Welcome to Science Saturday, where the Overnight News Digest crew, consisting of founder Magnifico, regular editors maggiejean, wader, Man Oh Man, side pocket, rfall, and JML9999, alumni editors palantir, Bentliberal, Oke, jlms qkw, Interceptor7, and ScottyUrb, guest editor annetteboardman, and current editor-in-chief Neon Vincent, along with anyone else who reads and comments, informs and entertains you with this week's news about science, space, health, energy, and the environment.
This week's featured story comes from LiveScience.
Global Price Tag for Arctic Thawing: $60 Trillion
By Becky Oskin, Staff Writer
July 24, 2013 12:54pm ET
The beautiful, stark scenery of the Arctic may be priceless, but the warming of the region could come at a great cost to the world.More stories after the jump.
The Arctic's rapid warming could cost the global economy more than $60 trillion if melting permafrost releases huge quantities of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, a new study finds. The cost nearly mirrors the $70 trillion size of the world economy in 2012.
Permanently frozen ground, called permafrost, beneath the Arctic's East Siberian Sea could belch out 50 billion tons of methane at any time, researchers said in an analysis published today (July 24) in the journal Nature. More than a trillion tons of methane is thought to be trapped in the Arctic Ocean's icy marine sediments in the form of what are called methane hydrates, some of it in shallow water.
Recent Science Diaries and Stories
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by War on Error
The little green organism that might save the world
This week in science
ITV (UK): The mystery of the St Pancras walrus
Archaeologists have been left baffled by the discovery of walrus bones in a coffin under St Pancras Station.
They were found during excavations at the station, before it was refurbished to become the new Eurostar terminal.
Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for this story.
National Geographic: The Corpse Flower: Behind the Stink
After an anxious wait, the famous corpse flower finally bloomed at the US Botanic Garden. While many visitors expected to smell the flower's powerful scent, a few were a little disappointed. Learn the science behind the corpse flower's smell.
Discovery News: Is Sex Addiction A Real Disorder?
Can sex addiction really be placed into the same category as drug and alcohol addiction? Laci Green explains this conundrum facing psychologists.
We all know atomic clocks keep the most accurate time of any clock out there-- but our idea of time is about to get a whole lot more precise. It's called an optical lattice clock, and trust us, it's gonna rock your world!
NASA Explorer: NASA | Projected U.S. Temperature Changes by 2100
The average temperature across the continental U.S. could be 8 degrees Fahrenheit warmer by the end of the 21st century under a climate scenario in which concentrations of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide rise to 800 parts per million. Current concentrations stand at 400 parts per million, and are rising faster than at any time in Earth's history.
These visualizations -- which highlight computer model projections from the draft National Climate Assessment -- show how average temperatures could change across the U.S. in the coming decades under two different carbon dioxide emissions scenarios.
Both scenarios project significant warming. A scenario with lower emissions, in which carbon dioxide reaches 550 parts per million by 2100, still projects average warming across the continental U.S. of 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
NASA Explorer: NASA | Projected U.S. Precipitation Changes by 2100
The climate of the southwestern U.S. could be a lot drier by 2100. The climate of the northeastern U.S. could be a lot wetter.
New visualizations of computer model projections show how precipitation patterns could change across the U.S. in the coming decades under two different carbon dioxide emissions scenarios. The two climate scenarios, based on "low" and "high" levels of carbon dioxide emissions, highlight results from the draft National Climate Assessment.
Both scenarios project that dry regions get drier and regions that see more rain and snow would see that trend increase. The scenario with lower emissions, in which carbon dioxide reaches 550 parts per million by 2100, projects more subtle changes. The scenario with higher carbon dioxide emissions projects changes in average annual precipitation of 10 percent or more in some regions.
NASA Explorer: NASA | Seeing Photosynthesis from Space
NASA scientists have discovered a new way to use satellites to measure what's occurring inside Earth's land plants at a cellular level.
During photosynthesis, plants emit what is called fluorescence -- a form of light invisible to the naked eye but detectable by satellites orbiting hundreds of miles above Earth. NASA scientists established a method to turn this satellite data into global maps of the subtle phenomenon in more detail than ever before.
