How Big Is the Andromeda Galaxy?

By Jake Parks | February 15, 2018 10:25 am
andromeda-galaxy

This image of the Andromeda galaxy, captured by NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer, shows the ultraviolet side of our familiar galactic neighbor. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Both the Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxy (M31) are giant spiral galaxies in our local universe. And in about 4 billion years, the Milky Way and Andromeda will collide in a gravitational sumo match that will ultimately bind them forever.

Because astronomers previously thought that Andromeda was up to three times as massive as the Milky Way, they expected that our galaxy would be easily overpowered and absorbed into our larger neighbor. But now, new research suggests we’ve overestimated our opponent.  Read More

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

What’s the Deal With Pulsating Auroras?

By Leah Froats | February 14, 2018 3:30 pm
(Credit: Jonatan Pie/Unsplash)

(Credit:Jonatan Pie/Unsplash)

Auroras, known to many as the northern lights, are a beautiful and mysterious phenomenon. To the casual observer the streaks of colored light across the sky can seem miraculous and inexplicable.

And one kind in particular, called a pulsating aurora, has indeed been mysterious to scientists, who have never been able to directly prove their hypothesis about how it’s formed. Now, armed with better technology, researchers from Japan say they’ve finally caught the aurora in the act. Read More

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

Chemicals in Non-Stick Pans May Contribute to Weight Gain

By Lauren Sigfusson | February 14, 2018 1:52 pm
environmental-chemicals-weight-gain-obesity-pan

Uhoh: Those non-stick pans you love cooking with are often made with a chemical that could contribute to weight gain. (Credit: Shutterstock)

More than 38 percent of American adults and 17 percent of American children are obese. And while there are numerous ways to shed pounds, it’s often difficult for many people to keep them off. It turns out some common items regularly used by people across the world could be the culprit.

study released Tuesday in PLOS Medicine suggests that perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) could be contributing to weight gain and lead to obesity. Since the 1950s, these environmental chemicals have been used in food packaging, non-stick cookware, stain resistant fabrics and carpets, water-repellent clothing, and even some cosmetics. These manmade compounds’ effects on humans aren’t well known, but past studies on animals have shown they may disrupt the endocrine system, or the collection of glands that produce hormones. PFASs have also been linked to cancer, immune issues and high cholesterol. Read More

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

Cryptocurrency Mining Is Hampering the Search for E.T.

By Carl Engelking | February 14, 2018 1:34 pm
shutterstock_744928594

GPUs on a cryptocurrency mining rig. (Credit: Shutterstock)

Mining for cryptocurrencies isn’t just gobbling up capacity on electrical grids around the world, it might also be slowing the search for extraterrestrial life.

Mining cryptos like Bitcoin require miners to solve wickedly complex mathematical puzzles to validate each transaction. For their efforts, miners receive a small payment for each puzzle they solve, but the process requires a crapload of computing power. To reap profits, miners rely on graphics processing units (GPUs) that are high-performance computer chips that were first used to power video games. Miners have found success stringing thousands of these things together to maximize their ability to solve puzzles and make profits. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts
MORE ABOUT: computers

Photographed: The Glow from a Single, Hovering Strontium Atom

By Carl Engelking | February 14, 2018 12:56 pm
single-atom-zoom

That pale blue dot in between two metal electrodes is a single strontium atom. (Credit: David Nadlinger)

In the photo above, you’re looking at a single, positively charged strontium atom suspended by electric fields.

It’s an atom, visible to the naked eye.

Whoa, right?

David Nadlinger, a quantum physicist and PhD candidate at Oxford University, is the person who put it all together. He titled his picture “Single Atom in an Ion Trap.” A blue-violet laser blasts the atom, which then absorbs and re-emits enough light particles to be photographed with conventional equipment. So, technically, you’re seeing light emitted from an atom and not the atom itself. Two metal electrodes generate electric fields that hold the atom nearly motionless. For perspective, the space between the two metal forks is roughly 2 millimeters. Read More

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

When Earth Was a Snowball, the Moon May Have Grown a Bulge

By Amber Jorgenson | February 14, 2018 10:42 am

the-moon

Although the moon looks quite spherical from the ground, it is flatter at its poles and wider at its equator, a trait known as an equatorial bulge. This characteristic is common; it’s usually caused by an object’s rotation around its axis. However, it’s been noted that the moon’s bulge is about 20 times larger than it should be given its rotational rate of once per month.

