Welcome to Science Saturday, where the Overnight News Digest crew, consisting of founder Magnifico, regular editors jlms qkw, maggiejean, wader, Oke, rfall, and JML9999, alumni editors palantir, Bentliberal, 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, and the environment.

This week's featured story comes from NASA Television on YouTube and the Washington Post.

NASA's Floats in Presidential Inaugural Parade

Video of full-size models of the Curiosity Mars rover and Orion, the multi-purpose capsule that will take our astronauts farther into space than ever, as they appeared in the Washington, D.C. parade on Jan. 21. Accompanying the vehicles were members of the Curiosity team from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and current and former astronauts Alvin Drew, Serena Aunon, Kate Rubins, Mike Massimino, Lee Morin and Kjell Lindgren, as well as Leland Melvin, NASA's associate administrator for Education, and John Grunsfeld, NASA's associate administrator for Science.

President Obama's second inaugural address (Transcript)

Together we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce, schools and colleges to train our workers. Together we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play. Together we resolve that a great nation must care for the vulnerable and protect its people from life's worst hazards and misfortune.
For we have always understood that when times change, so must we, that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges, that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.

For the American people can no more meet the demands of today's world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias. No single person can train all the math and science teachers we'll need to equip our children for the future. Or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores.
We understand that outworn (ph) programs are inadequate to the needs of our time. So we must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work hard or learn more, reach higher.
We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.

Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But American cannot resist this transition. We must lead it.

We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries. We must claim its promise. That's how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure, our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That's what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.

More stories after the jump.

Recent Science Diaries and Stories

Climate Change -- There's no more Denying it
by jamess

Does technology have a "life of it's own" or are we in control?
by don mikulecky

We Wouldn't Find a Trace...
by Autonomeritus

This week in science: Closer to the heart
by DarkSyde


BBC: Aerial snow photos help archaeologists explore Wales' landscape
23 January 2013

Archaeologists are using aerial photography and the recent snowfall to get a better view of the Welsh landscape with images like this showing the Brecon Beacons.

Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for this story.

CNet: CES 2013: The next interface: You

Lindsey Turrentine and Brian Cooley host an all-star panel of industry luminaries, focusing on how humans will interact with the next generation of devices using their bodies instead of traditional input devices.

Scientific American: The Startling Mechanical Beauty of a Rotifer in Motion
By Jennifer Frazer
January 25, 2013

This curious creature, captured here under the microscope, is not a protist. It’s an animal. An animal, in fact, that can be smaller than some unicellular microbes.

WXYZ: Electric vehicle and hybrid drivers find extreme cold takes its toll.

Today's extreme cold temperatures may mean drivers of electric vehicles and hybrids use a bit more gasoline or get less mileage out of their battery's charge.

WXYZ: "Education Day" at the North American International Auto Show.

University of Michigan: diesels are picking up speed at the auto show in Detroit.

Bruce Belzowski of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute explains the appeal of diesel engines at the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Space.com: Moon Swoon: How 2013's Full Moons Got Their Peculiar Names
by Joe Rao, SPACE.com Skywatching Columnist
Date: 26 January 2013 Time: 08:35 AM ET

The first full moon of 2013 will light up the night sky tonight (Jan. 26), but did you know it's a full moon of many names?

Full moon names date back to Native American tribes of a few hundred years ago who lived in what is now the northern and eastern United States. Those tribes kept track of the seasons by giving distinctive names to each recurring full moon. Their names were applied to the entire month in which each occurred.

There were some variations in the moon names, but, in general, the same ones were used throughout the Algonquin tribes from New England on west to Lake Superior. European settlers followed their own customs and created some of their own names. Since the lunar (or "synodic") month is roughly 29.5 days in length on average, the dates of the full moon shift from year to year.

Here is a listing of all of the full moon names, as well as the dates and times for 2013. Unless otherwise noted, all times are for the Eastern time zone:

NASA Television on YouTube: Satellite Launch Nears on This Week @NASA

NASA's new advanced communications satellite, TDRS-K, is set to be launched from the Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday. TDRS-K is the first of a new generation of comm satellites meant to meet the increased demands of NASA's growing fleet of research satellites. Also, RRM Update; most powerful engine; "Blueprint for Action;" Hi-C sunshine; Opportunity roves on; "Who is Kristin Morgan?" and more!

NASA Television on YouTube: NASA: Reaching for New Heights

At NASA, we've been a little busy: landing on Mars, developing new human spacecraft, going to the space station, working with commercial partners, observing the Earth and the Sun, exploring our solar system and understanding our universe. And that's not even everything.


Scientific American: Asteroid Hunter Gives an Update on the Threat of Near-Earth Objects
By Will Ferguson
January 22, 2013

An Earth impact by a large comet or asteroid could knock out human civilization with a single blow, as most people are now aware thanks to recent Hollywood movies and public outreach by planetary scientists. Since 1998, when NASA initiated its Spaceguard program to find comets and asteroids 1 km in diameter and larger, researchers have made some crucial inventories of the risky space rocks with orbits that come into close proximity of Earth. For instance, there are almost 1,000 of these so-called near-Earth objects with diameters of 1-kilometer or more.

However disconcerting this might seem, we can rest assured that none will make it here in our lifetimes. “We can say with a very good deal of certainty that no asteroid or comet large enough to threaten life as we know it will hit Earth in the next 100 years,” says Donald Yeomans. At NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Yeomans is a senior research scientist and manager of the Near-Earth Object Program Office. He has spent his career studying the physical and dynamical modeling of near-Earth objects, as well as tracking them down.

