Blue Origin’s Rocket Sticks a Historic Landing

By Nathaniel Scharping | November 24, 2015 3:21 pm

The New Shepard inches closer to the ground for a successful landing. (Screenshot from YouTube/Blue Origin)

Private aeronautics firm Blue Origin on Monday became the first company to successfully launch a rocket into space and bring it back to Earth for a safe landing.

The rocket, dubbed the New Shepard, took off from Blue Origin’s test facility in Texas and touched down again fully upright, in a near-perfect reverse of its takeoff just minutes before. Most rockets used to launch capsules into space are used once, falling into the ocean after their fuel is expended. This means that a new rocket must be manufactured every time a rocket is launched, making repeat flights to be tremendously expensive. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: space exploration

Bionic Roses are Literal Power Plants

By Kiona Smith-Strickland | November 24, 2015 10:50 am

Researchers used a conductive polymer to create “wired” roses. (Credit: Linköping University)

Researchers have created simple electronic components inside the stems and leaves of living roses, using the rose’s own vascular system to produce working wires and even simple display devices.

By adding a specialized polymer to roses’ xylem, researchers electronically “wired” roses without disrupting the plant’s ability to transport water and nutrients. Though plants with built-in electronic circuitry are still in their early days of development, researchers envision a day when these cyborg plants give feedback about their health and even display that information on their leaves — like a simple screen — for farmers to read. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Technology, top posts
MORE ABOUT: biotechnology, plants

Winter is Coming, and Hamsters Are Getting Feisty

By Janine Anderson | November 19, 2015 2:30 pm

A female hamster (right) is not happy, and makes it known. (Credit: Frank Scherbarth)

What makes female Siberian hamsters ready to duke it out in the winter? Melatonin.

The same hormone gaining popularity as a natural sleep aid plays a major role in seasonal aggression in female hamsters, according to new research. The study, published this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Academy B, is a collaboration between the Indiana University Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ departments of Biology and Psychological and Brain Sciences.  Read More

For the First Time, Astronomers Witness a Planet’s Birth

By Shannon Stirone | November 18, 2015 4:04 pm

An artist’s conception of planets forming in a transition disk like LkCa 15. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A fledgling star system is giving astronomers the cosmic version of the “birds and the bees talk.”

For the first time astronomers directly observed a planet growing in its very early stages of life, and that’s quite a rare find: Of the nearly 1,900 planets discovered outside of our solar system the infant planet, known as LkCa 15 b, is the only one known to be forming as you read this. It’s a first-of-its-kind opportunity to study a planet in this stage early of development. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts

Pigeon Pathologists Know Cancer When They See It

By Carl Engelking | November 18, 2015 1:00 pm

This is the conditioning box where pigeons learned their new skill. (Credit: Levenson et al.)

Would you rather have a human or pigeons scrutinize medical images to detect the presence of cancer?

At first blush, it seems like an absurd question. But if you went out on a limb and chose pigeons, their diagnoses, surprisingly, would rival a human’s in accuracy. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Mind & Brain, top posts

WATCH: ‘WTF’ Space Junk Burns Up in Earth’s Atmosphere

By Carl Engelking | November 13, 2015 1:39 pm

WT1109F bursts into flames as it’s incinerated by Earth’s atmosphere. (Credit: Astronomy Center/YouTube)

A mysterious object hurtling toward Earth on Friday the 13th was plenty of fodder to provoke superstitious speculation.

Fortunately, for space observers who serve as sentinels of the skies, it was hardly a surprise, or matter of luck, when a chunk of debris dubbed WT1190F burned up in Earth’s atmosphere early Friday morning over the southern coast of Sri Lanka. Astronomers, who caught the brief fireworks show on camera, knew a rendezvous with the so-called ‘WTF’ hunk of space junk was imminent weeks ago, but some news outlets still couldn’t resist getting “mysterious UFO” in a headline. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts

Birds Give Up Food to Stay Close to Their Mates

By Kiona Smith-Strickland | November 12, 2015 11:56 am


When forced to choose, some songbirds prefer the company of their mates to a good meal.

Social living entails some compromise; that’s as true for birds as it is for people. Foraging in flocks often means that some birds get a little less food than they might by flying solo, but there is also safety in numbers: flocks provide better defense against predators and more eyes to watch for danger. For most, a little food for a lot of security is a worthwhile tradeoff. Some songbirds, it turns out, are willing to make even greater sacrifices for the sake of staying close to their mates. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

Solar Storms Obliterated Mars’ Atmosphere

By Andrew Coates University College London | November 5, 2015 5:25 pm

An artist’s rendering of Mars getting bombarded by a solar storm. (Credit: NASA/GSFC)

“Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids – in fact it’s cold as hell,” sings Elton John in Rocket Man. And it’s true: the present atmosphere and surface of Mars are certainly inhospitable for any aspiring rocket man. Since Mars lost its magnetic field 3.8 billion years ago, the pressure of its once Earth-like atmosphere has gradually reduced to just 1% of Earth’s, letting through damaging UV light and cosmic radiation that make the surface a lot less habitable.

We don’t really know how or why this happened. But new results from NASA’s MAVEN mission, published in Science, have shed some light on the mystery – it’s to do with solar storms and shocks from the Sun billions of years ago. There’s a bright side to the new results as well: an aurora over most of the planet’s night-time hemisphere has been discovered. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: mars, solar system

The Brain’s Internal Odometer and Stopwatch

By Janine Anderson | November 4, 2015 1:56 pm


Forget the iWatch or Fitbit, the brain already has its own internal odometer and stopwatch.

Rats running on a treadmill helped a team of researchers from Boston University understand the ways memories about our location are formed and stored. The team put rats through several test scenarios and monitored the animals’ grid cells — a specific type of neuron that helps track changes in location – to determine if those cells also helped track time and distance, independent of external cues, to build a memory. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts

Languages Are Products of Their Environments

By Kiona Smith-Strickland | November 4, 2015 11:43 am


The characteristics that make each language unique may actually be adaptations to the acoustics of different environments.

Language is a universal hallmark of humanity, but it sounds different in different parts of the world. On most Pacific islands and throughout Southeast Asia, words use more vowel sounds than consonants, and they’re spoken in simple syllables, made up of a vowel sound and a consonant or two. Meanwhile, Georgian, a language of the Caucasus Mountains, is heavy with consonants, often strung together into clusters, creating syllables too complex for many foreigners to pronounce. The physical surroundings of Georgians and Southeast Asians are just as varied as the words they use, and linguists say they’ve found a relationship between the types of sounds in a language and the climate and landscape in which it evolved. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts


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