22,000-year-old Panda Skull Shows New Family Line

By Erika K. Carlson | June 18, 2018 10:00 am
giant panda skull fossil

The Cizhutuo fossil, a 22,000-year-old giant panda skull. (Credit: Yingqi Zhang and Yong Xu)

When Qiaomei Fu got her hands on a 22,000-year-old panda skull in 2014, she was both surprised and elated.

An expert in paleogenomics, Fu had done most of her past work on the DNA of ancient humans, but she has a personal interest in pandas. Now, in 2018, she and her team at the Chinese Academy of Sciences are the first to have sequenced the entire mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) genome of an ancient giant panda. The work is outlined in Current Biology. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: animals, DNA, fossils

What Does God Look Like?

By Lacy Schley | June 15, 2018 1:39 pm
A composite image of over 500 Christian's perceptions of what God looks like.

A composite image of over 500 U.S. Christian’s perceptions of what God looks like. (Credit: Joshua Jackson Et Al)

What would you say if you saw this stranger on a bus? Well, if you’re Christian, you might say he’s God.

Psychologists from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill surveyed 511 Christians in the U.S. and, based on the participants’ combined perceptions, this is roughly what they thought God should look like.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts

Astronomers Catch Black Hole Devouring Star

By Erika K. Carlson | June 14, 2018 1:00 pm
Black-hole-rips-apart-star-galaxies

Artist’s conception of a tidal disruption event (TDE) that happens when a supermassive black hole tears apart a star and launches a relativistic jet. The background image is a Hubble Space Telescope image of Arp 299, the colliding galaxies where the TDE from this study was found. (Credit: Sophia Dagnello, NRAO/AUI/NSF; NASA, STScI)

Astronomers Seppo Mattila and Miguel Pérez-Torres usually study the natural deaths of stars, but they weren’t going to pass up the chance to investigate a stellar murder.

A new paper in Science describes how they nabbed photographic evidence that a supermassive black hole in a relatively nearby galaxy tore apart and consumed part of a star in a phenomenon called a tidal disruption event (TDE), spewing jets of material in the process. Scientists have observed these cosmic crime scenes before, but this was the first time anyone managed to get such detailed images of the jets and their changing structure over time. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: black holes, stars

The Milky Way Just Got Larger

By Mara Johnson-Groh | June 14, 2018 8:00 am
An annotated map showing the Milky Way's structure, based on measurements to distant stars and other objects. (Credit: NASA)

An annotated map showing the Milky Way’s structure, based on measurements to distant stars and other objects. (Credit: NASA)

Despite residing in it, it’s hard for us to know exactly how big the Milky Way is. But new research has found that our galaxy is bigger than previously thought. Using a large survey of stars instead of just models (as previous researchers did), astronomers have now determined the disk of our galaxy to be 200,000 light-years across — twice as large as was believed a decade ago. Read More

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

Watch a Magnetic Material Skitter Around

By Bill Andrews | June 13, 2018 12:44 pm

Animated GIF-downsized_large

We’re around magnets so much, it’s easy to forget they’re kind of magic. Not only do magnets make for fun toys, they can attract or repel objects from a distance through an invisible force, they can create electricity (and vice versa) and they can make cool new tools and materials possible.

A team of mechanical engineers from MIT and the New Jersey Institute of Technology has gone down that last path, publishing in Nature today a new method of producing soft, programmable materials. Their little creations can jump, bend, catch, crawl and more, and only look slightly creepy while doing it.

Magnetic Mayhem

Smart materials that can change shape on their own are nothing new, but thanks to their magnetic underpinnings, the team’s creations can transform in just a fraction of a second, and are controlled entirely remotely by altering the magnetic fields in a room.

The key is in their production. The team uses as a base a soft, flexible material (silicone rubber) embedded with ferromagnetic particles (a neodymium-iron-boron alloy) — little bits of stuff that react to magnetic fields. Then they use a 3D printer to create the actual design, but crucially the printer itself is also magnetized, so the magnetic bits are aligned exactly how the designers want. And different parts of the material can be aligned different ways.

As the above video narrates, “The result is a material with a non-uniform polarity, meaning each part of the structure can respond differently to a magnetic charge.”

