japanese companies are rolling out the first vending machines capable of charging electric cars, with plans of installing at least 10,000 by the end of the year.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: News Roundup
MORE ABOUT: cancer, gadgets, health, robots

Daily Roundup: Ice Melt Wins, Backs Get a Break, Discover(y) Returns

By Patrick Morgan | March 9, 2011 5:51 pm

  • Unwelcome melt: The results are in for a 20-year study of Antarctica and Greenland ice melt, and though you shouldn’t grab your swim trunks yet, the results show that ice sheets have been melting at an accelerated pace for the past 20 years. “What is surprising,” Eric Rignot from Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, told the BBC, is that ice melt will soon be the single biggest driver of sea level rise.
  • But don’t take these dripping glaciers as a reason to sit on your hands: A new report says that climatologists aren’t factoring in soot in the climate debate—and that merely reducing the output from cooking fires and industry could cut global warming by 0.5C. Food for thought (oy) the next time you barbecue.
  • Lessons from a tree: Engineers have crafted a self-repairing plastic based on the natural self-repairing traits of rubber trees—a discovery that could save energy (and the planet) by extending the lifespan of many consumer products.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: News Roundup
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