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Science News

Herders, not farmers, built Stonehenge

Ancient pastoralists linked to construction of massive stone monuments
Stonehenge in southern England may have been built by herders, not farmers, suggests a new analysis of crop remains from the last several millennia.By Bruce Bower

The ancient builders of Stonehenge may have had a surprisingly meaty diet and mobile way of life. Although farming first reached the British Isles around 6,000 years ago, cultivation had given way to animal raising and herding by the time Stonehenge and other massive stone monuments began to dot the landscape, a new study finds.

Agriculture’s British debut occurred during a mild, wet period that enabled the introduction of Mediterranean crops such as emmer wheat, barley and grapes, say archaeobotanists Chris Stevens of Wessex Archaeology in Salisbury, England, and Dorian Fuller of University College London. Farming existed at first alongside foraging for wild fruits and nuts and limited cattle raising, but the rapid onset of cool, dry conditions in Britain about 5,300 years ago spurred a move to raising cattle, sheep and pigs, Stevens and Fuller propose in the September Antiquity.

Distance record set for quantum teleportation

Photon's quantum state transmitted over 89 miles; could revolutionize communication
ESA's Optical Ground Station sits 2,400 meters (7,900 feet) above sea level on the volcanic island of Tenerife. Visible green laser beams are used for stabilizing the sending and receiving telescopes on the two islands. Invisible infrared single photons used for quantum teleportation are sent from La Palma, the neighboring island, and received by the 1-meter (40-inch) telescope located under the dome of the Optical Ground Station. This picture is a multiple exposure also including Tenerife's Teide volcano and the Milky Way in the background.By Clara Moskowitz

Physicists say they have "teleported" quantum information farther than ever before.

This kind of teleportation isn't quite what Scotty was "beaming up" on television's Star Trek, but it does represent a kind of magic of its own. While Star Trek's teleporters transport people from place to place instantaneously, quantum teleportation sends information.

A team of scientists from Austria, Canada and Germany say they beamed the quantum state of a particle of light from one island to another 89 miles (143 kilometers) away.

"One can actually transfer the quantum states of a particle — in our case a photon — from one location to another location without physically transferring this photon itself," explained physicist Xiaosong Ma of the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information at the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna.

Taking the Measure of a Single Molecule

Fat moleculesBy SINDYA N. BHANOO

For the first time, a device can measure the mass of a single molecule.

Traditionally in mass spectrometry, tens of millions of particles are weighed to calculate the mass of a single molecule. But researchers from the United States and France have developed a device that can measure just one; they describe it in the journal Nature Nanotechnology as a vibrating, bridgelike structure that is only a couple of millionths of a meter in length.

“One way to imagine it is like a violin string,” said Michael Roukes, a physicist at the California Institute of Technology and one of the study’s authors. “If you pluck a violin string it will vibrate at some frequency — so when a particle arrives on the resonator the frequency changes, and we’re measuring that change.”

Plant Calls in Wasps to Kick Some Butterfly Butt

A parasitic wasp attacks the eggs left by a large cabbage white butterfly.By Megan Gannon

A cabbage hiring wasp hitmen to protect it from a butterfly invasion sounds like the premise of a deranged children's movie. But new research shows something like that actually might happen in nature.

Plants give off a range of chemical distress signals when they're under attack from diseases, pests and even lawnmowers. Black mustard, a cabbage relative, produces chemicals called plant volatiles when a certain butterfly decides to take up residence on its leaves, and a European team of researchers investigated what role these signals play in building the plant's defenses.

The researchers reported Sept. 5 in the journal PLoS ONE that black mustard gives off a specific scent when large cabbage white butterflies (Pieris brassicae), as they are called, lay eggs on it. This odor both repels other pregnant butterflies from laying more eggs on the plant and attracts two species of parasitic wasps, Trichogramma brassicae and Cotesia glomerata. The wasps swoop in and attack the butterfly eggs and the caterpillars that have hatched from them, the researchers said. This defense mechanism prevents a colony of caterpillars from feasting on its leaves. (In return, the wasps parasitize, or live off, these eggs.)

Technology News

As a Taxi-Hailing App Comes to New York, Its Legality Is Questioned

Taxicab appWireless Design & Development

New Yorkers have long adopted their own techniques in the fine art of hailing a taxicab, a theatrical, frustrating, competitive ritual of the city.

