When Humans Domesticated the Turkey

By Nathaniel Scharping | November 22, 2016 4:58 pm
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(Credit: dmitro2009/Shutterstock)

As Thanksgiving approaches we all try to remember to count our blessings, but we should also give thanks to the animal that sacrificed it all for our holiday meal — the noble turkey.

Bald eagles aside, turkeys are one of the most recognizable birds native to North America, and their meaty bulk has earned them a place on tables all around the world. Turkeys have been kept for food, and for other purposes, since well before the Pilgrims touched our shores. They were likely an important food source for Native Americans — who may have done more than just hunt them. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: animals, archaeology

The ‘Impossible’ EmDrive Thruster Has Cleared Its First Credibility Hurdle

By Nathaniel Scharping | November 21, 2016 4:52 pm
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The experimental setup of the controversial “EmDrive.” (Credit: White et.al)

After years of unwarranted hype and dubious experimental claims, the EmDrive, an “impossible” propulsion device that claims to produce thrust while violating Newton’s Laws of Motion, has received its first published, peer-reviewed paper.

A team of researchers from the NASA-affiliated Eagleworks lab published a paper last week describing a series of tests on the EmDrive. They say their methodology accounted for nearly all possible errors and returned results indicating that the device produced thrust, an apparent violation of Newton’s Third Law of Motion. The drive works by bouncing microwaves around the inside of a cone-shaped chamber, apparently producing thrust even though nothing is being emitted from the device. This is in opposition to the laws of physics as we understand them, which state that every action must have an equal and opposite reaction. For example, conventional propellant-based rockets are pushed forward by the ejection of superheated gas from the nozzle. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Technology

Genetic Basis of ‘Uncombable Hair Syndrome’ Discovered

By Nathaniel Scharping | November 18, 2016 3:33 pm
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A child with uncombable hair syndrome. (Credit: University of Bonn)

The next time you have a bad hair day, at least you can fix it. Be glad you don’t suffer from “uncombable hair syndrome.”

The condition, which is usually present only in childhood, results in a tangled mess of frizzy hair that leaves the afflicted looking like they’re being perpetually shocked by static electricity. The condition seems to be correlated with light-blonde hair that has a characteristic sheen to it. There have only been around 100 cases reported in the medical literature, under a variety of names. But now researchers have discovered its underlying genetic cause.  Read More

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

Yellowstone Park: America’s Cherished Cauldron of Death

By Nathaniel Scharping | November 18, 2016 10:28 am
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(Kris Wiktor/Shutterstock)

Walking into the wilderness is always dangerous.

That holds true in national parks, where the bounty of paved roads, groomed campsites and friendly rangers can make nature feel downright civilized. The great outdoors still pose risks to tourists and grizzled mountain men alike, whether due to freak accidents — being dissolved in acid — or incidents of regrettable decision-making — putting a bison calf in your trunk. Read More

Brightest-Ever Fast Radio Burst Contains Cosmic Clues

By Shannon Stirone | November 17, 2016 3:08 pm
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(Credit: Swinburne Astronomy Productions)

There’s a long list of scientific discoveries that continue to puzzle researchers around the world, and one of the most mysterious comes in the form of something called Fast Radio Bursts, or FRBs.

Scientists suspect that these extremely bright flashes of light originate from outside of the Milky Way Galaxy, but they still aren’t entirely sure where in the universe they’re coming from, or what kind of event causes them.

Up until last year only 17 had been detected. That changed when the brightest FRB ever discovered was seen by two different telescopes at Parkes Observatory in Australia on August 5, 2015. Published today in the journal Science, a team of researchers from the California Institute of Technology, Curtin University, and CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science center in Australia announced not only that they’d observed the 18th FRB, but it’s also the brightest ever seen. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: cosmology

Doomsday Dinosaur Crater Could Have Sheltered Life

By Eric Betz | November 17, 2016 1:13 pm

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The same sort of cataclysmic impact that wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago could have provided a refuge for life early in Earth’s history, when space rocks regularly pummeled the planet.

That’s the finding of a group of researchers who’ve just completed the first scientific analysis of rock cores collected from the central part of the Chicxulub impact crater off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

This spring, an international team used an offshore drilling platform to core thousands of feet below the ocean floor. They tapped into the crater’s central peak ring, a rocky set of inner ridges or hills that formed during the impact. Then those samples were taken to the International Ocean Discovery Program Core Repository in Bremen, Germany, where scientists examined the rocks for weeks on end.

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: paleontology

You Can Play Pictionary with Google’s AI

By Nathaniel Scharping | November 16, 2016 2:50 pm
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Clearly the author doesn’t often make tea.

With a new collection of eight experiments, Google is opening up its artificial intelligence research to the masses.

Encompassing a few different areas of AI research, the various experiments allow you to play, draw and type along as the computer attempts to guess what you’re up to. The goal is two-fold: allow the uninitiated to experience AI for themselves, and help train the AI. Every time you participate in one of the experiments, you add a little more data to help the computer fine-tune its decision-making algorithms. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts
MORE ABOUT: computers

In Search of a Mathematically Optimized Coffee Brew

By Nathaniel Scharping | November 16, 2016 1:18 pm
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(Credit: Shaiith/Shutterstock)

You can have it dark, light, sweet, bitter, steamed with milk or served with ice. But the perfect cup of coffee remains elusive — perfection is, of course, subjective. We must determine for ourselves what best satisfies our taste buds. But there is a way to objectively approach this task.

Writing in the journal of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, researchers claim to have derived an equation that optimizes the quality of coffee brewed in drip machines. By altering parameters to your liking, you should be able to perfect your home brew. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: physics

Up Close With a Calving Antarctic Iceberg

By Eric Betz | November 15, 2016 1:07 pm
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NASA Goddard sea ice scientist Jeremy Harbeck shot this image of an iceberg calving from the Getz Ice Shelf during a recent Operation IceBridge flight. (Credit: Jeremy Harbeck/NASA)

Last year, an iceberg the size of Manhattan calved off the vast Getz Ice Shelf in West Antarctica and pushed off into the ocean. The shoreline cliffs of this frosty new island, dubbed Iceberg B-34, would rise hundreds of feet above the surface, and stretch some 1,000 feet below the Amundsen Sea. And yet, this sensational event pales in comparison to the persistent melt here. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, top posts

Seabird Poop Is a Force of Nature

By Carl Engelking | November 15, 2016 11:16 am
A guillemot seabird colony. (Credit: Shutterstock)

A guillemot seabird colony. (Credit: Shutterstock)

On planet Earth, nothing goes to waste; everything serves a purpose — including seabird poop.

Between the months of May and September, tens of millions of migratory seabirds converge on the Arctic where they eat, breed and cake the cliff sides with guano. Over time, the nitrogen in seabird droppings breaks down into ammonia, and it’s estimated that colonies emit some 40,000 tons of it into the atmosphere every year.

Now, a team of researchers working in the Canadian Arctic says summertime ammonia emissions from seabird excrement may be a key factor in cloud formation. It’s a surprising new twist in scientists’ ongoing effort to understand clouds, the wild card of climate science. Read More

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