The new maps -- produced by Joanna Joiner of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and colleagues -- provide a 16-fold increase in spatial resolution and a 3-fold increase in temporal resolution over the first proof-of-concept maps released in 2011. Improved global measurements could have implications for farmers interested in early indications of crop stress, and ecologists looking to better understand global vegetation and carbon cycle processes.
"For the first time, we are able to globally map changes in fluorescence over the course of a single month," Joiner said. "This lets us use fluorescence to observe, for example, variation in the length of the growing season."
NASA Television: A Remote Possibility on This Week @NASA
During a test of NASA's Human Exploration Telerobotics Project, astronaut Luca Parmitano, aboard the International Space Station remotely controlled a robotic planetary rover, called K-10 across the terrain at Ames Research Center's Roverscape. The project is a demonstration of how astronauts in space can control robots on the ground for future exploration missions. Also, Wave at Saturn ,Making Tracks on Mars!, IRIS Open, A Box Office Hit!, Tech on the Hill, The Ring Fits, Only Two Chutes?, Spacecraft Fit Check, Newspace 2013, N.E.X.T. for Space Travel, Let's Talk S.T.E.M., Celebrating Sally , and more!
Science at NASA: ScienceCasts: Perseid Fireballs
New research from NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office identifies the Perseids as the "fireball champion" of annual meteor showers. This year's Perseid display peaks on August 12th and 13th.
Is this how the Star Trek medical/environment scanner started out? Scanadu CEO Walter DeBrouwer scans SPACE.com's Clara Moskowitz with his company's non-invasive wireless device and tells her whats under the hood ... in more ways than one.Also see the story under Health/Biotechnology.
Space.com via Yahoo! News: Comet ISON Blazes with Distant Galaxies in Stunning Hubble Photo
July 26, 2013
A spectacular new photo gives a deep-space view of Comet ISON, which could put on a dazzling show when it zooms through the inner solar system in late November.
The image - which researchers stitched together from five photos of ISON taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope on April 30 - shows the icy wanderer blazing against a backdrop of galaxies and bright stars.
Space.com via Yahoo! News: Summer Streakers: The Summer Meteor Showers of 2013
by Joe Rao, Skywatching Columnist
Get ready to start looking up this summer.
For Northern Hemisphere observers, the latter half of July on into August is usually regarded as "meteor viewing season," with one of the best displays of the year reaching its peak in mid-August.
The annual Perseid meteor shower is beloved by everyone from meteor enthusiasts to summer campers, and 2013 will be an excellent one for the Perseids. The moon will set before midnight on the peak nights of Aug. 11 and 12, meaning dark skies for prospective observers.
Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for these stories.
Space.com: Martian Meteorites May Be Younger Than Thought, Studies Suggest
by Charles Q. Choi, SPACE.com Contributor
July 24, 2013 03:09pm ET
The riddle of the age of meteorites from Mars might now be solved, with researchers finding these rocks from the Red Planet might not be billions of years old as some studies have suggested.
The new findings shed light on when the Martian crust formed, suggesting the Red Planet has a relatively young, volcanic crust with an ancient, largely inactive, mantle layer below it, scientists added.
Meteorites from Mars occasionally crash land on Earth, and were likely blasted off the planet by cosmic impacts. Known Martian meteorites are very rare — only about 220 pounds (100 kilograms) have been found.
LiveScience: Arctic Methane Claims Questioned
By Becky Oskin, Staff Writer
July 26, 2013 05:19pm ET
A scientific controversy erupted this week over claims that methane trapped beneath the Arctic Ocean could suddenly escape, releasing huge quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas, in coming decades, with a huge cost to the global economy.
The issue being debated is this: Could the Arctic seafloor really fart out 50 billion tons of methane in the next few decades? In a commentary published in the journal Nature on Wednesday (July 24), researchers predicted that the rapid shrinking of Arctic sea ice would warm the Arctic Ocean, thawing permafrost beneath the East Siberian Sea and releasing methane gas trapped in the sediments. The big methane belch would come with a $60 trillion price tag, due to intensified global warming from the added methane in the atmosphere, the authors said.
But climate scientists and experts on methane hydrates, the compound that contains the methane, quickly shot down the methane-release scenario.