Yeomans works with an international network of professional and amateur astronomers who find and monitor asteroids and comets with orbits that come within approximately 0.33 AU, which is equivalent to 150 million kilometers. The team has identified 8,800 near-Earth objects as of early 2012, he noted during a talk at the American Museum of Natural History in New York on January 14 on his new book Near-Earth Objects, Finding Them Before They Find Us. The book gives readers an inside account of the latest efforts to find, track and study life-threatening asteroids and comets.

Space.com: NASA Joins European Dark Energy Mission
by Mike Wall, SPACE.com Senior Writer
Date: 24 January 2013 Time: 03:16 PM ET

NASA has officially joined the European Space Agency's Euclid mission, a space telescope that will launch in 2020 to study the mysterious dark matter and dark energy pervading the universe.

NASA will contribute 16 infrared detectors and four spares for one of the Euclid telescope's two planned science instruments, agency officials announced today (Jan. 24). NASA has also nominated 40 new members for the Euclid Consortium, an international body of 1,000 scientists that will oversee the mission and its development.

"NASA is very proud to contribute to ESA's mission to understand one of the greatest science mysteries of our time," John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement.


Scientific American: How Would Obama Address Climate Change?
Exclusive reply to Scientific American points to reduced oil dependence and clean-energy investments
By Mark Fischetti
January 22, 2013

President Barack Obama made a poignant comment about the need to address climate change, during his inauguration speech on Monday. Commentators everywhere noted how the remark stood out, and also asked what specific measures the second-term President might actually recommend. Scientific American has some answers, based on an exclusive written response that Obama's campaign sent to us just before the November 2012 election.

Working with ScienceDebate.org, which developed the questions, Scientific American published 14 top science questions for Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney, as well as the candidates' answers. One question was about climate change, and another was about energy supply, which Obama always seems to mention as an integral part of any effort to address climate change. The full reply by Obama to each of those questions is below. The responses by him and Romney to all 14 questions (including space exploration and Internet security) can be found at www.ScientificAmerican.com/nov2012/candidates or at www.sciencedebate.org/debate12.

Scientific American: How Much Will Tar Sands Oil Add to Global Warming?
To constrain climate change, such unconventional oil use needs to be stopped, according to scientists
By David Biello
January 23, 2013

James Hansen has been publicly speaking about climate change since 1988. The NASA climatologist testified to Congress that year and he's been testifying ever since to crowds large and small, most recently to a small gathering of religious leaders outside the White House last week. The grandfatherly scientist has the long face of a man used to seeing bad news in the numbers and speaks with the thick, even cadence of the northern Midwest, where he grew up, a trait that also helps ensure that his sometimes convoluted science gets across.

This cautious man has also been arrested multiple times.

His acts of civil disobedience started in 2009, and he was first arrested in 2011 for protesting the development of Canada's tar sands and, especially, the Keystone XL pipeline proposal that would serve to open the spigot for such oil even wider. "To avoid passing tipping points, such as initiation of the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, we need to limit the climate forcing severely. It's still possible to do that, if we phase down carbon emissions rapidly, but that means moving expeditiously to clean energies of the future," he explains. "Moving to tar sands, one of the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fuels on the planet, is a step in exactly the opposite direction, indicating either that governments don't understand the situation or that they just don't give a damn."

He adds: "People who care should draw the line."

Scientific American: What Is Geodesign–and Can It Protect Us from Natural Disasters?
By Larry Greenemeier
January 25, 2013

As New York, New Jersey and other states hit hard during Superstorm Sandy last fall begin their long road to recovery, the decisions they make on how to rebuild are crucial to determining how well they’re weather than next big storm. The choices range from installing large storm-surge sea barriers near Staten Island and at the mouth of New York Harbor to keep rising waters at bay, to cultivating wetlands around the southern tip of Manhattan that can provide a natural buffer.

Both concepts are on the drawing boards and are being fiercely debated on their merits. Although they are radically different, each one takes geographic design into consideration to some degree. Geodesign is an approach to city planning, land use and natural resource management that takes into account the tendency in recent years to overdevelop land at the expense of natural habitats, as well as population growth and climate change, which have left communities increasingly vulnerable to natural disasters.

Geodesign arose thanks largely to the availability of geographic information system (GIS) data. Such data is gathered from maps, aerial photos, satellites and surveys and stored in large databases where it can be analyzed, modeled and queried. Particularly useful is data provided by the Landsat program, a joint initiative between the U.S. Geological Survey and NASA, has been placing satellites in orbit since 1972 to collect GIS data.


Scientific American: The Race to Catalog Living Species Before They Go Extinct
By David Biello
January 25, 2013

The U.S. has spent several billion dollars looking for life on other planets. Shouldn’t we spend at least that much finding and identifying life on Earth?

That is the argument behind a taxonomy analysis by a trio of scientists in Science, published on January 25. They argue just $500 million to $1 billion a year could ensure that all species were described and catalogued within 50 years. New tools will help too: the genetic “barcode of life” ensures that a species description is appropriate while expert-driven Catalogue of Life and an ambitious effort to inventory more than 200,000 marine species are succeeding. The Internet and smartphones are also aiding the cause.

Since the turn of the century, 17,500 species have been officially described per year—and the rate is increasing (largely because more people are looking from different parts of the world than previously).

Scientific American: Brainiac Parrots Threatened by Widespread Lead Poisoning
By Cristy Gelling
January 21, 2013

New Zealand’s kea* are among the most devastatingly intelligent birds on the planet. For instance, animal cognition researchers say kea are as smart as crows at solving mechanical puzzles. So it comes as a shock to learn that much of what we know about the kea’s unusual behavior in the wild comes from studies of birds stultified by lead poisoning.

