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Science News

New Form of Carbon Can Put a Dent in a Diamond

The structure of carbon-60 solvate made with C-60 cages and m-xylene solvent. (Credit: Image courtesy of Carnegie Institution)Carnegie Institution

ScienceDaily (Aug. 16, 2012) — A team of scientists led by Carnegie's Lin Wang has observed a new form of very hard carbon clusters, which are unusual in their mix of crystalline and disordered structure. The material is capable of indenting diamond. This finding has potential applications for a range of mechanical, electronic, and electrochemical uses.

The work is published in Science on Aug. 17.

Carbon is the fourth-most-abundant element in the universe and takes on a wide variety of forms -- the honeycomb-like graphene, the pencil "lead" graphite, diamond, cylindrically structured nanotubes, and hollow spheres called fullerenes. .

Some forms of carbon are crystalline, meaning that the structure is organized in repeating atomic units. Other forms are amorphous, meaning that the structure lacks the long-range order of crystals. Hybrid products that combine both crystalline and amorphous elements had not previously been observed, although scientists believed they could be created.

Stonehenge: Facts & Theories About Mysterious Monument

The stones of Stonehenge have endured centuries of weathering and erosion.Owen Jarus, LiveScience Contributor

Stonehenge is an enigmatic prehistoric monument located on a chalky plain north of the modern day city of Salisbury, England. It was started 5,000 years ago and modified by ancient Britons over a period of 1,000 years.  Its purpose continues to be a mystery.

The biggest of its stones, known as sarsens, are up to 30 feet (9 meters) tall and weigh 25 tons (22.6 metric tons) on average. It is widely believed that they were brought from Marlborough Downs, a distance of 20 miles (32 kilometers) to the north. Smaller stones, referred to as “bluestones” (they have a bluish tinge when wet or freshly broken), weigh up to 4 tons and most of them appear to have come from the Preseli Hills in western Wales, a distance of 156 miles (250 km). It’s unknown how people in antiquity moved them that far; water transport was probably used for part of the journey. Recently, scientists have raised the possibility that during the last ice age glaciers carried these bluestones closer to the Stonehenge area and the monument’s makers didn’t have to move them all the way from Wales.

Doomed Polar Explorer's Famed Ship Found on Seafloor

Bridge supports of Terra Nova, as seen in underwater video filmed off R/V Falkor.Andrea Mustain, OurAmazingPlanet Staff Writer

A research vessel testing its underwater mapping equipment recently made a remarkable discovery: the wreck of the Terra Nova, the famed ship that took British explorer Robert Falcon Scott on his fateful voyage to Antarctica a century ago.

The ship was discovered off the coast of Greenland on July 11. A crew aboard the Falkor, a research vessel operated by the Schmidt Ocean Institute (as in Eric Schmidt of Google fame), was testing the ship's acoustic sonar, when they spotted something unusual emerging from the seafloor data — a long, narrow shape that resembled a ship's hull.

A quick check of the length revealed it matched that of the Terra Nova: about 190 feet (57 meters), said Victor Zykov, Schmidt Ocean Institute's director of science.


The three-masted ship, with a single funnel rising from the wooden deck, was built in 1884. It ferried Scott and his men to Antarctica in 1910, and remained there for nearly three years, sailing away from the continent without Scott — and the four men who died at his side — in 1913. [Images from Scott's Last Expedition]

Three decades later, the Terra Nova was being used as a work ship by a seal fishery. In September 1943, it began to take on water. All the men on board were saved, but the ship disappeared into the frigid sea.

Ocean Wi-Fi Hot Spot Detects Great White Shark

Ocean Wi-Fi Hot SpotAnalysis by Tracy Staedter

A wireless ocean-based network developed to track the mysterious journeys of marine animals has just detected its first great white shark, a female measuring about 18 feet long. The network, which is comprised of a self-propelled solar-power robot called a Wave Glider (below), data receivers, fixed buoys and acoustic tags on sharks, is part of Stanford University's Blue Serengeti Initiative designed to observe and better manage ocean ecosystems.

Wave-glider-278x225In an email, the initiative's director Barbara Block wrote, "This very brave yellow glider successfully transmitted a detection of its first white shark: White Shark 62141." Block, who is also a professor of marine sciences biology at Stanford University, and her team envision a “wired ocean,” where Wi-Fi hotspots in the form of moored buoys and floating robots detect the movements of marine animals that have been tagged.

Currently, the network is small, just off the California coast near San Francisco, extending between Monterey Bay and Tomales Point. But eventually, Block wants to extend the network down the west coast of North America to monitor the activity of a range of marine animals, from salmon to sharks.

