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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 LiveScience.

What Does the Fiscal Deal Mean for Science?
Wynne Parry, LiveScience Contributor
Date: 04 January 2013 Time: 10:12 AM ET

The deal that lawmakers and the White House finalized late Tuesday (Jan. 1) to avert going over the fiscal cliff leaves science agencies in limbo, delaying a decision on budget cuts for two more months.

The agreement does, however, reduce the potential impact of these cuts.

"I am hopeful they will find a deal that spares the worst of these cuts, that takes a much more balanced approach," said Matt Hourihan of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Tuesday's tax deal, he said, "is a step in that direction."

There are two more stories about the "Fiscal Bluff Bungee Jump" under Psychology and Science Writing and reporting after the Orange Squiggle of Power.

Recent Science Diaries and Stories

Watch this space!

Serendipity + Science = Personal Power
by arendt

This week in science: New year, new science, new earths?
by DarkSyde


Discovery News on YouTube: 3 Incredible Science Breakthroughs for 2013

What will 2013 hold in the world of science? Anthony explores some of the awesome upcoming events and advancements that lie in store for us.

Discovery News on YouTube: Vomiting Robot Helps Humanity

Meet Vomiting Larry, the puking robot! He's been made by scientists to study one of the most contagious viruses out there- the Norovirus. Anthony shows us why Larry's work is so important... and disgusting.

Discovery News on YouTube: Why We FAIL at New Year's Resolutions

Laci Green breaks down why we have such a hard time sticking to New Years resolutions and the best way to make this year's resolutions count.

NASA Television on YouTube: Rocket's Core Gets Rave Review on This Week @NASA

The core stage of NASA's Space Launch System -- America's new flagship rocket -- has successfully completed a major technical review by meeting system requirements within acceptable risk, and fell within schedule and budget constraints. The first flight test of the SLS, propelling an un-crewed Orion spacecraft beyond the moon, is scheduled for 2017. Also, rocket's powerpack testing; happy landings; new SCaN satellite; TP Toss; and, more!

NBC News: Curiosity rover studies rocks and a 'flower' on Mars
By Alan Boyle
The cameras on NASA's Curiosity rover have been clicking away over the holidays — gathering enough pictures for a 360-degree panorama of its rocky surroundings at Yellowknife Bay, plus a close-up view showing a "Martian flower" seemingly sprouting from the surface.

The panorama was assembled from pictures snapped by the rover's navigation camera system on the 132nd Martian day of Curiosity's mission on the Red Planet, also known as Sol 132 or Dec. 19.

In this case, the folks doing the assembling are Ken Kremer, a New Jersey-based journalist, research chemist and photographer; and Marco Di Lorenzo, a physicist who's a high-school educator and photographer in Italy. They stitched together the black-and-white images, filled in the gaps in the Martian sky and colorized the scene to reflect what an observer on Mars might see.

Discovery News: The Changing Face of Earth in 2012: Photos

Dec. 29, 2012 -- Industrialized human cultures have existed for far less time than the giant redwood trees. Yet in the few centuries that our modern engineering projects have been spreading across Earth, they have altered the face of the planet like no other species before.

This past year NASA released a new set of images, known as the Black Marble, showing the planet at night. The incandescent spider webs of industrialized human habitation can be seen in stark contrast to the remaining expanses of darkness in some regions like Siberia and the Congo.

Other images taken from on high also show the astounding ability of Homo sapiens to modify their habitats in ways that no other species could never achieve.


Discovery News: 100 Billion Exoplanets Live in Our Galaxy
Analysis by Irene Klotz
Fri Jan 4, 2013 01:25 PM ET

At first blush, there is nothing particularly special about Kepler-32, a dwarf star located about 910 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus.

In fact, the star, which has five planets in tow, is so common, astronomers at the California Institute of Technology say it's representative of three-quarters of all the stars in the Milky Way galaxy.

The scientists analyzed Kepler-32's structure, compared it with other planetary systems discovered by NASA's Kepler space telescope and sat down to do some math. The result: an estimate that the Milky Way is home to at least 100 billion planets.