Lead is toxic at such low doses that public health authorities have yet to identify a “safe” level of exposure. Chronic exposure of children to relatively low doses of lead can affect their IQ, and some even argue that lead in gasoline can explain the major crime trends of the twentieth century.

So if tiny flecks of lead paint can affect our intelligence and behavior, what happens to a 2 lb parrot that regularly chews on lead-headed nails and lead roof flashing? Recent research suggests that the kea’s insatiable curiosity is causing widespread poisoning and endangering the birds wherever they live near human habitation.

Nature Magazine (UK) via Scientific American: NIH Told to Retire Most Research Chimps
About half of 21 ongoing biomedical and behavioral experiments would be ended, under advice from a working group of external agency advisors
By Meredith Wadman and Nature magazine
January 23, 2013

The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) should dismantle a decades-old colony of 360 chimpanzees, retiring all but roughly 50 of the animals to a national sanctuary, the biomedical agency was told on 22 January in a long-awaited report.

The report, from a working group of external agency advisors, also counsels the NIH to end about half of 21 existing biomedical and behavioral experiments, saying they do not meet criteria established in a December, 2011 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report.

“Clearly there is going to be a reduction in the use of chimpanzees in research,” says working group co-chair Kent Lloyd, the associate dean for research at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis.


Scientific American: Eat Less by Altering Your Food Memories
Hunger is affected by how much you think you ate
By Jason Castro
January 22, 2013

If you made a New Year’s resolution a few weeks ago, you probably decided to get fit or lose weight – two goals that pretty unavoidably involve a pledge to eat less. Perhaps you’ve stuck with it so far, through some combination of brute will, guilt, and the deployment of winning slogans at spots of greatest temptation. But unless you’re one of the rare successful long-term dieters, your assault on adiposity will be short lived. Sooner or later, you’ll find your way back to foods that are sweet, fat, and synthetically tinted.

Why do we eat bad stuff, and too much of it?

Naturally, “because we’re hungry and it tastes good” is an answer, but this just begs the deeper question of what call, exactly, we’re answering when we relent to hunger.
According to a recent study in PLOS One, however, by Jeffrey Brunstrom and his colleagues, hunger is also a trick of memory.  In effect, these scientists argue that the remembrance of meals past can help fill an empty belly.


CNet: Researchers link mental illness with Facebook behaviors
Don't be surprised if your therapist asks to look at your Facebook profile
by Jennifer Van Grove
January 24, 2013

Can social-media activity be used as a tool in psychological diagnosis? The jury's still out, but a study from researchers at the University of Missouri found a link between social anhedonia and a decrease in Facebook activity, which suggests that therapists can use patients' Facebook profiles to better understand their mental illnesses.

The study, "Social networking profile correlates of schizotypy," looked at the Facebook profiles and activities of 211 college students who were scored on their social anhedonia, perceptual aberration, and magical ideation, extraversion, and paranoia tendencies. Social anhedonia is the diminished experience of positive emotion for social stimuli. Perceptual aberration and magical ideation are psychotic-like distortions and unusual beliefs.

The study concluded that people who score higher on the social anhedonia scale have fewer Facebook friends, fewer photos of themselves, and take longer periods of time to communicate with friends than others. The researchers did not find any correlation between social anhedonia and the volume of wall posts from friends. Meanwhile, the study authors also noticed a strong positive link between extraversion and the number of Facebook friends, number of self photos, and number of wall posts by others.

Scientific American: Neural Networking: Online Social Content Easier to Recall Than Printed Info
Call it the Facebook Effect—humans are better at remembering information if it appears as a social network post
By Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato
January 24, 2013

Recollecting trivial and sometimes dull Facebook posts is easier than recalling the same information in a book. It also takes less effort to remember posted patter than someone's face, according to new research.

The result could be due to the colloquial and largely spontaneous nature of Facebook posts. Whereas books and newspapers typically are combed over by fact-checkers and carefully rewritten by editors, Facebook posts tend to be free flowing and more closely resemble speech. "It's a new way of thinking about memory," says John Wixted, an experimental psychologist at the University of California, San Diego, who was not involved in the research. "Our minds are naturally prepared to encode what is naturally produced."

If memories are the product of evolution, then the ability to remember socially derived conversations may have provided an advantage that helped early humans survive, he adds.

Scientific American: Men and Women Can't Be "Just Friends"
Researchers asked women and men "friends" what they really think—and got very different answers
By Adrian F. Ward
January 23, 2013

Can heterosexual men and women ever be “just friends”? Few other questions have provoked debates as intense, family dinners as awkward, literature as lurid, or movies as memorable. Still, the question remains unanswered. Daily experience suggests that non-romantic friendships between males and females are not only possible, but common—men and women live, work, and play side-by-side, and generally seem to be able to avoid spontaneously sleeping together. However, the possibility remains that this apparently platonic coexistence is merely a façade, an elaborate dance covering up countless sexual impulses bubbling just beneath the surface.

New research suggests that there may be some truth to this possibility—that we may think we’re capable of being “just friends” with members of the opposite sex, but the opportunity (or perceived opportunity) for “romance” is often lurking just around the corner, waiting to pounce at the most inopportune moment.


BBC: Fossil human traces line to modern Asians

Researchers have been able to trace a line between some of the earliest modern humans to settle in China and people living in the region today.

The evidence comes from DNA extracted from a 40,000-year-old leg bone found in a cave near Beijing.

Results show that the person it belonged to was related to the ancestors of present-day Asians and Native Americans.