There is the high-pitched whistle, the two-handed gesticulation, the rapid snapping of fingers. Many favor the classic wave — an open palm raised high, stretching into coming traffic.

And now, a start-up company says it has developed a more efficient option.

Uber, a company based in San Francisco, is introducing a smartphone app to New York that allows available taxi drivers and cab-seeking riders to find one another. The company said the service would begin operating on Wednesday in 105 cabs — a bit less than 1 percent of the city’s more than 13,000 yellow cabs. Uber added that it hoped to recruit 100 new drivers each week.

But the program may have a significant problem: Taxi officials say that Uber’s service may not be legal since city rules do not allow for prearranged rides in yellow taxis. They also forbid cabbies from using electronic devices while driving and prohibit any unjustified refusal of fares. (Under Uber’s policy, once a driver accepts a ride through the app, no other passenger can be picked up.)

FBI Disputes Claims Of Hackers' Apple Data Breach

A group called AntiSec posted one million Apple user identifiers, purportedly obtained from an FBI laptop (AFP/File, Emmanuel Dunand)National Cyber-Forensics & Training Alliance

WASHINGTON (AP) — The FBI on Tuesday disputed a computer hacker group's claim that it stole personal identification data on millions of Apple device owners from an FBI agent's laptop.

The group called AntiSec has released a link to a database of more than 1 million unique identification numbers for Apple devices, which could include iPhones and iPads. AntiSec said the data is just a piece of the more than 12 million unique identification numbers and personal information on the device owners that it got from a laptop used by an FBI agent.

The FBI denied that it ever had that information. But officials there said they could not verify the validity of the data that AntiSec released. Federal officials also warned that computer users should be careful when clicking on such links because they sometimes may contain malware that can infect computers.

Joe Stewart, a security researcher with Atlanta-based Dell SecureWorks, said, however, that he tested the link and did not find any connection to malware.

Apple did not respond to repeated requests for comment Tuesday.

Honda's Latest Robot Mows Your Lawn

Honda has entered the home robotics market with Miimo, a robotic lawn mower that communicates electronically with a perimeter wire to stay within the confines of a lawn or patch of grass. It cuts continuously with a range of settings and blade heights according to user preference.Elizabeth Montalbano, Contributing Writer

Feel too hot and lazy to mow the lawn in the late-summer heat? Why not let Miimo -- the first entry in the home robotics market from Honda -- do it for you.

Miimo is a robotic lawnmower that works via electronic sensors to continuously cut grass and safely navigate slopes and obstacles, according to the company, which for 10 years has developed an intelligent humanoid robot called ASIMO. ASIMO, which walks and talks and has been lauded for its innovation, is less than practical for everyday use and is not commercially available.

Miimo, on the other hand, is designed for the home consumer market, looking and performing somewhat like iRobot’s Roomba robotic vacuum and aimed at helping make a common task easier, safer, and more environmentally friendly. Miimo will join existing robotic lawnmowers like Robomow and Husqvarna’s Auto Mower in the European market early next year, with release in the US sometime thereafter.

DARPA’s Cheetah Robot Breaks Its Own Record

Hide your kids, hide your wife: Robots can now run up to 28 mph
Image Credit: DARPAMichael Harper for

In March, DARPA released a video of their Boston Dynamic’s Cheetah robot running on a treadmill and setting the land speed record for robots with legs, an admittedly short category.

Yesterday, DARPA announced that in just under 6 months, they’ve been able to successfully trump their own land speed record as well as someone else’s: One Olympic gold medal-winner Usain Bolt.

According to a DARPA statement, Bolt set the world record for fastest human in 2009, reaching top speeds of 27.78 miles per hour in a 20-meter portion of a 100-meter race. The Cheetah robot was able to reach top speeds of 28.3 miles per hour in a 20-meter span, though it was able to run on a treadmill in a lab rather than a track in front of thousands of spectators.

“Our real goal is to create a robot that moves freely outdoors while it runs fast,” said Boston Dynamics chief robotic scientist Alfred Rizzi, in a statement to CNET.

“We are building an outdoor version that we call WildCat, that should be ready for testing early next year.”