Science News: New Martian meteorite is one of a kind
Rock is water-rich and resembles observed regions of Red Planet's crust
By Tanya Lewis
Web edition: January 3, 2013

A recently found Martian meteorite contains substantially more water than any previously found, and chemically the rock appears to be in a class by itself.

The meteorite, known as Northwest Africa 7034, formed about 2.1 billion years ago during Mars’ Amazonian epoch and closely matches the chemical composition of parts of the planet’s surface, scientists report online January 3 in Science.

“This new meteorite is more like Martian crust than any previous meteorite,” says lead author Carl Agee, a planetary scientist at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

PLoS One and the University of Rochester via PhysOrg: Houston, we have another problem: Study shows space travel is harmful to the brain
December 31, 2012

As if space travel was not already filled with enough dangers, a new study out today in the journal PLOS ONE shows that cosmic radiation – which would bombard astronauts on deep space missions to places like Mars – could accelerate the onset of Alzheimer's disease

"Galactic cosmic radiation poses a significant threat to future astronauts," said M. Kerry O'Banion, M.D., Ph.D., a professor in the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy and the senior author of the study. "The possibility that radiation exposure in space may give rise to health problems such as cancer has long been recognized. However, this study shows for the first time that exposure to radiation levels equivalent to a mission to Mars could produce cognitive problems and speed up changes in the brain that are associated with Alzheimer's disease."

While space is full of radiation, the earth's magnetic field generally protects the planet and people in low earth orbit from these particles. However, once astronauts leave orbit, they are exposed to constant shower of various radioactive particles. With appropriate warning, astronauts can be shielded from dangerous radiation associated with solar flares. But there are also other forms of cosmic radiation that, for all intents and purposes, cannot be effectively blocked.


Grist: 2012 was the hottest year in history in New York, D.C., Louisville, Philadelphia …
By Philip Bump

It’s not yet official, but 2012 was the hottest year in American history. Recorded history, that is; we’ll allow climate change deniers the possibility that the United States was hotter when it was a still-forming Pangeal mass of semi-solid lava. Beyond that, though: hottest ever.

This led to a bumper crop of “hottest year ever!” stories in local media last week. Here’s a Google News search for “hottest year.” Among the areas noting that accomplishment: Lexington, Richmond, Topeka, New Jersey, Cleveland and Columbus, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Burlington, Louisville, and New York City. In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicates that its 170,000-odd monitoring stations in the U.S. recorded 24,280 new record highs over the course of 2012, and 9,728 tied highs.

Discovery News: Pollution Levels At Your Fingertips
Analysis by Christina Ortiz
Fri Jan 4, 2013 12:48 PM ET

Pollution is invisible and knowing how much is around you is not always easy. But a new system called Citisense, which consists of a mobile air quality sensor and smartphone app, could one day give people real-time information about the air around them.

The system, which is still in the research stages and not available commercially, was developed by a group of scientists lead by William Griswold, a computer science professor UC San Diego. It has a mobile sensor that a person wears while walking or biking around a city. The sensor detects the levels of pollutants in the air and sends the information to a server that uses machine learning to analyze the information for the app. Users with the app can see maps that display levels of pollutants, estimates of a user's exposure to those pollutants as well as a color-coded scale for air quality that uses EPA standards, i.e. green for good and purple for bad.


LiveScience: Odd Mammal Thought Long Extinct in Australia May Still Live
Tia Ghose, LiveScience Staff Writer
Date: 03 January 2013 Time: 01:36 PM ET

A critically endangered mammal thought to be extinct in Australia since the last ice age may still exist there, a new study suggests.

That speculation comes from the discovery that at least one long-beaked echidna, an egg-laying mammal thought to exist only in New Guinea, was found in Australia in 1901 and that native Aborigine populations reported seeing the animal more recently. The 1901 specimen, described in the Dec. 28 issue of the journal Zookeys, had been shot and stuffed and was lying in a drawer, long forgotten, in the Natural History Museum in London.