The results are published in the journal PNAS.

Oxford Mail (UK): Dig discovers 9,000-year-old remains at Didcot
By Andrew French
10:30am Tuesday 22nd January 2013

ARCHAEOLOGISTS have proved for the first time that people started living in the Didcot area as early as 9,000 years ago.

Oxford Archaeology has been excavating land at Great Western Park, where more than 3,300 homes are being built, to detail the site’s history.

The two-and-a-half-year dig has uncovered the remains of a Roman villa, and early Bronze Age arrowheads which will now go on display.

LiveScience via The Huffington Post: Minoans Warlike? Ancient Crete Civilization Not As Peaceful As Once Thought, Archaeologist Says
By: Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer
Published: 01/15/2013 01:33 PM EST on LiveScience
Posted: 01/16/2013 9:37 am EST

The civilization made famous by the myth of the Minotaur was as warlike as their bull-headed mascot, new research suggests.

The ancient people of Crete, also known as Minoan, were once thought to be a bunch of peaceniks. That view has become more complex in recent years, but now University of Sheffield archaeologist Barry Molloy says that war wasn't just a part of Minoan society — it was a defining part.

"Ideologies of war are shown to have permeated religion, art, industry, politics and trade, and the social practices surrounding martial traditions were demonstrably a structural part of how this society evolved and how they saw themselves," Molloy said in a statement.

Deutsche Welle (German Broadcasting): Archeologists revise image of ancient Celts

The Celts were long considered a barbaric and violent society. But new findings from a 2,600-year-old grave in Germany suggest the ancient people were much more sophisticated than previously thought.

The little Bettelbühl stream on the Danube River was completely unknown, except to local residents. But that changed in the summer of 2010 when a spectacular discovery was made just next to the creek.

Not far from the Heuneburg, the site of an early Celtic settlement, researchers stumbled upon the elaborate grave of a Celtic princess. In addition to gold and amber, they found a subterranean burial chamber fitted with massive oak beams. It was an archeological sensation that, after 2,600 years, the chamber was completely intact.

LiveScience via Yahoo! News: Egyptian Mummy's Elaborate Hairstyle Revealed in 3D
By Owen Jarus, LiveScience Contributor
LiveScience.com – Fri, Jan 25, 2013

Nearly 2,000 years ago, at a time when Egypt was under the control of the Roman Empire, a young woman with an elaborate hairstyle was laid to rest only yards away from a king's pyramid, researchers report.

She was 5 feet 2 inches in height, around age 20 when she died, and was buried in a decorated coffin whose face is gilded with gold. A nearby pyramid, at a site called Hawara, was built about 2 millennia before her lifetime. The location of her burial is known from archival notes.  

High-resolution CT scans reveal that, before she was buried, her hair was dressed in an elaborate hairstyle.

LiveScience: Toothy Tumor Found in 1,600-Year-Old Roman Corpse
Owen Jarus, LiveScience Contributor
Date: 21 January 2013 Time: 09:09 AM ET

In a necropolis in Spain, archaeologists have found the remains of a Roman woman who died in her 30s with a calcified tumor in her pelvis, a bone and four deformed teeth embedded within it.

Two of the teeth are still attached to the wall of the tumor researchers say.

The woman, who died some 1,600 years ago, had a condition known today as an ovarian teratoma which, as its name indicates, occurs in the ovaries . The word Teratoma comes from the Greek words "teras" and "onkoma" which translate to "monster" and "swelling," respectively. The tumor is about 1.7 inches (44 millimeters) in diameter at its largest point.

Science: Earliest Evidence of Chocolate in North America
by Traci Watson on 22 January 2013,

They were humble farmers who grew corn and dwelt in subterranean pit houses. But the people who lived 1200 years ago in a Utah village known as Site 13, near Canyonlands National Park in Utah, seem to have had at least one indulgence: chocolate. Researchers report that half a dozen bowls excavated from the area contain traces of chocolate, the earliest known in North America. The finding implies that by the end of the 8th century C.E., cacao beans, which grow only in the tropics, were being imported to Utah from orchards thousands of kilometers away.

L.A. Times: A battlefield from the War of 1812 is 'frozen in time'
Nearly two centuries after the fight at Caulk's Field, the state is digging up artifacts in an effort to piece together an American victory over the British.
By Candy Thomson
January 19, 2013, 10:07 p.m.

The DNA of a battle that helped turn the tide of a war going horribly wrong for America lay buried just 6 inches below a Maryland cornfield.

For nearly two centuries, musket balls, canister shot and other artifacts from intense fighting at Caulk's Field waited to tell the story of a sweltering August night in 1814, when militiamen sprang a trap on a British raiding party bent on destruction.

How did the citizen-soldiers best their battle-tested foes?

State archaeologist Julie Schablitsky hopes to figure that out. With the help of cadaver-sniffing dogs and history buffs armed with metal detectors, she is retracing the footsteps of Sir Peter Parker, a British marine captain who led 170 troops, and a like number of militiamen commanded by Col. Philip Reed.

BBC: Archaeologists in West Bromwich find grave robbing evidence

Archaeologists have found evidence of grave robbing while digging at a 19th Century burial ground in West Bromwich.

A team working at the former Providence Baptist Chapel site found a mortsafe - a metal cage fixed around a coffin to stop people stealing the body.

Empty coffins and one filled with scrap metal were also discovered which archaeologists said was evidence of attempts to deter body snatchers.

Sandwell Council museum staff are now planning an exhibition of the finds.