Environmental News

Patagonian Glaciers Melting in a Hurry

A new study finds that ice fields in southern South America are rapidly losing volume even at the highest elevations
The Cerro Fitz Roy looms above the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, on the border between Chile and Argentina. New research finds the ice field, even at the highest elevations, is thinning faster than earlier observations at the end of the 20th century.By

Ice fields in southern South America are rapidly losing volume and in most cases thinning at even the highest elevations, contributing to sea-level rise at "substantially higher" rates than observed from the 1970s through the 1990s, according to a study published Wednesday.

The rapid melting, based on satellite observations, suggests the ice field's contribution to global sea-level rise has increased by half since the end of the 20th century, jumping from 0.04 millimeters per year to about .07 mm, and accounting for 2 percent of annual sea-level rise since 1998.

The southern and northern Patagonian ice fields are the largest mass of ice in the southern hemisphere outside of Antarctica. The findings spell trouble for other glaciers worldwide, according to the study's lead author, Cornell University researcher Michael Willis.

Fishing Vessels Level Seafloor

A new study reveals that humans have been altering the ocean bottom for decades, since the widespread implementation of bottom trawling
FURROWED FLOOR: Bottom trawling--a fishing technique that drags large nets across the seafloor--has leveled the ocean bottom in the Mediterranean, and likely elsewhere, as shown in this picture of La Fonera Canyon from a remotely-operated submarine.By David Biello

Trawlers are smoothing the floor of the Mediterranean Sea, much as farmers flattened fields across Europe centuries ago. And it's likely that similar smoothing is occurring wherever bottom trawlers operate across the Seven Seas.

New research published online by Nature on September 5 reveals that bottom trawling—dragging massive nets across the seafloor to catch food such as deep-sea shrimp—is pushing sediment to fill in gaps on a daily basis, resulting in smooth undersea plains. (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.) "Fishermen are not doing anything different than farmers many decades ago," explains marine scientist Pere Puig of La Agencia Estatal Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC) in Barcelona, who led the research. "Fishing grounds could be seen as farm fields, but there has to be some limitations to avoid the extension of trawling impacts."

Obama and Romney take science quiz and rekindle climate controversy

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama have answered 14 questions on science and technology issues.By Alan Boyle

President Barack Obama and his GOP challenger, Mitt Romney, have sent in their answers to the political campaign's highest-profile science quiz — the 14 questions on science and technology issues posed by Science Debate 2012 — and Romney's answer to the climate question is already stirring up some buzz.

The answers distill the candidates' stands on topics ranging from ocean health, to the federal support for innovative research, to the process for developing science policy, to the proper way to plan for a potential pandemic. The territory covered by the questions has shifted somewhat since 2008: For example, stem cell research appears to have become a non-issue, while Internet policy gets its own question this time around.

But it's Romney's response to the question about climate change that has drawn the most attention.

For months, Romney has been criticized for going back and forth on the issue of what to do about global warming. He generally acknowledges that greenhouse-gas emissions have had an effect on climate, but he's backed away from policy responses such as carbon cap-and-trade markets.

Alarm sounded for dwindling populations of species in Asia

The Wildlife Conservation Society released a list of Asian animals it says are in danger of extinction.OurAmazingPlanet

 Some of Asia's most magnificent animals are at a crossroads and may not survive if steps aren't taken to save them, an environmental group announced Wednesday at the World Conservation Congress in Jeju, Korea.

The Wildlife Conservation Society released a list of animals in danger of extinction, including tigers, orangutans, Mekong giant catfish, Asian rhinos, Asian giant river turtles and Asian vultures.

The group said the problem could be solved by following the "Three R's Approach":  recognition, responsibility and recovery.

A good example of a species saved from the brink is the American bison. In this case the iconic animal's imminent demise was recognized, responsibility for its survival was taken by conservationists and politicians, and it has recovered somewhat.

But if this approach isn't followed, Asian animals on the list could go the way of the American passenger pigeon, and die off, the WCS warned.