Technology News

Wikileaks’ Assange Granted Political Asylum In Ecuador

Image Credit: haak78/Shutterstock.comMichael Harper for

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has just been granted political asylum by the country of Ecuador, according to an announcement by the country.

Assange has been in hiding in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for two months as he awaited this decision.

“The government of Ecuador, faithful to its tradition of protecting those who seek refuge in its territory or in its diplomatic missions, has decided to grant diplomatic asylum to Julian Assange,” said Ricardo Patiño, Ecuador’s foreign minister in a news conference in the Ecuadorean capital.

“There are indications to presume that there could be political persecution,” said Patiño, suggesting that Assange would not get a fair trial in America.

With this announcement, Assange will now have protection from the Ecuadorean government, though only on Ecuadorean territory. If Assange were to travel to Ecuador, he could be stopped and arrested by British police.

Highest Possible Resolution Color Images Achieved

Images made of metal-nanostructure pixels could be used for security or optical data storage
This is an enlargement of an image just 50x50 micrometers, printed at the highest definition possible.By Katherine Bourzac

The highest possible resolution images — about 100,000 dots per inch — have been achieved, and in full-color, with a printing method that uses tiny pillars a few tens of nanometers tall. The method, described today in Nature Nanotechnology, could be used to print tiny watermarks or secret messages for security purposes, and to make high-density data-storage discs.

Each pixel in these ultra-resolution images is made up of four nanoscale posts capped with silver and gold nanodisks. By varying the diameters of the structures (which are tens of nanometers) and the spaces between them, it’s possible to control what color of light they reflect. Researchers at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in Singapore used this effect, called structural color, to come up with a full palette of colors. As a proof of principle, they printed a 50x50-micrometre version of the ‘Lena’ test image, a richly colored portrait of a woman that is commonly used as a printing standard.

Judge says Apple's 'smoking crack' with giant witness list

The judge in the case between Apple and Samsung once again loses her cool, chiding Apple for lining up too many last-minute witnesses.
U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh, presiding over the case between the two Josh Lowensohn

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Tempers boiled over in court this morning, with the judge in the case between Apple and Samsung flat out yelling at Apple for trying to book too many witnesses in its last few hours.

"I am not going to be running around trying to get 75 pages of briefings for people who are not going to be testifying," U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh told Apple's lawyer Bill Lee.

"I mean come on. 75 pages! 75 pages! You want me to do an order on 75 pages, (and) unless you're smoking crack, you know these witnesses aren't going to be called when you have less than four hours," Koh said.

"Your honor, I can assure you, I'm not smoking crack," Lee replied matter-of-factly.

The comments come as both sides are crunched for time. Each company gets 25 hours to make their case. Samsung is down to its last hour and a half, with Apple at six and a half -- time it plans to use cross-examining Samsung's witnesses and bringing up its own experts to rebut some of Samsung's claims. After that, the two companies get two hours for their closing arguments, something Koh threatened to shorten if both sides keep filing more paperwork.

Interview With The Oatmeal and Tesla Science Center About New Tesla Museum

Logo for Let’s Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum, an IndieGoGo campaign to preserve Tesla’s lab, the Wardenclyffe, as a Tesla museum.By Ariane Coffin

It was only a month ago that we celebrated Nikola Tesla’s birthday and already he’s popping back into our news feeds. The famous webcomic The Oatmeal announced yesterday the launch of an IndieGoGo campaign to finance the purchase of Tesla’s lab, the Wardenclyffe, with the goal of turning it into a Tesla museum.

The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe (TSC), originally named Friends of Science East, has been in business since 1996 as a non-profit organization trying to share Tesla’s legacy with the world. Comprised of eight board members who share this common passion for Tesla and his work, TSC is the entity which would be receiving the funds from the IndieGoGo campaign. Matthew Inman, creator of The Oatmeal, is contributing his Internet mogul wisdom and strong fan base to help launch the campaign’s popularity.

And the popularity — Inman has brought plenty. On its first day yesterday, the IndieGoGo campaign Let’s Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum collected about $250,000, 30 percent of its lofty $850,000 goal. That $850K, matched by the state of New York, will go entirely towards purchasing the $1.6 million property. After that, it will take a few more million to make the museum a reality. That may look like impossibly large numbers to most of us, but keep in mind that’s a normal, if not low, figure in the museum world. For example, the relatively new California Academy of Sciences cost around $500 million. Think about it this way: The Tesla museum is only one generous multi-millionaire away from success, should the TSC be able to save the Wardenclyffe from being torn down and replaced by the next cookie-cutter strip mall.