The Daily Telegraph (UK): 'There are no buried Spitfires', archaeologists claim
Archaeologists digging for a squadron of Spitfires in Burma have hit a blank and do not believe there are any planes to be found, it is said.
9:56AM GMT 18 Jan 2013

After digging for almost two weeks and speaking to the British architect of the extraordinary hunt, David Cundall, the experts have concluded that there is no evidence that as many as 124 Spitfires were buried at the end of World War II, it has been reported.

A defiant Mr Cundall insists that the dig is still alive and says that the archaeologists are looking in the wrong place. He also stands by the eye witnesses who testified that the planes had been buried, according to the BBC.

A source told Radio 4’s Today programme that the archaeologists at the dig site at Rangoon International Airport do no believe there are any Spitfires buried there or at the other two sites.

The company providing financial backing for the dig, wargaming.net, today cancelled a press conference but confirmed that there are no planes, it is reported.

Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for these stories.


The Australian: Archaeologists unearth new fox species
From: AAP
January 24, 2013 6:40AM

ARCHAEOLOGISTS digging outside Johannesburg have unearthed a fossilised species of previously unknown fox, which they hope will help flesh out the evolutionary journey of modern canines.

The new species - named Vulpes Skinneri after South African ecologist John Skinner - is thought to have lived about two million years ago.

The discovery was made at an unassuming hole-in-the-ground site named Malapa, which has proven a treasure trove for archaeologists, palaeontologists and other scientific rock hounds.

Five years ago, fossils belonging to a new species of hominid were discovered at the same location.

The latest find was announced in the journal Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa.

Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for this story.


Discovery News: Roman Marker Used to Measure Earth Found
Jan 24, 2013 03:17 PM ET // by Rossella Lorenzi

Italian researchers have unearthed a marble benchmark which was once used to measure the shape of Earth in the 19th century.

Called Benchmark B, the marker was found near the town of Frattocchie along one of the earliest Roman roads which links the Eternal City to the southern city of Brindisi.

Placed there by Father Angelo Secchi (1818-1878), a pioneer of astrophysics, the marker consisted of a small travertine slab with a metallic plate in the middle. The plate featured a hole at its center.

“The hole was the terminal point of the geodetic baseline which run in the ancient Appian Way near Rome, between the tomb of Cecilia Metella, a daughter of a Roman consul, and a tower near Frattocchie,” Tullio Aebischer, a cartographical consultant at the department of mathematics and physics of Roma Tre University, told Discovery News.

Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for this story.


Nature Magazine (UK) via Scientific American: South Korea Makes Billion-Dollar Bet on Fusion Powe
A fusion power demonstration reactor to be built in the 2030s in collaboration with the DoE's Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, represents a step toward commercial use
By Soo Bin Park and Nature magazine

South Korea has embarked on the development of a preliminary concept design for a fusion power demonstration reactor in collaboration with the US Department of Energy's Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) in New Jersey.

The project is provisionally named K-DEMO (Korean Demonstration Fusion Power Plant), and its goal is to develop the design for a facility that could be completed in the 2030s in Daejeon, under the leadership of the country’s National Fusion Research Institute (NFRI).

South Korea is already developing the Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (K-STAR) project and contributing to ITER, the €15-billion (US$20-billion) experimental reactor being built in Cadarache, France, under the auspices of an international collaboration. K-DEMO is intended to be the next step toward commercial reactors and would be the first plant to actually contribute power to an electric grid.


Nature Magazine (UK) via Scientific American: Shrunken Proton Baffles Scientists
Researchers are perplexed by conflicting measurements for one of the universe's most common particles
By Geoff Brumfiel and Nature magazine
January 24, 2012

One of the Universe's most common particles has left physicists completely stumped. The proton, a fundamental constituent of the atomic nucleus, seems to be smaller than thought. And despite three years of careful analysis and reanalysis of numerous experiments, nobody can figure out why.

An experiment published today in Science only deepens the mystery, says Ingo Sick, a physicist at the University of Basel in Switzerland. "Many people have tried, but none has been successful at elucidating the discrepancy."

The proton's problems started in 2010, when a paper published in Nature seemed to show that the particle was 4% smaller than originally thought. Researchers began with a target of hydrogen, an atom that consists of one proton and one electron. When they bombarded the hydrogen with muons — heavier cousins of electrons — from a particle accelerator, a muon would occasionally replace an electron. Probing the muonic hydrogen with a laser yielded a high-precision measurement of the proton's size. The problem is that the measurement differed from those obtained by two other methods by 4%, or 0.03 femtometers (fm). That's a tiny amount — 1 fm is 0.000000000001 millimeter — but is still significantly larger than the error bars on either of the other measurements.

Yes, rfall covered the Science News article on this story, but it's such big physics news that it deserves another opportunity to be read.


Nature Magazine (UK) via Scientific American: New Synthetic Polymer Is First to Match Rigidity of DNA or Collagen
The stiff supergel mimics cell scaffolding such that a cold solution of it poured on to a wound could quickly form a gel barrier when it warmed to body temperature
By Mark Peplow and Nature magazine

Take one kilogram of polyisocyanide polymer. Sprinkle liberally across an Olympic swimming pool. Warm gently. Within minutes, your jelly is ready. Serves 25 million.

Alan Rowan, a materials chemist at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands, is describing the properties of a remarkable polymer developed in his lab and unveiled today in Nature. He has not actually run the swimming-pool experiment, but he sounds as if he would love to give it a try. When it comes to forming gels, he says excitedly, his polymer is “probably the best in the world — an order of magnitude better than anything else”.