Medical News

MRI spots silent heart attacks

Test outperforms standard EKG in detecting unrecognized cardiac damage
Lester Lefkowitz/Photographer's Choice/Getty ImagesBy Nathan Seppa

Many people have had a heart attack and don’t know it. A study of older people in Iceland finds that nearly twice as many had experienced a silent heart attack as had suffered one with all the medical bells and whistles. MRI scans revealed the hidden heart attacks better than standard testing by electrocardiography, or EKG, scientists report in the Sept. 5 Journal of the American Medical Association.

It’s helpful to know who has had a heart attack because for the long term such people are treated more aggressively with medication, says study coauthor Andrew Arai, a cardiologist at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in Bethesda, Md.

Arai and his U.S. colleagues teamed with Icelandic researchers to test 670 people who were randomly selected from Iceland’s population and 266 others chosen because they had diabetes. The overall median age of the volunteers was 76. Medical records showed that 91 had experienced a previous heart attack. But testing with MRI revealed that 157 others, including 72 who had diabetes, had clear signs of cardiac tissue that was damaged at some point in a silent heart attack. EKG spotted 46 such cases, including 15 patients with diabetes. Some people, but not all, were detected by both diagnostic tests.

"Junk" DNA Holds Clues to Common Diseases

With the new annotation of the human genome, researchers are finding that most of the code between genes is controlling crucial functions for life and health
Parsing the 'Junk' of the genome: Researchers have now found that much of the space on the genome between genes is extremely active in keeping our genes working as they should.By Katherine Harmon

When the draft of the human genome was published in 2000, researchers thought that they had obtained the secret decoder ring for the human body. Armed with the code of 3 billion basepairs of As, Ts, Cs and Gs and the 21,000 protein-coding genes, they hoped to be able to find the genetic scaffolds of life—both in sickness and in health.

But in the 12 years since then, very few diseases—almost all of them very rare—have been linked definitively to changes in the genes themselves. And large, genome-wide studies searching for genetic underpinnings for more common diseases, such as lung cancer or autism, have pointed to the nether regions of the genome between the protein-producing genes—areas that were often thought to contain “junk” DNA that was not part of the pantheon of known genes.

Biomarker Predicts Recovery from a Type of Depression

A new study signifies the beginning of the end of psychiatrists' guess-work in figuring out which antidepressants work best for individual patients
Image: Jiri HodanBy Amy Maxmen

People who live with clinical depression must also suffer the ‘trial and error’ approach that psychiatrists take when prescribing antidepressants. Now, a study published this week signifies the beginning of the end of guesswork. In it, a blood test predicts who will respond well to a novel treatment for depression, and who might even fare worse.“We haven’t had a test like this in psychiatry before,” says Andy Miller, a professor of psychiatry at Emory University and an author on the study in Archives of General Psychiatry. “There is no brain scan, no physiological measure that tells you whether a patient will respond to one drug more than another.”

The test identifies an inflammatory protein in blood, C-reactive protein or CRP, that indicates internal inflammation. Whereas 62% of depressed participants with high CRP levels responded well to the new treatment, only 33% of participants with low CRP levels did.

The Fraying Hospital Safety Net

Safety NetBy PAULINE W. CHEN, M.D.

Slender and in his 60s, the patient had been short of breath for several days, a result of untreated heart failure causing fluid to build up in his lungs. Despite his wife’s entreaties, he had refused to go to the hospital, one of the biggest in the city, and waited at home, gasping, until his appointment at our clinic.

When I asked him why, he looked disgusted. “Have you ever been in that hospital?” he snorted, rolling his eyes. The halls were dingy, he continued; security guards were everywhere, accompanied occasionally by a shackled patient from the local prison; and the waiting rooms were veritable dens of human misery, filled with patients and their families stuck in endless holding patterns.

“Who knows what kind of care I would have gotten in one of those hospitals,” he said with a shudder.

Space News

Curiosity Standing Still, But Still Offering Up Some Eye Candy

Image Caption: Camera on Curiosity's arm as seen by camera on mast. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSSLee Rannals for

NASA held a telephone conference with reporters today to give an update about what Curiosity is up to on the Martian surface.

The new rover is currently sitting still on the Red Planet, and NASA said it will be moving again towards its target “Glenelg” in about a week.

At the future site, there are multiple targets that NASA plans to assess on whether they will be drilling. In an image released by the space agency, there are multiple bright spots that could be Curiosity’s first drilling targets.