LiveScience: Weird Weather: Dry Seasons Start Earlier, Are Wetter
By Becky Oskin, Staff Writer
July 25, 2013 10:36am ET
Call it weird, call it extreme, maybe even call it the new normal. Wild weather in the United States in the past decade has amassed a long list of toppled records and financial disasters.
Some of these exceptional weather events included unusually heavy rain and snow. Now, a new study confirms that everywhere except in the Atlantic Plains region, more rain and snow is falling during wet and dry seasons alike. The Atlantic Plains are the flatlands along the central and southern Atlantic Coast that stretch from Massachusetts to Mississippi. On average, the total precipitation in the contiguous United States has increased 5.9 percent, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
What's more, the timing has changed too. In some parts of the United States, dry seasons are arriving earlier and wet seasons are starting later than they did 80 years ago. The time shift does not necessarily extend the length of dry or wet seasons, because most areas have transitional periods in between these precipitation extremes. In the Ohio River Valley, the fall dry season starts two to three weeks earlier today, the researchers report. In east New York, the wet season now kicks off on Jan. 8 instead of Feb. 1. And in the Southwest, the summer monsoon is starting later than it did during the middle of the 20th century.
LiveScience: Pesticides Contaminating Critters in California's National Parks
By Becky Oskin, Staff Writer
July 26, 2013 12:06pm ET
Pesticides from California's valley farms are collecting in the tissues of a singing treefrog that lives in pristine national parks, including Yosemite and Giant Sequoia, a new study finds.
The chemicals include two fungicides never before found in wild frogs, said Kelly Smalling, lead study author and a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) research hydrologist. The study was published today (July 26) in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.
"Fungicides have been registered for use for many years, but for some reason, they haven't really been on anybody's radar screen until recently," said Smalling, who is based at the USGS California Water Sciences Center in Sacramento.
Space.com: Real-Life 'Star Trek' Tricorder Project Raises $1 Million - See more at: http://www.space.com/21695-scanadu-scout-tricorder-star-trek.html#sthash.MkqkDi6r.dpuf
by Clara Moskowitz, SPACE.com Assistant Managing Editor
June 24, 2013 05:00pm ET
"Star Trek" fans may soon get a chance to have their own Dr. McCoy moment with the world's first real-life medical tricorder, which will be available to the public soon thanks to a crowdfunding campaign that raised more than $1 million for the Space Age technology.
On "Star Trek," Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy used a medical tricorder to scan patients and immediately diagnose their ailments. While the new real-life version, called the Scanadu Scout, is missing some of the features of its science fiction counterpart — namely the ability to make internal scans and complex diagnoses — it still can be a handy device for medical checkups on the go.
Within about 10 seconds of pressing the Scanadu Scout to your forehead with thumb and forefinger, the tool reads out your heart rate, temperature, oximetry (blood oxygen level), respiratory rate, blood pressure, stress and electrocardiography (ECG).
LiveScience: Why MERS is Not the New SARS
By Rachael Rettner, Senior Writer
July 25, 2013 06:30pm ET
The new virus that causes Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) has been compared to that of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) — the viruses belong to the same family, and are particularly deadly to infected people — however, the two conditions have some important differences, a new study says.
While MERS appears to be more deadly in those it infects, it also seems to be less contagious than SARS, the researchers said.
The evidence so far also suggests it's unlikely that MERS will follow a similar path to SARS, the researchers said.
LiveScience: Moods and Booze: Alcohol's Effects Different in Men and Women
By Lauren Cox, Contributing writer
July 26, 2013 10:27pm ET
Gender may influence which emotions drive heavy drinkers to drink, and how they feel the next day, according to new research. But the study also showed that neither men nor women who drink heavily effectively drown their sorrows with alcohol.
"Some people say they want to use alcohol to improve their mood, and that's not what we found happening," said Valerie S. Harder, lead author of the study, published in June in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism.
For men, anger drove drinking. According to Harder's findings, a man who felt angry was more likely to drink the next day than a man who didn't feel as angry.