But it offers much more than record-breaking dessert portions: it is the first synthetic polymer that can match the rigidity found in many biological polymers, says Margaret Gardel, a biophysicist at the University of Chicago, Illinois, who wrote a News and Views article to accompany the publication. “Nearly all biopolymers, like DNA or collagen, have some inherent rigidity,” she explains; synthetic polymers, by contrast, tend to be extremely floppy.

Science Crime Scenes

Smithsonian Magazine: Top Ten Cases of Nuclear Thefts Gone Wrong
These thieves would have gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for those meddling anti-smuggling authorities
By Marina Koren
Smithsonian.com, January 25, 2013,

Since 1993, there have been 419 cases of smuggled or stolen nuclear materials worldwide. Today, about 1.6 million kilograms of highly enriched uranium and 500,000 kilograms of plutonium—enough to make more than 125,000 nuclear bombs—exist in nations across the globe. The following ten incidents detail success stories of snatching some of these loose nukes up from the black market.


The first-known thief of weapons-grade fissile material, chemical engineer Leonid Smirnov, smuggles 1.5 kilograms (3.3 pounds) of weapons-grade uranium from a Russian state research institute where he worked. He does so over a five-month period, sneaking 50 grams of the material at a time and storing it in a jar on his apartment’s balcony. Before he can find a potential buyer, he is arrested in October and sentenced to three years’ probation.

The Guardian (UK): Turkey wages 'cultural war' in pursuit of its archaeological treasures
Ankara accused of blackmailing museums into returning artefacts while allowing excavation sites to be destroyed
Constanze Letsch in Istanbul and Kate Connolly in Berlin
guardian.co.uk, Monday 21 January 2013 14.16 EST   

Turkey has been accused of cultural chauvinism and attempting to blackmail some of the world's most important museums in the wake of its demands for the return of thousands of archaeological treasures.

According to cultural chiefs in Berlin, Paris and New York, Turkey has threatened to bar foreign archaeologists from excavation sites in the country by not renewing their digging permits if governments refuse to return artefacts that Ankara says were unlawfully removed from Turkish soil. It has also threatened to halt the lending of its treasures to foreign museums, they say.

The government in Ankara, emboldened by the country's growing diplomatic and economic clout, has repeatedly said that the retrieval of the artefacts is part of a policy it intends to pursue for years, if necessary, calling it a "cultural war". However, it denies withholding permits as a form of leverage.

SBWire: Archaeologist Responds to Attacks on Turkish Professors, Government Ministers, and Prehistoric Sites on Mount Ararat Associated with Noah's Ark
Archaeologist defends veracity of prehistoric sites on Mount Ararat and conservation of these archaeological features.

Miami, FL -- (SBWIRE) -- 01/19/2013 -- Harvard University educated archaeologist and president of the archaeological contract firm PRC, Inc., Dr. Joel Klenck, defends the veracity of prehistoric sites and efforts by Turkish researchers and government ministers to protect archaeological sites on Mount Ararat in eastern Anatolia, associated with Biblical and Quranic accounts of Noah’s Ark.

Klenck states, “A former American tour guide, Amy Louise Beam, and her Kurdish partners at Murat Camping, Murat and Saim Sahin, have attempted to denigrate the veracity of prehistoric sites on Mount Ararat and archaeologists associated with this research. In 2012, Turkish authorities deported Amy Beam from Turkey for crimes against tourists, being an illegal worker, not having a license to lead tours in Turkey, and having no authorization to provide permits to climb Mount Ararat. Both her and Murat Sahin made hidden videos of tourists and then attempted to extort monies if their demands were not met. They also engaged in harassment by revealing personal items they stole and hidden videos they filmed on the internet. The Turkish government is prosecuting Amy Beam and Murat Camping for their crimes. Court action against Amy Beam is pending in several countries. Currently, Amy Beam lives in the Republic of Georgia and Barbados.”

The Register (UK): Hackers on anti-Egypt spree bury Egyptology journal in the sand
Bystanders in online war blasted offline
By John Leyden
23rd January 2013 10:57 GMT

Hackers waging war against Egyptian websites have forced the closure of Egyptological, a journal on Egyptology.

Egyptologist Kate Phizackerley, who published the web periodical with Andrea Byrnes, has also closed down her personal blog for the same reason. Egyptological was shut down after it was "targeted by a professional hacking group as part of an onslaught on Egypt-related websites" during a wave of unrest that started late last year.

The hackers see Egyptology sites as "representing a form of political threat", according to Phizackerley. For now, she has abandoned hope of restoring Egyptological and her personal website after negotiations with the hackers broke down.

Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for these stories.

CNet: In Swartz protest, Anon hacks U.S. site, threatens leaks
Saying "a line was crossed" with the treatment of tech activist Aaron Swartz, the group hacks a government site related to the justice system and distributes encrypted files it says it will decrypt unless demands are met.
by Edward Moyer
January 26, 2013 12:40 PM PST

In response to the death of tech activist Aaron Swartz, hacktivist collective Anonymous hacked a U.S. government Web site related to the justice system and posted a screed saying it would begin leaking a cache of government documents if the justice system is not reformed.

The group hacked the Web site for the United States Sentencing Commission late Friday, posting a message about what it's calling "Operation Last Resort," along with a set of downloadable encrypted files it said contain sensitive information. The sentencing commission is the caretaker of the guidelines for sentencing in U.S. federal courts.

"Two weeks ago today, a line was crossed," the group's statement reads. "Two weeks ago today, Aaron Swartz was killed. Killed because he faced an impossible choice. Killed because he was forced into playing a game he could not win -- a twisted and distorted perversion of justice -- a game where the only winning move was not to play."

