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Science News

Pink armadillos ain’t your Texas critters

DIGGING DIRT &nbsp;Pink fairy armadillos have claws so specialized for digging that they struggle to walk on hard surfaces.by Susan Milius

Here’s an Internet bizarrity that you can believe in: the pink fairy armadillo.

It’s a real animal, the smallest armadillo species in the world. At about 100 grams, it would fit in your hands. It’s covered with “very fine, silky white hair,” says Mariella Superina of the CONICET research center in Mendoza, Argentina. And its hard outer covering, rich in blood vessels, can blush pink.

Full details of Chlamyphorus truncatus biology, though, might as well be a fairy tale. It’s known only from a dry, sandy swath of Argentina and spends most of its time underground. The pink fairy is so hard to spot that Superina and her colleagues are struggling to determine whether it’s endangered or not. She heads an international group of specialists now trying to assess the risk of extinction for the world’s 21 known armadillo species, plus their close relatives, the sloths and anteaters.

In 10 years of field work, she has never caught sight of the pink species in the wild. She has seen tracks made by digging claws and the diamond-shaped tip of its tail. After several meters, the tracks just stop where, she presumes, the armadillo disappeared underground. Locals, she says, “can track down any animal — except the pink fairy armadillo.” Occasionally someone captures one and soon panics about keeping it alive. These rare captives, she reports, usually live no more than about eight days.

Republicans Put "National Interest" Requirement on National Science Foundation

A proposed bill would require the NSF to justify awards using criteria including economic competitiveness and national defense
 NSF's current headquarters, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, Va.By Sarah Zhang and Nature magazine

Key members of the House of Representatives are calling for the National Science Foundation (NSF) to justify every grant it awards as being in the “national interest.” The proposal, which is included in a draft bill from the Republican-led House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology that was obtained by Nature, would force the NSF to document how its basic-science grants benefit the country.

The requirement is similar to one in a discussion draft circulated in April by committee chairman Lamar Smith (Republican, Texas). At the time, scientists raised concerns that "national interest" was defined much too narrowly. The current draft bill provides a more expansive definition that includes six goals: economic competitiveness, health and welfare, scientific literacy, partnerships between academia and industry, promotion of scientific progress and national defense.

Technology News

Mobile Wallets: How to Safeguard against an Evolving Hacker Threat

Mobile walletby Lynn Price, IT Security Strategist, IBM

What would you do if your wallet was stolen? Anyone who has experienced the headache and frustration of canceling credit cards or reordering a driver’s license will affirm the importance of knowing where your wallet is at all times, and being extra wary of having it pilfered by a pickpocket when wandering through large crowds, riding the subway, etc.

Our mobile wallets should be no different.

What’s a Mobile Wallet, and Do I Have One?

The concept of a wallet that doesn’t reside in your back pocket can seem foreign at first. But carrying cash and other forms of physical currency is a convention that’s rapidly declining in popularity. Mobile wallets aren’t a fixture of the distant future – they’re very real, and heavily in use today.

If you’ve gotten your caffeine fix by using a smartphone at your local coffee shop, then you’re a mobile wallet user. Paying credit cards, checking on the health of your checking account – all these everyday activities affirm that humans are a mobile species that takes full advantage of the scan-and-go culture.

Steve Jobs’ childhood home is now a historic site

If you’re in Los Altos, CA, you can stop by 2206 Crist Drive and take a look at the childhood home of Apple’s co-founder, Steve Jobs.
By Nicolette Emmino

The residence was just named a “historic resource” by the Los Altos Historical Commission.


Aside from Jobs just living there, he also built the first 100 Apple computers right in the garage.

Steve Jobs' childhood home.

The first 50 he sold to Paul Terrell’s Byte Shop in Mountain View for $500. (The originals are now worth much more than that. One sold for $213,000 at a 2010 auction.)