LiveScience: Device Uses Handwriting to Detect Neurological Disorders
Bobbie Mixon, National Science Foundation
July 26, 2013 02:22pm ET
Each year, more than 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, a degenerative disorder that attacks the central nervous system, causing tremors, rigidity, slowness of movement and loss of balance. Detecting it can be difficult, however, especially in early stages. Now, to detect and study neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's, researchers have built a system that records signals from hand muscles during handwriting.
Motor neurons transmit electrical signals to muscles to make them contract. Electromyography (EMG) is a process that records and graphs such electrical activity to yield information about the condition of a subject's muscles and the nerve cells that control them. In the new detection system, a test subject attaches EMG surface electrodes to his or her hand and wears a glove to hold the electrodes in place. The subject then writes on a tablet, repeating simple, stereotyped hand movements that involve two basic motor components: firmly holding a pen by the fingers and moving the hand and the fingers to produce written text. The results are collected from both the tablet and the surface EMG electrodes.
Red Orbit: Psychopaths Can Feel Empathy, Just Not Like The Rest Of Us
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
July 25, 2013
Psychopaths have long been portrayed as non-sympathetic individuals incapable to empathizing with others and therefore very capable of causing others pain.
Now, however, new research from the Netherlands has found that individuals with psychopathy are in fact capable of feeling empathy, but less readily than others without the condition, according to a report in the journal Brain.
Researchers said the Dutch government’s focus on their penal system allowed them to conduct research on psychopathic criminals that would be difficult to conduct in other countries.
Agence France Presse via Japan Times: Ancient flint blade found in Spain
Jul 25, 2013
MADRID – Archaeologists said Wednesday they have found a flint blade dating back 1.4 million years in the caves of Atapuerca in Spain, the earliest sign of a human presence at the site.
The 3-cm-long blade was found in the so-called Elephant Chasm cave, where researchers in 2007 found a human finger and jawbone dating back 1.2 million years — considered the remains of the “oldest European” ever found.
USA Today: Grisly Egyptian mummy mysteries unraveled
Dan Vergano @dvergano, USA TODAY
2:43 p.m. EDT July 21, 2013
Mummy myths and modern science battle it out in today's studies of the ancient dead of the Kingdom on the Nile.
Mummies and myths go together, with a touch of ghoulish fascination with ancient tombs for added interest, but modern science is shedding a little light on some of our more musty ideas about ancient Egypt's dead.
Even as modern-day Egypt seethes with political turmoil, scholarship into the mortuary practices of that ancient land is enjoying a renaissance.
United Press International: Rare bronze head unearthed in central China
WUHAN, China, July 20 (UPI) -- Archeologists in China unearthed a rare bronze head with two faces believed to be more than 3,000 years old, officials said.
Gazzetta del Sud (Italy): Hellenic mosaic discovered in massive Italian find
Archaeology students uncover pre-Christian art
(ANSA) – Monasterace (Reggio Calabria), July 23 – Students on an archaeological dig near the southern Italian town of Monasterace have uncovered an important and ancient mosaic, authorities said Tuesday. The large mosaic, likely of ancient Greek origins, was discovered near another major find announced last fall by archaeologist Francesco Cuteri. Cuteri says he is pleased that students from Argentina and Italy made the latest mosaic discovery, which he added is an important find. "The discovery is of extraordinary importance because it is the largest Hellenic mosaic of Magna Grecia (an area of southern Italy)," he said.
Hurriyet Daily News (Turkey): Fourth pillar revealed at Sagalassos old city
BURDUR - Anadolu Agency
The fourth honorary pillarbelonging to the agora of Sagalassos has been discovered through the excavations. The pillar has special and unique features and dates back to the first century B.C.
The latest excavations at the ancient city of Sagalassos, in the southwestern province of Burdur’s Ag(lasun district, have uncovered the fourth “honorary pillar” of the city’s agora. “They started the 2013 excavation season two weeks ago and the hamam, city mansion, library and neighborhoods have been revealed,” said Sagalassos ancient city excavation vice president and architect Ebru Torun.
LiveScience: Viking Jewelry Unearthed in Denmark
Owen Jarus, LiveScience Contributor
Several pieces of Viking jewelry, some of which contain gold, have been uncovered at a farm site in Denmark that dates as far back as 1,300 years.