Also read CNet's Swartz didn't face prison until feds took over case, report says and MIT review into Aaron Swartz's death complete in 'a few weeks'.

Science, Space, Environment, and Energy Policy

Time Magazine: Entombing the Tomb of the Gladiator: Who Will Save the Roman Ruins?
By Stephan Faris / Rome
Jan. 23, 2013

When archaeologists announced the discovery of the tomb of Marcus Nonius Macrinus in Rome in 2008, the find was heralded as the most important in decades. Built in the shape of a temple, with tall fluted columns and an intricately carved sarcophagus, it was the final resting place for the Roman general who served as inspiration for Russell Crowe‘s character in the movie Gladiator, unearthed a the site of a planned housing project some 1,800 years after its construction.

In contrast, the December 2012 announcement regarding the tomb was much more muted. Italy’s cash-strapped ministry of culture declared it was unable to find the several million euros that would be required to protect the ruins and turn them into a tourist attraction. Instead, the Gladiator’s Tomb, as the site has come to be known, would likely have to be buried once again.

The fate of Macrinus’ monument illustrated the challenges faced by even the most spectacular bits of Italy’s past, as historical preservation falls prey to austerity. Funding for the maintenance of the country’s archaeological riches has been slashed by 20% since 2010. In the ancient city of Pompeii, the ruins are literally crumbling from neglect, and sites like the Coliseum in Rome and the Rialto Bridge in Venice have been forced to find corporate saviors to prevent the same from happening to them.

Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for this story.

Environmental Health News via Scientific American: California Intends to Declare BPA a Reproductive Health Hazard
Under state law, items that contain a certain level of the chemical bisphenol A would need warning signs for consumers
By Marla Cone and Environmental Health News
January 25, 2013

California today is announcing its intent to declare bisphenol A a reproductive hazard.

Under a state law known as Prop. 65, warning signs would be required for consumer items that contain a certain high level of BPA. BPA is used to make polycarbonate plastic, and also is found in liners of food and beverage cans and some thermal receipts.

Scientists say BPA is an estrogen-like substance that can alter reproductive hormones. California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment said it based its decision to list BPA as a Prop. 65 chemical on a 2008 report by the National Toxicology Program.

CNet: Unauthorized unlocking of smartphones becomes illegal Saturday
The feds mandate fidelity between carriers and users: New rule under DMCA outlaws unlocking new handsets without carrier permission.
by Eric Mack
January 25, 2013 4:57 AM PST

For all you polyamorous types out there who don't like the long-term monogamy demanded by most American wireless carriers when it comes to smartphones, I have bad news.

Starting this Saturday, it becomes illegal in this great land to unlock a new smartphone without the permission of the carrier that locked it in the first place.

This all goes back to a final rule issued in late October by the Librarian of Congress (PDF) -- the Library of Congress handles the rulemaking for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which is the specific law we're talking about here.

CNet: The strange resurrection of Net neutrality
At the annual meeting of the Congressional Internet Caucus, the only issue that appeared likely to appear soon on lawmakers' agenda was an old one -- Net neutrality.
by Larry Downes
January 24, 2013 10:22 AM PST

WASHINGTON, D.C.--At this week's State of the Net conference, an annual event of the bipartisan Congressional Internet Caucus, members of Congress, staffers, and technology policy junkies gathered once again to explore the government's Internet-related priorities for the new year.

A few themes emerged, including possible legislation over cybersecurity, a rewrite of the 1996 Communications Act, reforming federal electronic-surveillance laws, and the continuing threat of both national governments and the United Nations trying to wrest control of Internet governance from engineering-driven groups.

The general consensus, however, was that for at least the next several months, the fiscal cliff, debt ceilings, and budget sequestrations were likely to keep Washington fully occupied, leaving little time for legislators to tinker, for better or worse, with the Internet.

One topic that could get renewed Congressional attention, however, is Net neutrality.

CNet: How Aaron Swartz helped to defeat Hollywood on SOPA
Aaron Swartz's former roommate, Peter Eckersley, says the late activist started Demand Progress because from D.C.'s perspective, it "doesn't matter" if their laws break the Internet.
by Declan McCullagh
January 22, 2013 12:39 PM PST

SAN FRANCISCO -- A fruitless Capitol Hill meeting to discuss digital copyright legislation prompted the late activist Aaron Swartz to launch the Demand Progress advocacy group, his former roommate said at a gathering here last weekend.

Swartz was so frustrated with congressional willingness to break the Internet on Hollywood's behalf that he created a group to channel online outrage into political activism, said Peter Eckersley, the Electronic Frontier Foundation's technology projects director.

Eckersley said Swartz had met with Aaron Cooper, who works for Protect IP author Patrick Leahy as the chief intellectual property counsel for the Senate Judiciary committee. A spokeswoman for the committee denied that's what happened at the meeting, calling the account "entirely fabricated" and "false." (Here's the full statement.)

Reuters vis CNet: Is clean tech China's moon shot?
The global race to develop clean tech is shaping up to be a contest between Chinese-style capitalism and the U.S. and Europe's more market-oriented approach.
by Reuters
January 28, 2010

DAVOS, Switzerland--So far, wind turbines are not Sputnik. But one day they could be.

The global race to develop clean technology is not just about who can build the best solar parks or wind farms. It is also shaping up as a contest between Chinese-style capitalism and the more market-oriented approach fancied by the United States and Europe.

The question comes down to this: will China's highly capitalized command-and-control economy trump laissez-faire in a low-carbon shift that is widely portrayed as the next industrial revolution?