Environmental News

Report: CO2 Emissions In U.S. Drop To 20-Year Low

SmokestacksKevin Begos, Associated Press

PITTSBURGH (AP) — In a surprising turnaround, the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere in the U.S. has fallen dramatically to its lowest level in 20 years, and government officials say the biggest reason is that cheap and plentiful natural gas has led many power plant operators to switch from dirtier-burning coal.

Many of the world's leading climate scientists didn't see the drop coming, in large part because it happened as a result of market forces rather than direct government action against carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere.

Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, said the shift away from coal is reason for "cautious optimism" about potential ways to deal with climate change. He said it demonstrates that "ultimately people follow their wallets" on global warming.

"There's a very clear lesson here. What it shows is that if you make a cleaner energy source cheaper, you will displace dirtier sources," said Roger Pielke Jr., a climate expert at the University of Colorado.

Climate Change Shaped Ancient Mummification Practices

The development of Chinchorro burial rituals 7,000 years ago in South America coincided with a wet climate and a related population boom
A 4,500-year-old Chinchorro mummy. The body has been painted with red ochre and wears a long human-hair wig.From Nature magazine

 A relatively wet climatic period may have triggered the development 7000 years ago of complex culture in hunter-gatherer communities in the Atacama Desert, including the earliest known examples of ritual mummification.

Bands of hunter-gatherers lived along the Atacama coastline from 11000 BC to 500 BC, but the Chinchorro began mummifying their dead only around 5000 BC. An early Archaic burial (dated 9000-8000 BC) that uses similar funerary symbols to the later mummy burials suggests that mummification was a local development, rather than being introduced from elsewhere. Now, researchers posit that cultural innovations, including the cult of mummification, were spurred by environmental change1.

Regional climate records for the time, based on the periodic appearance of certain plants in the rock records, indicate that there was a period of greater rainfall across the Andes above the Atacama between 5800 BC and 4700 BC, which would have charged groundwater reserves in the usually dry desert of northern Chile and southern Peru. Springs would have begun discharging water and creeks would have filled.

Exxon Valdez Laid to Rest

The Oriental Nicety (née Exxon Valdez), born in 1986 in San Diego, has died after a long struggle with bad publicity
The 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster was the worst-ever oil spill in U.S. waters until the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010.By Shanta Barley and Nature magazine

In 1986, the National Steel and Shipbuilding company yard in San Diego, California, launched two ships with very different destinies. The USNS Mercy, a converted oil tanker, set off in white livery emblazoned with red crosses: a floating hospital for use in humanitarian aid efforts around the world. The Exxon Valdez, by contrast, was never intended to do more than cart crude oil from Valdez, Alaska, to Long Beach in California.

But on 23 March 1989, she entered history after her captain, Joseph Hazelwood, eased her out of the shipping lane. Icebergs made navigation especially dangerous that night for the ship, which was as long as three football fields and laden with 210,000 cubic metres of crude. Yet Hazelwood went below, just for 10 minutes to do some paperwork, he said, though perhaps also woozy from the vodkas he had drunk before coming on board (he was later acquitted of operating a vessel while intoxicated) — leaving an unlicensed third mate in charge.

Report Card Shows Australia's Oceans Are Changing

Sea level will continue to rise during the 21st century and beyond, and result in inundation of low-lying coastal regions and coastal recession. (Credit: Image courtesy of CSIRO Australia)CSIRO Australia

ScienceDaily (Aug. 16, 2012) — The report card provides information about the current and predicted-future state of Australia's marine climate and its impact on our marine biodiversity. The report card also outlines actions that are underway to help our marine ecosystems adapt to climate change.

"Although there are some concerning findings in the 2012 report card, the information we've compiled is helping to ensure that ocean managers and policy makers are best placed to respond to the challenge of managing the impact that climate change is having on these systems."

'Australia has some of the world's most unique marine ecosystems. They are enjoyed recreationally, generate considerable economic wealth through fisheries, aquaculture, and tourism, and provide irreplaceable services including coastal defence, oxygen production, nutrient recycling and climate regulation,' Project leader CSIRO's Dr Elvira Poloczanska said.

Medical News

Pan-Fried Meat Increases Risk of Prostate Cancer, New Study Finds

Research from the University of Southern California (USC) and Cancer Prevention Institute of California (CPIC) found that cooking red meats at high temperatures, especially pan-fried red meats, may increase the risk of advanced prostate cancer by as much as 40 percent. (Credit: (c) blende40 / Fotolia)University of Southern California - Health Sciences

ScienceDaily (Aug. 16, 2012) — Research from the University of Southern California (USC) and Cancer Prevention Institute of California (CPIC) found that cooking red meats at high temperatures, especially pan-fried red meats, may increase the risk of advanced prostate cancer by as much as 40 percent.