Although the Vikings have a popular reputation as being raiders, they were also farmers, traders and explorers, and the craftsmanship seen in this jewelry demonstrates their artistic skills.
Hurriyet Daily News (Turkey): Edirne Palace restorations reveal Ottoman era culture
ISTANBUL - Anadolu Agency
The Edirne Palace restorations are continuing with new cultural assets due to recent excavations. The excavations reveal Ottoman cuisine culture
The restoration of Edirne Palace, where Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II planned his conquest of Istanbul and which was set on fire by Governor Cemil Pasha before the Russian occupation in 1878, is continuing, daily Sabah has reported.
Mustafa Özer, the head of Edirne “Yeni Saray” excavations, has announced that items such as kitchen utensils that have been found in recent excavations shed light on the Ottoman cuisine culture, referring to Matbah-? Amire (palace kitchens).
Red Orbit: European Fort Discovered In The Appalachian Mountains
April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
July 24, 2013
A team of archaeologists, led by the University of Michigan, has discovered the remains of the earliest European fort in the interior of what is now the United States. This find will provide new insight into the beginning of the US colonial era, and the all-too-human reasons spoiling Spanish dreams of gold and glory.
In 1567, nearly 20 years before Sir Walter Raleigh’s colony at Roanoke was lost and 40 years before the Jamestown settlement was established, Spanish Captain Juan Pardo and his men built Fort San Juan in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.
“Fort San Juan and six others that together stretched from coastal South Carolina into eastern Tennessee were occupied for less than 18 months before the Native Americans destroyed them, killing all but one of the Spanish soldiers who manned the garrisons,” said University of Michigan archaeologist Robin Beck, assistant professor in the U-M Department of Anthropology and assistant curator at the U-M Museum of Anthropology.
Irish Times: US archaeologists unearth Inishbofin village
Short-lived settlement may have been wiped out by early 19th century famine
July 19, 2013
US archaeologists have excavated part of a “lost” village on the Galway island of Inishbofin which may have been wiped out by an early 19th century famine.
The team of 10 archaeologists from University of Notre Dame in Indiana have spent the last month working on the island, focusing on the remains of 14 houses on the southeast corner.
The settlement known as “Poirtins”, named after a little port, was well known to islanders.
The Journal (UK): 200-year-old railway discovered along banks of River Tyne
26 Jul 2013 08:05
Archaeologists digging on the site of the former Neptune shipyard in Walker, Newcastle have discovered a 200-year-old wooden railway
The discovery of a wooden railway more than 200 years old on the banks of the Tyne has been hailed as a find of international importance.
The 25-metre stretch of waggonway from the end of the 18th Century is the earliest surviving example of the standard gauge railway.
The Baltimore Sun: In Easton, archaeologists hope to uncover earliest free African-American settlement
Students, researchers and community members dig into history of The Hill
By Pamela Wood, The Baltimore Sun
8:32 p.m. EDT, July 25, 2013
In Easton, an untold story of free African-Americans is being discovered through bits of glass, shards of pottery and oyster shells.
Piece by piece, archaeologists and historians from two universities and the community are uncovering the history of The Hill, which they believe is the earliest settlement of free African-Americans in the United States, dating to 1790.
Treme, in New Orleans, is recognized as the oldest free black community in the nation, dating to 1812. But researchers say that could change based on findings from the Easton dig
"It's not just a black story. It's an American story," said Dale Green, a Morgan State University professor of architecture and historic preservation.
NBC 10 Philadelphia: Thousands Buried Beneath Philly Playground
Underneath the swing sets of an urban playground in the Queen Village neighborhood of South Philadelphia are the forgotten remains of an estimated 3,000 African-Americans
By Peter Crimmins | NewsWorks.org
| Friday, Jul 26, 2013
This week, a team of archaeologists broke the asphalt in four places at Weccecoe Park, digging to a depth of 3 feet to uncover evidence of the 19th century burial site. On Thursday morning, the fourth and final trench revealed a single gravestone.
"Amelia Brown, 1819, Aged 26 years" is clearly carved into the white stone, with this epitaph:
"Whosoever live and believeth in me, though we be dead, yet shall we live."
National Geographic News: Artifact Trove on Deepest Shipwreck Explored off U.S.
