Tobacco Companies Snuff Smoke, But Health Benefits Still Hazy

By Nathaniel Scharping | October 12, 2017 1:41 pm
The IQOS smokeless tobacco product. (Credit: SimonDes/Philip Morris International)

The IQOS smokeless tobacco product. (Credit: SimonDes/Philip Morris International)

Smoking: It’s bad for you. Take the smoke out of smoking, though, and you might be on to something.

That, at least, is the thought process behind newly-emerging smokeless forms of nicotine, the most prominent right now being e-cigarettes. A vape pen just doesn’t deliver the same sweet rush of nicotine and the satisfying “throat hit” smokers crave, though, leaving tobacco companies searching for a better option. Heat-not-burn tobacco products have stepped into that space, promising a nicotine-rich rush of vapor that’s free of the carcinogens that traditional cigarettes deliver. It’s already popular in Japan, and tobacco companies are seeking to gain approval for their products here in the U.S. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
MORE ABOUT: personal health

Motherese Is a Truly Universal Language

By Lacy Schley | October 12, 2017 11:00 am
shutterstock_279908951

(Credit: Shutterstock)

Hang around any mom with a young child and eventually she’ll break out her baby voice. You know the one — the pitch of her voice goes up, her words are simple and exaggerated. It’s sometimes referred to as motherese, but researchers call it infant-directed speech. Whatever you want to call it, it’s pretty vital to little ones’ development. Says Elise Piazza, a neuroscientist at Princeton University, it “helps babies to segment this huge stream of words into the building blocks of language.”

Researchers have known for a while that mothers change these more basic aspects of their speech, such as pitch (how high or low a tone sounds) and word choice, when they’re talking to their infants. But now, Piazza and her team have pinpointed a more subtle change, to something called timbre. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts

FOXSI Flights Could Reveal Why the Sun’s Corona Is So Hot

By Jake Parks | October 11, 2017 2:52 pm
coronaflare

Shown here in X-rays, the Sun’s surface bubbles with activity as solar flares burst forth, spewing fountains of plasma outward. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltect/GSFC)

You have probably heard of solar flares before. These bright eruptions from the Sun’s surface are triggered when knotted magnetic field lines within the Sun suddenly snap and reconnect, accelerating fireballs of plasma outward to distances up to 35 times the diameter of the Earth.

But have you ever heard of nanoflares?

In a study published yesterday in Nature Astronomy, a team of researchers led by Shin-nosuke Ishikawa of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) presented evidence that relatively small explosions called “nanoflares” may be responsible for the mysteriously extreme temperatures found in the Sun’s corona.

The solar corona — the outermost layer of hazy plasma surrounding the Sun that can be viewed during a total solar eclipse — has baffled astronomers for nearly 150 years. While the Sun’s surface only reaches around 5,500 kelvins, the corona can reach staggering temperatures of several million kelvins (1 million kelvins = 1.8 million Fahrenheit).

In order to make their observations, the scientists launched a rocket called the Focusing Optics X-ray Solar Imager (FOXSI) into space for 15 minutes so that seven X-ray telescopes could observe the Sun. The observations captured high-energy light from one region of the Sun that corresponded to temperatures of over 10 million kelvins.

Most interestingly, this region contained no obvious (full-size) solar flares, meaning they could not be responsible for the sweltering heat. Furthermore, if the coronal heat source were uniform and constant, as some alternative theories suggest, the plasma would not reach these tremendous temperatures.

To account for the concentrated and powerful coronal heating they did observe, the team proposed a mechanism whereby many small, intense nanoflares crop up and dissipate quickly, creating pockets of extremely hot plasma. Unfortunately, detecting these relatively faint nanoflares is exceptionally challenging and beyond our current capabilities.

The researchers hope that the next FOXSI flight, slated for August 2018, will hint at more dense, hot pockets of plasma within the Sun’s corona, strengthening the case for nanoflare heating. In the meantime, the team is focused on incorporating nanoflares into coronal models, hopefully bringing theory in line with observation.

 

This article originally appeared in Astronomy.com.

MORE ABOUT: space exploration

Gene Editing: The Path to a Male Contraceptive?

By Nathaniel Scharping | October 11, 2017 1:34 pm
(Credit: Africa Studio/Shutterstock)

(Credit: Africa Studio/Shutterstock)

The search for a suitable male contraceptive has been long and mostly fruitless. Though ideas ranging from hormonal treatments to plugs inserted into the vas deferens have been proposed, none has yet made it to market, and men still rely on either condoms or vasectomies to prevent unwanted pregnancies. A new method interferes with genes responsible for creating new sperm, which could be a more attractive approach.

