Category: Top Posts

How Astronomers Will Find Earth 2.0

By Sarah Scoles | July 16, 2015 4:34 pm

earth sun

While self-aware humans have long wondered whether Earth is the only place like itself, we — and our technology — are finally advanced enough to answer that question. And with that power, astronomy’s quest du jour is to find habitable (and potentially inhabited) Earth-esque planets.

To discover biology from afar, scientists peer into planets’ atmospheres in search of evidence that something on their surfaces breathes and metabolizes. But planets are small (cosmically speaking) and far away, and their stars outshine them. Because of that latter problem, astrobiologists currently favor focusing on worlds orbiting small, dim red dwarf stars. Their meager light still nearly blinds us to their planets’ atmospheres, but visibility is better than it would be near a star like the sun.

But it’s not just the star that matters – it’s the other planets too. Astronomers have generally been looking for solar systems like ours, the only inhabited one we know of. That is to say, tidy solar systems where the planets have regular orbits in a flat disk.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: exoplanets

The Needle-Free Future of Medicine

By Kiona Smith-Strickland | July 13, 2015 3:45 pm

doctor with needle

If you’re afraid of needles, here’s some good news: you may not always be stuck with getting shots.

At present, injections are the best way to deliver certain kinds of drugs. For example, vaccines and drugs like insulin are made of large molecules that you can’t take orally because they would break down in your digestive tract. Some antibiotic and antiviral medications are also given as injections for this reason.

But needles suck. About 10 percent of patients who need regular injections don’t comply with their doctors’ instructions, according to 3M, partly because self-administering injections is difficult and painful. And injectable drugs are a hassle, too: they have to be stored at cold temperatures and have a limited shelf life.

That’s why biotech companies around the world are working on needle-free ways to deliver these drugs, with everything from high-tech pills to simple do-it-yourself patches.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: medical technology

The Sixth Sense You Didn’t Know You Had

By Juliette McGregor, University of Leicester | July 1, 2015 12:59 pm

eyes

Ever fancied having a superpower? Something you can call upon when you need it, to hand you extra information about the world? OK, it’s not X-ray vision, but your eyes do have abilities that you might not be aware of.

We are all familiar with color and brightness, but there is a third property of light: “polarization,” which tells us the orientation in which light waves are oscillating. Animals, like bees and ants, use the polarization patterns in the sky as a navigation aid. But few people, even in the scientific community, are aware that humans can sense the polarization of light with the naked eye.

In research we’ve just published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, we used an experiment that was originally designed to test the visual abilities of octopuses and cuttlefish to investigate our human ability to perceive this polarized light.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: senses

Falling Into a Black Hole Might Turn You Into a Hologram

By Marika Taylor, University of Southampton | June 25, 2015 10:16 am

black hole

Many scientists believe that anything sent into a black hole would probably be destroyed. But a new study suggests that this might not be the case after all.

The research says that, rather than being devoured, a person falling into a black hole would actually be absorbed into a hologram – without even noticing. The paper challenges a rival theory stating that anybody falling into a black hole hits a “firewall” and is immediately destroyed.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: black hole

Grown Adults, Stop Drinking Breast Milk. Seriously.

By Sarah Steele and Andreas Freitag | June 22, 2015 4:05 pm

man drinking milk

“Breast is best”. So goes the message from the international and clinical guidance on what milk mothers should feed their babies. But it’s also more worryingly been adopted by a growing online community of adults wanting to buy and consume expressed breast milk for its perceived health benefits – or due to sexual fetishes.

Some online forums suggest cancer patients should drink breast milk because it is supposedly easier to digest, better tolerated, and full of immune benefits, including immunoglobulin (a protein used by the immune system). Meanwhile, fitness and diet forums preach the nutritional, energy or recovery benefits of such milk, suggesting it can work as a supplement to workout or bulking regimes.

A number of websites and online forums cater to those wishing to buy, sell and trade breast milk, alongside the use of more general social media platforms. This online marketplace allows women who are expressing milk to advertise with text and images, communicating details such as cost per ounce and a description of mother, milk and baby. Buyers can also advertise on such forums, detailing their own needs and volume requirements.

Individuals can then contact each other either to meet or arrange transport for the milk, which is often frozen or packed in dry ice, and shipped by express post or courier. Notably, the quality of packaging greatly varies, and studies have shown high levels of damage in transit.

The popularity of these sites varies by country depending on the availability of government-subsidized milk banks. But in the US, where regulated milk banks are costly, and the UK, where adult buyers are not catered for, online selling communities have been growing. New country-specific websites are now being launched, including using .co.uk addresses. Such growth has led commentators to label online breast milk sale a “booming market” around the world.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: nutrition

Early Humans Became More Feminine, Which Led to the Birth of Culture

By Mark Maslin, UCL | June 22, 2015 10:43 am

homo sapiens skull

I have always wondered why our species Homo sapiens, that evolved in Africa about 200,000 years ago, seemed to do nothing special for the first 150,000 years. Because it is not until about 50,000 years ago that the first sign of creative thinking emerged with beautiful cave paintings found in Spain, France and Indonesia.