Deepest wreck under investigation in U.S. waters holds well-preserved clues to its mission and crew.
Published July 25, 2013
A team of researchers excavating a 19th-century shipwreck in the Gulf of Mexico—the deepest wreck currently under excavation in U.S. waters—has found more than they had hoped for, including two other ships that appear to have been sunk at the same time.
Artifacts such as eyeglasses, navigational equipment, and telescopes indicate that no one made it off the copper-clad ship—dubbed the "Monterey Shipwreck," noted James Delgado, director of maritime heritage with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA's) Office of Marine Sanctuaries.
Der Spiegel (Germany): German Subs: Sunken WWI U-Boats a Bonanza for Historians
By Frank Thadeusz
British archaeologists recently discovered more than 40 German U-boats sunk during World War I off the coast of England. Now they are in a race against time to learn the secrets hidden in their watery graves.
On the old game show "What's My Line?" Briton Mark Dunkley might have been described with the following words: "He does what many adventurers around the world can only dream of doing."
Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for these stories.
News24 (South Africa): Archaeologist 'hobbit' discoverer dies
Sydney - The Australian archaeologist who rocked the science world with his discovery of a tiny new species of human known as the "hobbit" has died after a year-long battle with cancer, his university said on Wednesday.
Mike Morwood, the professor who was instrumental in the discovery of Homo floresiensis in 2003, died on Tuesday, the University of Wollongong said. He was 62.
"It was the adventure of a lifetime for Mike," long-time colleague Bert Roberts said of the revelation on the Indonesian island of Flores which shook the scientific community and the world's understanding of human evolution.
Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for this story.
LiveScience: Dinosaur-Killing Comet Didn't Wipe Out Freshwater Species
Charles Q. Choi, LiveScience Contributor | July 26, 2013 09:24am ET
The cosmic impact that ended the age of dinosaurs killed many living creatures on land and in the sea, but scientists have found, puzzlingly, that life in freshwater largely escaped this fate.
Now new research, detailed online July 11 in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Biogeosciences, suggests freshwater life survived extinction because they were better adapted to withstand rapid changes in their surroundings, which helped them outlast the crises in the wake of the catastrophe.
The mass extinction event the scientists studied (also the most recent and most familiar) is known as the K-T event or, more recently, the K-Pg event. The disaster, which killed off at least 75 percent of all species on Earth, including all dinosaurs except for birds, was apparently triggered by a cosmic impact that occurred in what is now Mexico about 65 million years ago.
LiveScience: Minor Earthquake Shakes Central California
by Megan Gannon, News Editor
July 24, 2013 12:53pm ET
An earthquake of preliminary magnitude 4.3 struck today in central California, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
The temblor's epicenter was 12 miles (19 km) south of Weldon, Calif., a town about an hour's drive east of Bakersfield. The quake originated 1.9 miles (3 km) deep and struck at 9:46 a.m. local time (1646 UTC), the USGS reports. Weak to light shaking was reported in the region.
The Motley Fool: How Much Nuclear Waste Does Your State Hold?
By Maxx Chatsko
July 27, 2013
One of the biggest critiques of nuclear energy is that it produces radioactive waste in the form of used nuclear fuel, or UNF. While the amounts are relatively small -- just 20 metric tons per power plant annually -- they remain radioactive for periods of time that are difficult for humans to comprehend. The waste adds up across the 100 nuclear reactors currently in operation across the United States. At last count, the country's atomic fleet had produced approximately 69,720 metric tons of UNF over the past four decades.
Where does it all go? Power plants first store waste on-site in steel-lined concrete pools. After maxing out capacity, however, waste is stored in large dry casks similar to the ones pictured above. They may look intimidating, but there has never been a radiation leak since dry storage techniques were implemented in 1986.
Phew! No worries. But really, do you live in a state that hoards radioactive waste?
Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for this story.
National Geographic News: Mojave Mirrors: World's Largest Solar Plant Ready to Shine
For National Geographic
Published July 25, 2013
The Ivanpah Valley of the Mojave Desert in California is home to spiky yucca trees, long-nosed leopard lizards, loggerhead shrikes, and a rare species of tortoise—and soon, the largest solar thermal energy plant in the world.