CNet: Ito: Think twice about immortality and the singularity
The director of the MIT Media Lab said sci-fi visions of computers and humans emphasize the wrong priorities for development. Technological progress should aim for resilience, not efficiency.
by Stephen Shankland
January 25, 2013

Ray Kurzweil's vision of the "singularity" -- when nanobots make humans immortal and computer progress is so fast that the future becomes profoundly unknowable -- is a bad idea.

That's the perhaps surprisingly contrary opinion of Joichi Ito, who as a high-tech investor and director of the MIT Media Lab might be expected to be a natural ally. The lab, after all, aims to be at the center of today's technology revolution.

Ito, speaking today at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, said he believes the singularity vision puts the wrong priorities first.

Science Education

Willamette University: Rare discovery lands WU student on cover of British Archaeology

Jessica “Jo” Heupel’s discovery of a Neolithic mace head has landed her on the cover of the January/February issue of British Archaeology magazine.

Heupel ’14 unearthed her first major find while participating in Willamette's archaeological field school at the Ness of Brodgar, a UNESCO World Heritage site on Scotland's Orkney Islands.

When she first found the ax head, Heupel says she didn’t fully understand its significance. She’s since learned she's made a rare discovery.

Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for this story.

Scientific American: A Dream Deferred: How access to STEM is denied to many students before they get in the door good
By DNLee
January 24, 2013

My interest in teaching and science outreach crystallized with NSF GK-12 Fellowship experiences in St. Louis. I was graduate student assigned as a Resource Scientist to a nearby public high school.  I was responsible for co-designing lesson plans and delivering lessons for biology and environmental science classes.  Science Fair project came around and there was big push to get all students involved.  There was a very low participation rate, but since I was the classroom scientist, I was responsible to helping students develop science fair projects and getting them ready for the competition.

Some of the students came up with some really amazing ideas. Not only because they developed some great questions and hypotheses, but because the questions were personally relevant to them.  Do cheaper brakes stop as quickly as more expensive breaks? Will cheaper brakes wear faster than more expensive ones? Are One-touch Diabetes testers as effective as traditional blood sugar testing devices that require more blood? The first two questions were posed by one of my boys – who declared his hatred of science daily, but he loved cars. The third question was posed by one of my girls who had diabetes and had to test her ‘sugar’ many times a day. Her grandmother had diabetes, too. She wanted to enlist her granny in her project.

However, like most of the other projects proposed by my students, these projects never happened. And what was more heart-breaking was that these kids interests in science (and the science fair) was dashed and never to be rekindled again.

Science Writing and Reporting

The Independent (UK): Time's Anvil: England, Archaeology and the Imagination, By Richard Morris
From Stonehenge to Birmingham, this survey of the art of the dig modifies our map of the past
Nick Groom
Friday 25 January 2013

The ground beneath our feet is made up of layers upon layers of history, the accumulated evidence of human existence from the millennia of prehistory to the hours of yesterday. These pasts are vertiginous, ever-expanding and engulfing, and it is this dizzying panorama of the vast, tangled mass of what has gone before that Richard Morris sets out to map in Time's Anvil. For Morris, this book is an "expedition" into the past, and as such it is both expansive and singular. But Time's Anvil is also an impassioned history and defence of archaeology, a history of humanity in England, and a heartfelt meditation on transience and mortality.

Compared with documentary history, the scope of archaeology is overwhelming. Morris inevitably finds an elegant human perspective in the snapshots he describes, from human footprints across the mudflats of the Severn estuary made six or seven thousand years ago by a group that included a running child, to the comparatively recent plaster drips hanging from the vaulted ceiling of a church crypt on the North Yorkshire moors, just nine centuries old. People leave their traces not only in deliberate workmanship, but just by getting along – disturbing the mud and leaving a trail that we, or at least the observant archaeologist, can follow back in time.

Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for this story.

Science is Cool

InForum: ‘Punk Archaeology’ conference set Feb. 2
FARGO – Punk archaeologists will convene with local rock music outfits, for the area’s first ever “Punk Archaeology” conference at 7 p.m. Feb. 2 at Sidestreet Grille and Pub, 301 3rd Ave. N.
By: Forum staff reports, INFORUM

William Caraher, history professor at the University of North Dakota, and Aaron Barth, a graduate student at North Dakota State University, will lead the conference which will explore the links between archaeology and punk music. Punk bands including June Panic, Andrew Reinhard, What Kingswood Needs and some members of Les Dirty Frenchmen will perform following the conference.

Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for this story.

BBC Science World Romania: Mad about science. Interview with Elise Andrew, creator of I Fucking Love Science
By Alex Stoianovici
January 25, 2013

Whoever says that smart things don't sell and don't catch the public's eye, ignores a major "elephant" in the online room: I Fucking Love Science, the most popular science page on Facebook.

Founded in March 2012, IFLS counts today over 2.8 million fans - a huge audience which offers its young creator, Elise Andrew, a voice with an astonishing power. Not only that she can pass her messages on to a huge number of web surfers, but also through the simple funny images or interesting scientific information she educates and fuels the curiosity not only of the young, but also of the adults.

As she told us in the interview below, such cases are quite often and they offer her a true sense of satisfaction in exchange of the effort she puts into managing the page and, maybe in the future, of a IFLS website. Her page is very popular in Romania too, so we had to try to discuss to our "brother in arms", because here also, at BBC Science World Romania, we try to entertain and to educate. We believe that it was a truly smart move, because we discovered in Elise Andrew a young, clever, nice person with a big enthusiasm towards science.

We hope you will enjoy her answers as we have. Enjoy!

Originally posted to Overnight News Digest on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 09:08 PM PST.

Also republished by SciTech and Astro Kos.

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