According to the Commission’s property evaluation, in the same home, first investors such as Chuck Peddle of Commodore Computer and Don Valentine of Sequoia Capital visited the property for demonstrations of the first Apple computers.

According to the evaluation, the property is so monumental because it “represents the fourth wave (of progress in Silicon Valley) where youngsters working in their respective garages were experiments with electronics and the new computer industry as tools for human use.”

The single-story ranch-style house is very different from the ones that succeeded it.

Jobs’ lived in the Woodside Mansion for a few years in the 1980s.

Environmental News

Solar Activity Playing a Minimal Role in Global Warming, Research Suggests

Sunrise over planet Earth. Changes in solar activity have contributed no more than 10 per cent to global warming in the twentieth century, a new study has found. (Credit: (c) marcel / Fotolia)Institute of Physics

Nov. 7, 2013 — Changes in solar activity have contributed no more than 10 per cent to global warming in the twentieth century, a new study has found.

The findings, made by Professor Terry Sloan at the University of Lancaster and Professor Sir Arnold Wolfendale at the University of Durham, find that neither changes in the activity of the Sun, nor its impact in blocking cosmic rays, can be a significant contributor to global warming.

The results have been published today, 8 November, in IOP Publishing's journal Environmental Research Letters.

Changes in the amount of energy from the Sun reaching Earth have previously been proposed as a driver of increasing global temperatures, as has the Sun's ability to block cosmic rays. It has been proposed that cosmic rays may have a role in cooling Earth by encouraging clouds to form, which subsequently reflect the Sun's rays back into space.

Global Warming Finally Reaches the Last Arctic Region

The Hudson Bay Lowlands in northeastern Canada were one of the last holdouts against the trend of global warming in the Arctic, but has in a very short period succumbed
Hudson Bay Lowlands are staying greener for longer as temperatures rise.The Conversation

Lakes of the Hudson Bay Lowlands, in northeast Canada, are showing evidence of abrupt change in one of the last Arctic regions of the world to have experienced global warming, according to Canadian research published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B journal.

The research team consisting of Drs. Kathleen Rühland, John Smol, and Neal Michelutti from Queen’s University Ontario, Dr. Andrew Paterson of Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment, and Bill Keller from the Laurentian University Ontario, retrieved sediment cores from lakes around the western shoreline of Hudson Bay and looked for changes in the microscopic algae that settle at the lake bottom after death.

These algae, known as diatoms, are at the base of the food chain and are an important component of lake ecosystems. When they die and fall to the lake bed they leave behind an environmental archive in the sediment layers that continually accumulate year after year. By examining the changes through time, researchers can trace the environmental history of the region.

Medical News

Newborns’ weak immunity may allow helpful bacteria to gain a foothold

Though infant immune systems raise risk of infection, they also allow good microbes into the body
GROWING GOOD BACTERIA &nbsp;An immature form of red blood cell helps suppress the immune system of newborns, experiments with mice suggest. Immune suppression leaves infant mice and humans susceptible to infection but may allow good bacteria to settle in the gut.By Nathan Seppa

The seeming failure of newborns to muster a robust defense against infections is a trade-off that delivers long-term benefits, a new study suggests. In infants, the body’s immune army stands down for a month or two and then gears up. While this gap leaves babies at risk of infection, it also may allow beneficial bacteria to populate an infant’s intestines, a development that carries lifelong advantages, researchers working with mice report November 6 in Nature.

The findings suggest that the lackluster response of the neonatal immune system “is a normal developmental feature,” says biochemist Sidney Morris Jr. of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, who wasn’t involved in the study. The immune suppression shows up “during the transition from the sterile in utero setting to a decidedly nonsterile external environment,” he says.