Mariana Stern, associate professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, led analyses for the study, "Red meat and poultry, cooking practices, genetic susceptibility and risk of prostate cancer: Results from the California Collaborative Prostate Cancer Study." The study, which is available online in the journal Carcinogenesis, provides important new evidence on how red meat and its cooking practices may increase the risk for prostate cancer.

Previous studies have emphasized an association between diets high in red meat and risk of prostate cancer, but evidence is limited. Attention to cooking methods of red meat, however, shows the risk of prostate cancer may be a result of potent chemical carcinogens formed when meats are cooked at high temperatures.

Clear Links Found Between Inflammation, Bacterial Communities and Cancer

Escherichia coli bacteria. (Credit: Janice Haney Carr)University of North Carolina at Charlotte

ScienceDaily (Aug. 16, 2012) — What if a key factor ultimately behind a cancer was not a genetic defect but ecological?

Ecologists have long known that when some major change disturbs an environment in some way, ecosystem structure is likely to change dramatically. Further, this shift in interconnected species' diversity, abundances, and relationships can in turn have a transforming effect on health of the whole landscape -- causing a rich woodland or grassland to become permanently degraded, for example -- as the ecosystem becomes unstable and then breaks down the environment.

For this reason, it should come as no surprise that a significant disturbance in the human body can profoundly alter the makeup of otherwise stable microbial communities co-existing within it and that changes in the internal ecology known as the human microbiome can result in unexpected and drastic consequences for human health.

Brain Scans Don't Lie About Age

The 'developmental clock' shows increases and decreases in brain's cortical surface, as well as the dynamic cascade of many other brain measures, all changing with increasing age (from age 3-20). (Credit: University of California San Diego of Medicine)Cell Press

ScienceDaily (Aug. 16, 2012) — It isn't uncommon for people to pass for ages much older or younger than their years, but researchers have now found that this feature doesn't apply to our brains. The findings reported online on August 16 in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, show that sophisticated brain scans can be used to accurately predict age, give or take a year.

It's a "carnival trick" that may have deeper implications for both brain science and medicine.

"We have uncovered a 'developmental clock' of sorts within the brain -- a biological signature of maturation that captures age differences quite well, regardless of other kinds of differences that exist across individuals," says Timothy Brown of the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.

Together with UCSD's Anders Dale and Terry Jernigan and researchers from nine other universities, Brown used structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to scan the brains of 885 people ranging in age from 3 to 20. Those brain scans were used to identify 231 biomarkers of brain anatomy that, when combined, could assess an individual's age with more than 92 percent accuracy. That's beyond what's been possible with any other biological measure, the researchers say.

Common Parasite May Trigger Suicide Attempts: Inflammation from T. Gondii Produces Brain-Damaging Metabolites

The Toxoplasma gondii parasite has been linked to inflammation in the brain, damaging cells. (Credit: Image courtesy of Michigan State University)Michigan State University

ScienceDaily (Aug. 16, 2012) — A parasite thought to be harmless and found in many people may actually be causing subtle changes in the brain, leading to suicide attempts.

New research appearing in the August issue of The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry adds to the growing work linking an infection caused by the Toxoplasma gondii parasite to suicide attempts. Michigan State University's Lena Brundin was one of the lead researchers on the team.

About 10-20 percent of people in the United States have Toxoplasma gondii, or T. gondii, in their bodies, but in most it was thought to lie dormant, said Brundin, an associate professor of experimental psychiatry in MSU's College of Human Medicine. In fact, it appears the parasite can cause inflammation over time, which produces harmful metabolites that can damage brain cells.

Space News

Sun's Almost Perfectly Round Shape Baffles Scientists

Image of the sun taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory. (Credit: NASA)University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy

ScienceDaily (Aug. 16, 2012) — The sun is nearly the roundest object ever measured. If scaled to the size of a beach ball, it would be so round that the difference between the widest and narrow diameters would be much less than the width of a human hair.

The sun rotates every 28 days, and because it doesn't have a solid surface, it should be slightly flattened. This tiny flattening has been studied with many instruments for almost 50 years to learn about the sun's rotation, especially the rotation below its surface, which we can't see directly.