Around the same time a new sub-species referred to as anatomically modern humans or Homo sapiens sapiens appears. Anatomically modern humans were more slender than their earlier ancestors; they had less hair, smaller skulls. They looked basically like us.

But these changes weren’t just cosmetic. Two recent papers throw some light on how the revolutionary development of smaller and more fine-boned humans influenced the growth of cooperative culture, the birth of agriculture and human dominance of the planet.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: human origins

5 Amazing Extinct Creatures That Aren’t Dinosaurs

By Charlotte Stephenson, University of Hull | June 18, 2015 4:55 pm

The release of Jurassic World has reignited our love for paleontology. Many of us share a longing to understand the dinosaurs that roamed the Earth long before we arrived. But paleontology is a discipline much broader than this.

Dinosaurs dominated the land for 135 million years, but what happened during the rest of the Earth’s 4.6 billion-year history? The role of paleontologists past and present has been to unravel the mysteries of life on Earth, and in doing so they’ve found a lot more than just dinosaur bones.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: unusual organisms

Kennewick Man’s Genome Reignites Decades-Old Cultural Dispute

By Carl Engelking | June 18, 2015 12:00 pm
Members of the Confederated Colville tribe participate in the First Salmon Ceremony. The Colville were among five tribes who were involved in a lawsuit to obtain Kennewick Man's remains. (Credit: USDA/Flickr)

Members of the Confederated Colville tribe participate in the First Salmon Ceremony. The Colville were among five tribes who were involved in a lawsuit to obtain Kennewick Man’s remains. (Credit: USDA/Flickr)

Depending on who you talk to, Kennewick Man is either among the most important archaeological finds in North American history, or the desecrated body of a distant forebear known as “The Ancient One.”

Kennewick Man’s remains have fueled a nearly two-decade-long showdown between science and cultural rights, and now those tensions are at the forefront once again. On Thursday, archaeologists who sequenced Kennewick Man’s genome announced that he is more closely related to modern Native Americans than any other population on the planet.

The finding, scientifically speaking, appears to settle a fierce, decades-old debate among researchers regarding the man’s lineage. 

But for the Pacific Northwest tribes demanding a proper burial for Kennewick Man, the results corroborate what they already knew from their oral traditions, and may renew their call for repatriation.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Top Posts

How to Train Your Velociraptor, ‘Jurassic World’ Style

By Robin George Andrews | June 14, 2015 5:39 pm

raptors

No Jurassic Park franchise film would be complete without an appearance by T. rex, but in both the original films and the new Jurassic World, the real terror over the course of the film is carried on much smaller forelimbs: the bloodthirsty, agile, intelligent velociraptors.

Of course, much of the attention on the new film has been devoted to the Indominus Rex, a terrifying fictional dino genetically engineered to be bigger and scarier than T. rex.

But once again, the makers of Jurassic World rely on velociraptors for the low-level guerilla warfare in the depths of the island – this time with a twist. The velociraptors are on the good guys’ side.

We’re not giving anything away that’s not in the previews to say that leading man Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) has an unusual talent: he is a velociraptor trainer. Using a clicker-and-treat method evocative of trainers at Sea World, Owen has trained his four velociraptors to come, stay, and crucially, to not do what would come naturally when a human enters their cage: pounce and kill with their razor-sharp teeth and horrifying sickle claws.

But would it really be possible, based on what we know about velociraptors, for them to be tamed by humans? This sounds highly implausible, but there are many things about Jurassic World that are – according to Jack Horner, the paleontologist that advises these films – more “scientifically plausible” than the original. So what would it take?

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Top Posts

A Better Way to Forecast Dangerous Solar Storms

This August 2012 coronal mass ejection produced aurorae on Earth. Credit: NASA

This August 2012 coronal mass ejection produced aurorae on Earth. Credit: NASA

Solar storms start their lives as violent explosions from the sun’s surface. They’re made up of energetic charged particles wrapped in a complex magnetic cloud. As they erupt from the sun’s surface, they can shoot out into interplanetary space at speeds of up to 3,000 kilometers per second (that’s 6.7 million miles per hour). Depending on their direction of travel, these energetic storms can journey past Earth and other planets.

If a solar storm makes it to Earth, it can disrupt a variety of modern technologies including GPS and high-frequency communications, and even power grids on the ground, causing radio blackouts and citywide loss of power. It can also wreak havoc within the aviation industry by disrupting communication methods.

To combat related potential economic losses, affected industries have been seeking a solution that can provide them with at least 24 hours of warning. With enough lead time, they can safely change their operational procedures. For example, passenger planes can be rerouted or power grid transformers can begin the slow process of “winding down,” all of which require at least a day’s notice – a huge jump beyond the 60-minute advance warning currently common. By building on earlier research, my colleagues and I have come up with a technique we think can meet that 24-hour warning goal.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: Sun
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