More than six years in the making, the Ivanpah plant is now slated to begin generating power before summer's end. It was designed by BrightSource Energy to use more than 170,000 mirrors to focus sunlight onto boilers positioned atop three towers, which reach nearly 500 feet (150 meters) into the dry desert air. The reflected sunlight heats water in the boilers to make steam, which turns turbines to generate electricity—enough to power more than 140,000 homes.
LiveScience: Bizarre 'Schrodinger's Cat' Comes Alive in New Experiments
Jesse Emspak, LiveScience ContributorJuly 22, 2013 12:22pm ET
The strangeness of the world of the very small that allows a particle to be in two states at once may extend to larger scales, two new studies reveal. If the research proves true, that would bolster the validity of a thought experiment suggesting a cat can be both alive and dead at the same time.
The idea, called Schrödinger's Cat after the physicist,Erwin Schrödinger, who proposed it in 1935, goes like this: Put a cat in a box with a vial of poison gas. The vial opens when a tiny piece of radioactive metal emits an alpha particle (the nucleus of a helium atom) as it decays. Emitting an alpha particle is a quantum-mechanical process, which means that whether it happens in any given stretch of time is basically random.
Quantum mechanics says that it's impossible to know whether the radioactive decay has happened (and the cat is dead) unless one measures it — that is, unless the alpha particle interacts with the environment in some way that an observer can see. Until that happens, the alpha particle is emitted and not emitted at the same time. The cat is both dead and alive, a state called superposition. Opening the box is a measurement — one sees the effect of an alpha particle as the dead cat, or the absence of an alpha particle as a live one.
American Chemical Society via Science Daily: Ancient Technology for Metal Coatings 2,000 Years Ago Can't Be Matched Even Today
July 24, 2013
Artists and craftsmen more than 2,000 years ago developed thin-film coating technology unrivaled even by today's standards for producing DVDs, solar cells, electronic devices and other products. Understanding these sophisticated metal-plating techniques from ancient times, described in the ACS journal Accounts of Chemical Research, could help preserve priceless artistic and other treasures from the past.
Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for this story.
Science Crime Scenes
Hurriyet Daily News (Turkey): Historical ruins destroyed in Besiktas’s stadium in central Istanbul
Elif Ince ISTANBUL – Radikal
Historical ruins including a vaulted ceiling were intentionally destroyed yesterday with heavy construction equipment in I.nönü Stadium, which is undergoing reconstruction, despite the Istanbul Archaeology Museums’ appointment of archaeologists to inspect the area.
The legendary Inönü Stadium of Besiktas, one of Turkey’s biggest football clubs, in the Besiktas district along the Bosphorus shore is being replaced with a more modern and lucrative one.
Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for this story.
Science, Space, Environment, and Energy Policy
National Geographic News: Desert Storm: Battle Brews Over Obama Renewable Energy Plan
For National Geographic
Published July 24, 2013
America's deserts are stark, quiet places, where isolation and the elements have long kept development at bay. To outsiders, these arid expanses may not seem like prized land.
But they are poised to play a key role—and perhaps, to serve as a battleground—in President Obama's plan to double U.S. electricity from wind, solar, and geothermal sources by 2020. To help ramp up that amount of clean energy, the White House has urged approval of an additional 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy production on public lands.
Estimates vary on exactly how many households would be served by the expansion, but the Obama Administration says the 25 utility-scale solar facilities, nine wind farms, and 11 geothermal plants it has approved on federal lands so far will provide enough juice to power 4.4 million homes.
LiveScience: Blowout Raises Questions About Tar-Sands Oil (Op-Ed)
Danielle Droitsch, Natural Resources Defense Council
July 25, 2013 10:04pm ET
As new evidence is revealing that the blowout of a tar-sands well has been causing oil to leak for over four months - contaminating a large area of Canada's Boreal Forest and killing animals - a new report reveals that Alberta's regulatory system to prevent and enforce tar-sands operations is lax and failing.