Outlined in a paper published this month in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder created an innovative model to study the disproportionate bulge and determine the conditions needed for its formation. They found that the bulge formed over hundreds of millions of years during the Hadean time (when the solar system was forming roughly 4 billion years ago). However, for the bulge to form this slowly, Earth’s tidal forces would have needed to be much weaker than they are today. The weak tidal forces suggest that Earth’s water was less mobile — in other words, frozen — during this time period. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Uncategorized

Following Battles, Ant Medics Treat Their Wounded Comrades

By Charles Choi | February 13, 2018 6:00 pm
Megaponera-(injured-carried)

An African ant, Megaponera analis, carries an injured soldier from the battlefield. (Credit: Erik Frank)

Ants that hunt termites can risk getting grievously injured in battle, but that doesn’t mean its the end of the line.

In a newly published study, scientists observed ant medics caring for their wounded comrades, which may be the first scientifically documented example of such medical care in the animal kingdom outside humanity.

The African ant Megaponera analis specializes in hunting termites. After scouts of this ant species find termite feeding sites, the scouts lead columns of 200 to 600 fighters back to capture and kill termite prey.

“The colony only has between 10 to 20 scouts at a time looking for food, and these scouts make all the important decisions about where to forage and how large the army should be that goes out,” said study lead author Erik Frank, a behavioral ecologist who carried out this research at the Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg in Germany. “Thus 1 percent of the colony is responsible for the success of the other 99 percent.” Read More

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

In Iceland, Bitcoin Mining Could Suck Up More Energy Than Homes

By Nathaniel Scharping | February 13, 2018 3:04 pm
Reykjavik, in Iceland. (Credit: Boyloso/Shutterstock)

Reykjavik, in Iceland. (Credit: Boyloso/Shutterstock)

Mining bitcoin is not a task for your average Joe. As far back as 2014, researchers estimated that profitable bitcoin mining was out of the reach of commercial hardware. The increasing difficulty of solving the equations that yield the digital currency means that it takes an entire server farm today to make it worth it. And you also might have to move to Iceland. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology

Step Aboard the Moa Poop Time Machine

By Charlotte Hu | February 13, 2018 12:27 pm
Giant_moa

An illustration of giant moas. (Wikimedia Commons)

Coprolites, or fossilized dung, double as ecological time capsules, preserving an incredible collection of information about past ecosystems.

In Middle Earth (a.k.a. New Zealand) researchers from the University of Adelaide’s Australian Centre for DNA (ACAD) and Landcare Research NZ reconstructed a pre-civilization community using a bird dung time machine. Dung samples were amassed from numerous sites across the continent. The donors: four species of ratite birds including the extinct giant moa and the critically endangered kakapo parrot, all of which are endemic to the continent. In its heyday, the moa was the dominant herbivore in New Zealand. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: unusual organisms

Man’s Chronic Pain Disappears After Vigorous, Cold-Water Swim

By Carl Engelking | February 12, 2018 5:45 pm
shutterstock_152834912

(Credit: Shutterstock)

Those polar plunge nuts—you know, the people who strip to their skivvies in February and jump into freezing water—might be on to something.

According to doctors from the United Kingdom, a 28-year-old man who had been complaining of persistent, post-operative pain was cured after jumping into incredibly cold water for a vigorous 60-second, intense swim. Roughly two months prior to his swim, the man had undergone an endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy procedure to treat his severe facial blushing. In this procedure, a portion of the sympathetic nerve trunk is destroyed to treat excessive sweating, blushing and Raynaud’s disease. Read More

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