Bacterial Toxin Sets the Course for Infection

Yersinia (in blue) cause serious infections. (Credit: HZI/Manfred Rohde)Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research

Nov. 7, 2013 — Every year gastro-intestinal diseases have lethal consequences for more than five million individuals. Scientists have now discovered what makes a specific strain of Yersinia pseudotuberculosis --  one cause of gastrointestinal infections -- so dangerous: the bacteria produce a molecule called CNFy that facilitates the infection process for them. It changes the host cells in a manner that enables the injection apparatus of Yersinia, which injects toxins into the cells, to work more efficiently. This strengthens the gastrointestinal infection and leads to inflammation of the tissue.

Whether an immune cell divides, alarms other immune cells or dies is strictly controlled in our immune system. "Molecular switches" influence these processes and basically set the course for different pathways. In light of the evolutionary competition between the immune system and the microbes, researchers have found that bacteria produce different substances to manipulate the position of the switches to their advantage.

Space News

Photos of the Day: Olympic Torch in Space

Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, center, Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin, bottom and U.S. astronaut Rick Mastracchio, crew members of the next mission to the International Space Station, pose with an Olympic torch prior the launch of Soyuz-FG rocket at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Shamil Zhumatov, Pool)by Associated Press

MOSCOW (AP) — A Russian rocket soared into the cosmos Thursday carrying the Sochi Olympic torch and three astronauts to the International Space Station ahead of the first-ever spacewalk for the symbol of peace.

Video streamed by the U.S. space agency NASA reported a flawless docking with the space station about six hours after the craft blasted off from Russia's manned space facility in Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

The unlit torch for the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi is to be taken on a spacewalk Saturday, then return to Earth on Monday (late Sunday EST) with three departing space station astronauts.

The arriving crew members Thursday were Russia's Mikhail Tyurin, American Rick Mastracchio and Koichi Wakata of Japan.

When is a comet not a comet?

NASA, ESA, D. Jewitt (University of California, Los Angeles), J. Agarwal (Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research), H. Weaver (Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory), M. Mutchler (STScI), and S. Larson (University of Arizona)ESA/Hubble Information Centre

Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have observed a unique and baffling object in the asteroid belt that looks like a rotating lawn sprinkler or badminton shuttlecock. While this object is on an asteroid-like orbit, it looks like a comet, and is sending out tails of dust into space. Normal asteroids appear as tiny points of light. But this asteroid, designated P/2013 P5, has six comet-like tails of dust radiating from it like the spokes on a wheel. It was first spotted in August of this year as an unusually fuzzy-looking object by astronomers using the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii [1].

Because nothing like this has ever been seen before, astronomers are scratching their heads to find an adequate explanation for its mysterious appearance.

The multiple tails were discovered in Hubble images taken on 10 September 2013. When Hubble returned to the asteroid on 23 September, its appearance had totally changed. It looked as if the entire structure had swung around.

Odd News

PETA introduces fleet of drones to curb illegal hunting

Animal rights activists to use modern-day technology as a means of keeping tabs on hunters
Air AngelBy Jeffrey Bausch

The animal rights activist group known as PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has introduced a fleet of surveillance drones called “Air Angels,” which it is willing to sell to anyone who wants to keep tabs on local hunters.

The idea behind this program is that if any watchers witness illegal or cruel hunting practices via this eye-in-the-sky program, they can call the authorities and contact PETA to get the footage shared online.

PETA debuted the Air Angel this past Monday, the first day of bow hunting season in Massachusetts. In an interview with Mashable, PETA spokeswoman Lindsay Rajt said that activists could use the drone to see which hunters jumped the gun on their Monday morning hunting session, and could not wait until one-half hour before sunrise, as is stated in state regulations.

Drone users spying on hunters did, in fact, catch some hunters, and reported the footage to local authorities.

"[Authorities] were very receptive, and they said they were going to look into it," Rajt said. "I think people should call in violations as they see them."

Dennis Boomer Hayden, president of the Massachusetts Bowhunters Association, disagreed with Rajt’s assessment.

Extended (Optional)

Originally posted to Overnight News Digest on Thu Nov 07, 2013 at 09:00 PM PST.

Also republished by SciTech.

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