The blowout from Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.'s Primrose tar-sands drilling operation was not revealed to the public until an anonymous government scientist leaked it to the press. According to a Mother Jones article, the spill - which has released at least 4,500 barrels of tar-sands oil - was reported to have started on May 21 and was still releasing oil as of Tuesday, July 23. The ongoing blowout, coupled with the report on the province's failed regulatory program, raises questions about oversight of the tar-sands industry - especially given that neither the Alberta government nor the company has confirmed the cause of the blowout, the rate of seepage or a plan to stop the spill. It also raises questions about this particular method of tar-sands extraction, called "in situ," which is projected to be the dominant way that the industry extracts tar sands in the coming years.
This spill also underscores that, despite its outward appearance of appearing less impactful, in situ tar-sands development comes with major risks. Moreover, in situ tar sands development is significantly more carbon-intensive than tar sands strip-mining operations - an important element for the Obama administration to consider as it makes a decision over the proposed Keystone XL tar-sands pipeline.
National Geographic News: Fusion Energy Quest Faces Boundaries of Budget, Science
For National Geographic
Published July 26, 2013
A large banner hangs from the front of the stadium-size building that houses the world's most powerful array of lasers: "Bringing Star Power To Earth."
For the past four years, physicists at the National Ignition Facility, or NIF, in Livermore, California, have been trying to harness nuclear fusion, the same reaction that powers the sun and the stars. Supporters of the $3.5 billion facility believe that a successful outcome to the experiments could help usher in an era of nearly limitless energy. But the ambitious fusion research program at NIF now faces an uncertain future, both politically and scientifically.
On the political side, President Obama's proposed budget for fiscal year 2014 would reduce funding for fusion experiments at NIF by more than $60 million, putting it nearly 14 percent below the 2013 level. Key committees in both the House and Senate favor restoring part of NIF's funding, and a compromise will eventually emerge, but budget constraints aren't the only challenge facing NIF. Physicists working on the project expected to have succeeded in their quest for fusion energy by now. They're currently struggling to figure out what went wrong.
Scientific American: The Awesomest 7-Year Postdoc or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Tenure-Track Faculty Life
By Radhika Nagpal
July 21, 2013
Scary myths and scary data abound about life as a tenure-track faculty at an “R1? university. Scary enough to make you wonder: why would any smart person want to live this life?
As a young faculty member at Harvard, I got asked such questions a lot. Why did you choose this career? How do you do it? And I can’t blame them for asking, because I am scared by those myths too. I have chosen very deliberately to do specific things to preserve my happiness, lots of small practical things that I discovered by trial and error.
So when asked by graduate students and other junior faculty, I happily told them the things that worked for me, mostly in one-on-one meetings over coffee, and a few times publicly on panels. Of course, I said all these things without any proof that they lead to success, but with every proof that they led me to enjoy the life I was living.
Science Writing and Reporting
Science News: Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience
By Sally Satel and Scott O. Lilienfeld
Review by Bruce Bower
Web edition: July 26, 2013
By reducing human thought and behavior to colorful images of excited neurons, neuroscientists have turned brain scans into brain scams, write psychiatrist Satel and psychologist Lilienfeld. The argument that thinking involves more than brain activity is not new, but the authors give it an up-to-date, provocative treatment.
Satel and Lilienfeld take aim at functional MRI scans that have been used by researchers and media to claim that specific brain areas represent the seats of love, hate and other human experiences. At best, the authors say, these scans detect a fraction of brain activity that occurs when people perform mental tasks. Such brain measures can neither fully predict nor explain people’s thoughts and feelings, they assert.
Science is Cool
Space.com: 'Gravity' Movie Clips Show Sandra Bullock Drifting in Space - See more at: http://www.space.com/22128-gravity-film-clips-sandra-bullock.html#sthash.QebrIr6y.dpuf
by Robert Z. Pearlman, collectSPACE.com Editor
July 26, 2013 12:07pm ET
Sandra Bullock is not ready yet to be an astronaut, at least not in real life.
And based on the clips that debuted this week of her as a spacewalker in "Gravity," Warner Brother's upcoming sci-fi movie directed by Alfonso Cuarón and co-starring George Clooney, it would be hard to fault her.
"My feet feel really good on the ground," Bullock told the entertainment news television program Extra. "Someone asked me [if I wanted to fly in space] and said 'If your son wanted you to go?' and I said, 'If he asked me to go, if he was already an adult, I would go if I knew he would be fine if I perished.'"