Now Jeff Kuhn and Isabelle Scholl (Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawaii at Manoa), Rock Bush (Stanford University), and Marcelo Emilio (Universidade Estadual de Ponta Grossa, Brazil) have used the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI) onboard the Solar Dynamics Observatory satellite to obtain what they believe is the definitive -- and baffling -- answer.

LRO Spectrometer Finds Traces Of Helium Around The Moon

Image Caption: This composite image of the moon was constructed using Clementine data from 1994. Credit: NASAApril Flowers for

Using the Lyman Alpha Mapping Project (LAMP) spectrometer aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), scientists have made the first spectroscopic observations of the noble gas helium in the atmosphere surrounding the Moon. These remote-sensing observations complement the situ measurements taken in 1972 by the Lunar Atmosphere Composition Experiment (LACE) deployed by Apollo 17.

LAMP was originally designed to map the lunar surface, but the team expanded its science investigation to examine the far ultraviolet emissions visible in the tenuous atmosphere of the Moon, detecting helium over a campaign spanning more than 50 orbits. Several techniques were applied to remove signal contributions from the background helium and determine the amount of helium native to the Moon. This was necessary because helium also resides in the interplanetary background.

The team’s research findings, “Lunar Atmospheric Helium Detections by the LAMP UV Spectrograph on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter,” are published in Geophysical Research Letters.

High-Altitude Drop Tests Rocket U. Engineers

The rig set up by Rocket University linking a high-altitude balloon with a mechanism to carry and then release an aerodynamic capsule for an evaluation of its handling characteristics. (Credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann)NASA

ScienceDaily (Aug. 16, 2012) — An experimental payload went 25,000 feet higher than planned during a recent test flight but still performed well and will be the basis for a larger flight test next year.

"I think avionics-wise it went beautifully," said Chris Iannello, part of the team at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida that launched a high altitude balloon to the edge of the atmosphere and then tracked an instrument package they built as it free fell back to Earth. "We were all real pleased with it."

The engineers intended for a shoebox-sized capsule loaded with instruments to be carried under the balloon to about 80,000 feet and dropped to test the stability of the capsule's aerodynamic design.

But when a wire didn't burn through correctly, the package held onto the balloon as it floated up to 105,000 feet. The balloon burst at that height, sending the instrument package into a terminal velocity free-fall before automatically deploying its parachute.

Ready to Rove: Curiosity Project Scientist Lays Out Mars Tour Plans

After engineers run a months-long setup of the Mars Science Laboratory, now parked in a crater, scientists will take the rover on a nearly two-year journey that includes a visit to a six-kilometer-high mountain
Image: NASABy David Appell

After a hair-raising ride through the atmosphere, NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) has landed safely on Martian soil with cheers all around. Now engineers are busy checking out the rover Curiosity's condition while the mission's science team takes a first look around the surface locale. In the months ahead (the prime mission is slated to last a few months shy of two years) scientists plan to drive Curiosity around its touchdown site in Gale Crater and then up the slope of Mount Sharp, which rises six kilometers from the basin floor. Along the way they will look for geologic evidence that water once flowed across the landscape as well as signs of ancient microbial life.

Scientific American talked Monday with John Grotzinger, MSL project scientist, to get an insider's perspective on the landing and upcoming plans. Grotzinger has been on the MSL team since 2007, working from his office at the nearby California Institute of Technology, where he specializes in sedimentology, stratigraphy, geo-biology and ancient surface processes on Earth and Mars.

Odd News

Science fiction satirist Harry Harrison has died


LONDON (AP) — American author Harry Harrison, whose space-age spoofs delighted generations of science fiction fans, has died, a friend said Wednesday. He was 87.

Irish sci-fi writer Michael Carroll said in a telephone interview that he learned of Harrison’s passing from the author’s daughter, Moira, earlier in the day. He said Harrison died in southern England, but didn’t have much further detail.

Harrison was a prolific writer whose works ranged from tongue-in-cheek inter-galactic action romps to dystopian fantasies, with detours through children’s stories and shambolic crime capers. Carroll said most of the works delivered a stream of sly humor with a big bucket of action.

‘‘Imagine ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ or ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ and picture them as science fiction novels,’’ he said. ‘‘They’re rip-roaring adventures, but they’re stories with a lot of heart.’’

Harrison was best known for his ‘‘The Stainless Steel Rat’’ series, starring the free-spirited anti-hero Slippery Jim DiGriz, a quick-witted conman who travels the universe swindling humans, aliens and robots alike. His 1966 work, ‘‘Make Room! Make Room!’’ — a sci-fi take on the horrors of overpopulation — inspired the 1973 film ‘‘Soylent Green’’ starring Charlton Heston.

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