"What's amazing about this study is it all hinges on a single specimen, and it's a very well-documented specimen that was collected in 1901 in Australia," said study co-author Kristofer Helgen, a zoologist at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. "It's taken until 2013 for myself and the team to really unbury the specimen from the cabinets of the Natural History Museum of London."

LiveScience: Sumatran Tigers Finally Mate at National Zoo
Megan Gannon, News Editor
Date: 04 January 2013 Time: 01:55 PM ET

Fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers are left in the wild, and as their numbers continue to dwindle, zoos are turning to captive breeding as a way to conserve the critically endangered species.

But captive cats don't always approach mating as if the survival of their species depends on it. That's why the Smithsonian's National Zoo excitedly announced this week that its two Sumatran tigers, Kavi and Damai, finally bred.

Zoo officials have documented the careful courtship process on their Tiger Diary blog. They said the tigers first met in the fall of 2012, and were initially only given visual access to each other, kept physically separated by a door. The two were finally brought together in December when Damai, the female, went into heat, and zoo officials prepared for a potentially volatile conjugal visit.

"When we first do an introduction we have everyone availa

LiveScience: Endangered Beluga Whales See Slight Population Uptick
by LiveScience Staff
Date: 04 January 2013 Time: 06:12 PM ET

A rare group of beluga whales in Alaska saw a slight increase in numbers last year, a survey showed. Scientists estimated that the population of Cook Inlet belugas stood at 312 in 2012, compared with a record low 278 in 2011, officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced.

This small uptick is not scientifically significant, researchers noted. Long-term trends have shown Cook Inlet beluga whales in decline over the past two decades. According to NOAA estimates, the population may once have been as big as 1,300 but it shrank dramatically during the 1990s and has continued to fall.

Biotechnology/Health U of M study: concentrating on diet more effective than exercise for weight loss
By Vince Lamb, Detroit Science News Examiner
January 3, 2013

If you are one of the many people whose New Years resolution is to lose weight, ask yourself which you believe to be more important, diet or exercise.

This is not an idle or trick question.  The answer is important to your success.

In a study submitted to the journal Psychological Science, those who believe that diet is more important weigh less than those who subscribe to exercise being more important.

"The greater the extent to which you believe it is diet, the thinner you are on average," said Brent McFerran, a marketing professor at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business, in a press release issued January 2nd.


LiveScience: Psychology of Compromise: Why Congress Fails
Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer
Date: 03 January 2013 Time: 02:33 PM ET

Hyenas do it. Elephants do it. But apparently congressional representatives do not.

"It" would be cooperation, which has been little-seen in Washington during the "fiscal cliff" negotiations. Despite a deadline they themselves set with consequences no one wanted, Democrats and Republicans went down to the wire before passing a bill that averts major cuts and tax increases but sets the stage for more bickering over the raising of the nation's debt limit and other budgetary issues.
Why all the rancor? A major contributor is partisan polarization, which political scientists say is at historic levels among the political elite. But simple human psychology may also explain why it's so tough to compromise, with feelings often trumping logic in heated debates.


PhysOrg: Earliest evidence of life found: 3.49 billion years ago
 by Lin Edwards
January 4, 2013

(—A group of US researchers studying some of the oldest rocks in the world in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, say they have found the oldest traces of life on Earth, dated at 3.49 billion years old.

The scientists, led by Associate Professor Nora Noffke of the Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, did not strictly find fossils of that age, but actually found web-like patterns criss-crossing the surfaces of the Pilbara sandstone. Dr. Noffke calls the patterns and textures Microbially Induced Sedimentary Structures (MISS) and said the structures were created by a complete ecosystem of different types of bacteria living in the Archean eon (roughly 3.8 to 2.5 GA) almost three-and-a-half billion years ago.

Discovery News: Dinosaurs Shook Their Tail Feathers
Analysis by Jennifer Viegas
Fri Jan 4, 2013 09:16 AM E

Some dinosaurs danced and literally shook their tail feathers to attract potential mates, researchers say.