Snipping out a gene that regulates a key process in the maturation of sperm in mice renders them infertile, found researchers from Michigan State University, a discovery that could pave a path for a male contraceptive based on gene editing. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine

Meet the Comb Jelly, the Sister Species of All Animals

By Nathaniel Scharping | October 10, 2017 3:39 pm
A comb jelly. (Credit: Kondratuk Aleksei/Shutterstock)

A comb jelly. (Credit: Kondratuk Aleksei/Shutterstock)

In the debate over what the first animal was, it comes down to sponge vs. jelly.

And in recent years, researchers worked to settle the score in scientific journals, publishing competing genetic analyses that purport to show either one or the other was the first to diverge from our last common ancestor. This would make it a sister lineage to all other animals, and enshrine it as our most distant relative in the Animal Kingdom. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Uncategorized
MORE ABOUT: animals, evolution

Coal Almost Turned Earth into a Giant Ball of Ice

By Lauren Sigfusson | October 10, 2017 7:42 am
frozen-earth-global-ice-age-carbon-coal

(Credit: Shuttershock)

Coal, it’s the sooty fossil fuel that’s heated our homes and generated electricity for centuries, but millions of years ago its formation could’ve frozen the planet. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, top posts

Dirty Birds Are Refining Climate Models

By Nathaniel Scharping | October 9, 2017 3:26 pm
A comparison of Horned Larks collected inside and outside of industrial areas during the early twentieth century. The specimens on the left were collected in Illinois, inside the U.S. Manufacturing Belt. The specimens on the right were collected along the western coast of North America, away from industry. (Credit: Carl Fuldner and Shane DuBay)

A comparison of Horned Larks collected inside and outside of industrial areas during the early twentieth century. The specimens on the left were collected in Illinois, inside the U.S. Manufacturing Belt. The specimens on the right were collected along the western coast of North America, away from industry. (Credit: Carl Fuldner and Shane DuBay)

Enterprising researchers working at the Field Museum in Chicago dusted off a collection of Horned Larks to get a better look at the dirt trapped in their wings.

That’s because these birds, some more than a century in age, together form a unique, physical record of industrial-era air pollution. Using soot that billowed from smokestacks and onto feathers during the factory boom, two University of Chicago graduate students updated estimates of atmospheric soot levels in the early 20th century, something previously based largely on models. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: animals, pollution

The Moon Once Had An Atmosphere?

By Nathaniel Scharping | October 6, 2017 10:43 am
An artist's conception of the ancient moon with lava venting gases into a thin atmosphere. (Credit: NASA MSFC)

An artist’s conception of the ancient moon with lava venting gases into a thin atmosphere. (Credit: NASA MSFC)

Barren and desolate today, our moon was once swathed by a thin atmosphere.

Born from geothermal eruptions when the moon was still young, gaseous traces of carbon monoxide, sulfur, hydrogen and oxygen once swirled across the moon’s surface, say researchers from NASA. The atmosphere would have persisted for about 70 million years, they estimate, and existed three to four billion years ago, soon after our rocky companion was formed. Read More

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

These Giant Stick Insects Never Disappeared, Genetic Tests Confirm

By Nathaniel Scharping | October 5, 2017 3:07 pm
An adult female Lord Howe Island insect. (Credit: Rohan Cleave, Melbourne Zoo)

An adult female Lord Howe Island insect. (Credit: Rohan Cleave, Melbourne Zoo)

Lord Howe Island stick insects are back for good. Nearly a century ago, they were exiled from their homeland by invasive rats and thought extinct, only to be rediscovered in 2001, confined to a lonely rock spire in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The insects looked different though. They were skinnier and had lost some of their spines, raising questions about their origins.

Now, a new genetic analysis confirms that the two are indeed members of the same species, Dryococelus australis, finally putting the mystery to rest and easing a potential re-introduction of the insects, also called tree lobsters, to Lord Howe Island. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World
MORE ABOUT: animals, ecology

Expensive Meds Can Hurt…Literally

By Carl Engelking | October 5, 2017 2:46 pm
money-meda

(Credit: Shutterstock)

Paying a higher price for something is typically associated with positive benefits. When you shell out more for a thing, you feel it’s faster, stronger, softer or cleaner. You know that premium you paid was worth it.

But when it comes to medication, the association between high price and added benefits is sort of flipped on its head: A medication perceived to be expensive was associated with more negative side effects. That, at least, is a key finding in a new study published Thursday in the journal Science.   Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
MORE ABOUT: sense
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