So far, Curiosity has driven a total of 358 feet from the Bradbury Landing spot, and now it will be sitting still to test out its arm.

NASA released a new image taken by the left eye of the Mast Camera on Curiosity of the rover’s own Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI).

MAHLI is one of the tools at the end of the rover’s robotic arm, and in the image you can see the dust cover is still on the camera lens.

Scientists Put Dates On Mars Climate Change For First Time

Image Credit: Photos.comLee Rannals for

Researchers from the Niels Bohr Institute have dated climate history for Mars for the first time.

The ice caps on Mars’ poles are miles thick, composed of ice and dust and contain layers that can be seen in cliffs and valley slopes.

The layers are believed to reflect past climate on Mars, in the same way that Earth’s climate history can be seen from the ice caps on Greenland and Antarctica.

The scientists were able to relate the layers in the ice cap on Mars’ north pole to variations in solar insolation on Mars.

Solar insolation on Mars has varied dramatically over time, due to large variations in the tilt of Mars’ rotational axis, and this led to dramatic climate various on Mars.

For years, people have been trying to link the solar insolation and layer formation by looking for signs of periodic sequences in the visible layers. These signals might be traceable back to known variations in the solar insolation on Mars, but so far scientists haven’t determined where one could find a correlation between variations in insolation and the layers.

Spacewalk Success! ISS Astronauts Finish Up Spacewalk

Image Caption: MBSU cleaning tools that were used during installation. Credit: NASA TVLee Rannals for

Astronauts finished up their 2nd spacewalk in 3 days outside the International Space Station this afternoon.

Flight Engineers Suni Williams and Aki Hoshide ventured outside the orbiting outpost and completed the installation of a Main Bus Switching Unit (MBSU) on Wednesday.

The astronauts also installed a camera on the space station’s robotic arm, Canadarm 2. Flight Engineer Joe Acaba operated the Canadarm 2 and monitored the space walkers from inside the station.

During the spacewalk, Hoshide rode the Canadarm 2 attached to a portable foot restraint to the MBSU worksite.

The spacewalk ran into complications last week due to a possible misalignment and damaged threads where a bolt needed to be placed when attempting to install the MBSU.

Last week’s spacewalk lasted eight hours and 17 minutes, making it the third longest in the U.S. spaceflight history. The mission was originally scheduled for 6.5 hours before mission controllers and the astronauts ran into problems installing the MBSU.

Space Elevator Enthusiasts Push On despite Lengthy Time Frames and Long Odds

A space-travel technology, simple in concept, has been frustratingly difficult to realize
A LONG CLIMB: An artist's conception shows a climber pod ascending a space elevator's tether to deploy a satellite.By David Appell

SEATTLE—“I think building an elevator to space is maybe the best thing I could do in the world,” Michael Laine says.

His company, Liftport, has just raised over $62,000 on Kickstarter to build robot climbers on a skyward cable—an early step toward his eventual goal of putting a space elevator on the moon. A space elevator is just what it sounds like—a capsule that travels to and from space along a track or tether to provide reliable access to orbit.

Behind Laine is the cavernous Great Gallery at Seattle's Museum of Flight, where dozens of aircraft are on display, chronicling the human adventure of flight. Meeting in a nearby conference room are about 40 space enthusiasts, in town for the annual Space Elevator Conference hosted by ISEC, the International Space Elevator Consortium. Some of them have sacrificed their careers, credit ratings or savings accounts—all in pursuit of a simple concept that has thus far proved impossible in practice.

Odd News

Scientists 'Engineer' Dreams in Rats

To sleep, perchance to dreamJeanna Bryner, LiveScience Managing Editor

The dream of modifying a person's dreams has just gotten a step closer, as MIT scientists were able to manipulate what lab rats "saw" in their sleep using audio cues.

Scientists have known that during sleep, a part of the brain called the hippocampus "replays" the day's events in a process that might help solidify a person's memories. The same has been shown in rats that dream about running through mazes after a day's work in a lab at MIT.

In the new MIT study, researchers Matthew Wilson and Daniel Bendor trained rats to run through a maze using audio cues, with one sound directing the animals to a reward on the right side of the track, and another sound leading the rats to a reward on left.

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