It's long been theorized that at least some feathered dinosaurs used their plumage for courtship. A new study, published in the journal Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, strengthens that belief.

The dancing, prancing dinosaurs were oviraptors -- two legged, plant-eating dinos, related to T. rex, that roamed parts of China, Mongolia and Alberta during the Cretaceous period, which was the final age of the dinosaur.

"Oviraptors clearly had the anatomy needed to sinuously swish and to gracefully flaunt their tails," lead author Scott Persons told Discovery News, adding that many of these dinosaurs also had arm fans and head crests, which could have been part of such eye-catching moments.

NBC News: Scientists breed big-brained guppies to demonstrate evolution's trade-offs
By Alan Boyle

Scientists have long suspected that big brains come with an evolutionary price — but now they've published the first experimental evidence to support that suspicion, based on their efforts to breed big-brained fish.

A Swedish team found it relatively easy to select and interbreed common guppies to produce bigger (or smaller) brains — as much as 9.3 percent bigger, to be precise. But the bigger-brained fish also tended to have smaller guts and produce fewer babies.

This finding is consistent with what's known as the "expensive-tissue hypothesis" — the idea that there's a trade-off between the demands of the brain and the demands of other organs. For example, we humans have bigger brains than other primates, relative to body size. About 20 percent of the energy we take in is used up by the brain, which represents just 2 percent fo our body mass. But the amount of energy devoted to digestion is smaller, relatively speaking.


LiveScience: 'Peking Man' Was a Fashion Plate
Owen Jarus, LiveScience Contributor

"Peking Man," a human ancestor who lived in China between roughly 200,000 and 750,000 years ago, was a wood-working, fire-using, spear-hafting hominid who, mysteriously, liked to drill holes into objects for unknown reasons.

And, yes, these hominids, a form of Homo erectus, appear to have been quite meticulous about their clothing, using stone tools to soften and depress animal hides.  

The new discoveries paint a picture of a human ancestor who was more sophisticated than previously believed.


VietNamNet: Tomb of prehistoric people discovered in cave
VietNamNet Bridge - Excavating Con Moong Cave in the central province of Thanh Hoa, archaeologists found tons of shells and a lot of working tools. The most valuable discovery is the remains of prehistoric people in tombs dating back tens of thousands of years ago.
3 January 2013

Located in the buffer zone of Cuc Phuong National Park, Con Moong Cave in Thach Yen commune, Thanh Hoa, has been known for many years as a unique archaeological site in Vietnam and Southeast Asia.

After excavation, archaeologists have demonstrated that Con Moong represents the cultural developments associated with many stages of development of ancient Vietnamese in more than ten thousand years (from 18,000 to 7,000 BC).

The highlight of the cave is that all stratas have the traces of the continuous development of human history, from the Old Stone Age to the Neolithic, from hunting and gathering to farming, before the Son Vi to the Son Vi, Hoa Binh culture and Bac Son and Da But cultures.

University of Reading (UK) via Laboratory Equipment: Stone Age Hunters Manipulated Environment for Better Living
Fri, 01/04/2013 - 12:28pm
Univ. of Reading

Researchers from the Univ. of Reading found 7,500 year-old worked flint “tools”, bones, charcoal and hazelnut shells while working at Goldcliff, near Newport.

These finds indicate that Mesolithic people were manipulating the environment to increase their resources, thousands of years before farming began. Charcoal remains suggest these people used fire to encourage the growth of plants, such as hazelnuts, crab apples and raspberries. The researchers believe all these were eaten.

Most of the evidence in Britain for hunter-gatherer relates to the hunting of animals as bones survive on more sites, so the plant part of their diet tends to be ignored. The Severn Estuary sites however are exceptional in providing evidence for a wide range of plant resources.

Discovery News: Oldest Known Depiction of Pharaoh Found
Analysis by Rossella Lorenzi
Fri Dec 28, 2012 03:38 PM ET

The oldest known representation of a pharaoh has been found carved on rocks at a desert site in southern Egypt, according to new research into long forgotten engravings.