That’s what gives the lab’s creations so much flexibility and helps impart that lifelike look. Since the things are elastic, as soon as the magnetic field goes away, they can snap back to their regular “resting state” look.

Multi-use Material

It’s not just cool (and creepy). This technique can be useful for novel robot designs and materials constructions, as well as biomedical devices. In one of the examples, the material wrapped up a pill, rolled over a ways and deposited it while crawling away — or, as the authors put it, it transported a pharmaceutical dose. A tiny device that can operate remotely in an enclosed space would be mighty handy for future doctors.

But beyond that, think of the toy possibilities — the kids, and office workers, of the future won’t know how good they have it!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts
MORE ABOUT: materials science

Sobering Finds in Most Comprehensive Study Ever on Antarctic Ice Loss

By Eric Betz | June 13, 2018 12:00 pm
antarctic-ice-melt-rate-increase-triple

Crevasses near the grounding line of Pine Island Glacier, Antarctica. (Credit: Ian Joughin, University of Washington)

Some 3 trillion tons of ice has melted from Antarctica since 1992, and there’s not much time to change course. That’s according to a sweeping group of studies published Wednesday in the journal Nature that looks at the past, present and future of Antarctic ice sheets.

Scientists are calling it the most complete picture ever of ice loss on the southern continent. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, top posts

Dirt Could Help Fight Superbugs

By Mark Barna | June 13, 2018 12:00 pm
dirt-superbugs-antibiotics

(Credit: Shutterstock)

About 23,000 Americans die each year due to a bacterial infection resistant to antibiotics. Since 2010, the number of children infected with bacteria resistant to antibiotics has increased sevenfold.

In recent years, the misuse and overuse of antibiotics led to the superbug phenomenon, in which bacteria that cause illness and disease become resistant to medicines. That makes it harder to treat conditions like pneumonia and food-related illnesses. Read More

Faster Rewards Mean More Motivation

By Lacy Schley | June 13, 2018 9:34 am
rewards-motivation

(Credit: Shutterstock)

It’s just after lunch. You’ve got an assignment due soon, but you’re sleepy and would rather mindlessly browse the internet. How will you find the motivation to get going and actually finish the thing? A new study suggests getting a reward for your work sooner rather than later can help boost your interest in and enjoyment of the task at hand.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts
MORE ABOUT: motivation, psychology, work

Wine And Whines: Listening To Insect Booty Calls To Preserve Vineyards

By Troy Farah | June 11, 2018 2:57 pm
Two leafhoppers mating. (Credit: Umberto Salvagnin)

Two leafhoppers mating. (Credit: Umberto Salvagnin)

For the amount of damage they can cause, leafhoppers are tiny little bastards. One invasive species, the glassy-winged sharpshooter, is only about 12mm long, but the insects are responsible for millions of dollars of damage to crops every year. They use needle-like mouthparts to vacuum up plant sap, at the same time dispersing Xylella fastidiosa, a bacteria that can spread things like phony peach disease, periwinkle wilt, and citrus variegated chlorosis.

One of the most destructive plant infections is the incurable Pierce’s disease, which causes grapevines to shrivel and leads to a condition known as leaf scorch . In the U.S, Pierce’s disease does about $104 million annually in damage. Italy has a similar problem, and it’s now spreading to Britain. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World

To Scare Off Predators, These Lizards Stick Their Tongues Out

By Charles Choi | June 8, 2018 11:06 am
A bluetongue skink in a classic anti-predator display. (Credit: Shane Black)

A bluetongue skink in a classic anti-predator display. (Credit: Shane Black)

When most animals feel threatened, their responses can be divided into two general categories: fight or flight. Bluetongue skinks, though, buck the trend in a most unusual way — when attacked, they stick their tongues out.

Their tongues are bright blue, and the sudden flash of color can be just enough to give potential predators pause and allow the lizards to escape. Now researchers find these tongues don’t just shine in wavelengths visible to humans — they’re also brightly ultraviolet, a new study finds.

Bluetongue skinks are relatively large (in lizard terms), though short-legged, reptiles widely found throughout Australia, eastern Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. They are generally brown, sometimes with dark bands, coloration that helps camouflage them from predators. Their dun color scheme also serves to make their colorful tongues all the more conspicuous. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World
MORE ABOUT: animals
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