Found on vertical rocks at Nag el-Hamdulab, four miles north of the Aswan Dam, the images depict a pharaoh riding boats with attendant prisoners and animals in what is thought to be a tax-collecting tour.

"We don't know with certainty who the king represented at Hamdulab is. We can guess on paleographic and iconographic grounds," Maria Carmela Gatto, associate research scholar in Egyptology at Yale University and co-director of  thee Aswan-Kom Ombo archaeological project in Egypt, told Discovery News.

Al Arabiya (United Arab Emirates): What lies beneath: 2000 BC tomb in Oman discovered
By Al Arabiya
Monday, 31 December 2012

While building a new border check post in the northern coastal Aswad province of Oman, the squad of Royal Oman Police (ROP) discovered ancient artifacts, settlements and tombs dating back to 2000 BC.

Once the ROP team reported the discovery of the ancient graves in Aswad’s Shinas town, the crew of Sultan Qaboos University graduates and trained Omani archeologists began exploring the location, Gulf News reported on Monday.

According to the Ministry of Heritage and Culture official, the remains from ancient settlements, which include a brass necklace, body, daggers, needles, arrow heads, knives, local and imported beads, belonged to 1900 BC-1100 BC era.

Art Daily: Mexican archaeologists find 60 arrows estimated to be more than 4,000 years old in Sinaloa
December 30, 2012

MAZATLAN.- Fifty kilometers north of Mazatlan, Sinaloa, near the beach where a group of rocks with more than 600 petroglyphs, known as Las Labradas, Mexican investigators discovered an archaeological site of the archaic epoch. In this site, they found 60 arrow and spear heads estimated to be from between 2500 – 1000 BC, this means they were made more than 4000 years ago. This site is the one with the eldest human presence found in Sinaloa, the objects found in the site are of great importance to Mexican archaeology because “they will change the chronology of man’s occupations in the northwestern part of the country”, informed archaeologist Joel Santos Ramirez, from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH-Conaculta). Joel Santos Ramirez, director of the investigation project in Las Labradas, indicated that part of the investigation (started since 2009) is to determine where the authors of the petroglyph lived. To date, they have registered 22 places close to the group of rocks with evidence of human presence. Archaeologists studied four of these places between 2010 and 2012: La Flor del Oceano, La Puntilla, Lomas del Mar and Arrollo La Lomita.

USA Today: Famed Roman shipwreck reveals more secrets
Dan Vergano, USA TODAY
12:26a.m. EST January 4, 2013

Ancient artifacts resembling the Antikythera mechanism, an ancient bronze clockwork astronomical calculator, may rest amid the larger-than-expected Roman shipwreck that yielded the device in 1901.

Marine archaeologists report they have uncovered new secrets of an ancient Roman shipwreck famed for yielding an amazingly sophisticated astronomical calculator. An international survey team says the ship is twice as long as originally thought and contains many more calcified objects amid the ship's lost cargo that hint at new discoveries.

At the Archaeological Institute of America meeting Friday in Seattle, marine archaeologist Brendan Foley of the Woods Hole (Mass.) Oceanographic Institution, will report on the first survey of Greece's famed Antikythera island shipwreck since 1976. The ancient Roman shipwreck was lost off the Greek coast around 67 BC,filled with statues and the famed astronomical clock.

LiveScience: Ancient Carving Shows Stylishly Plump African Princess
Owen Jarus, LiveScience Contributor
Date: 03 January 2013 Time: 09:07 AM ET

A 2,000-year-old relief carved with an image of what appears to be a, stylishly overweight, princess has been discovered in an "extremely fragile" palace in the ancient city of Meroë, in Sudan, archaeologists say.

At the time the relief was made, Meroë was the center of a kingdom named Kush, its borders stretching as far north as the southern edge of Egypt. It wasn't unusual for queens (sometimes referred to as "Candaces") to rule, fac ing down the armies of an expanding Rome.

Gizmodo Australia: Archaeologists Think Hidden Imperial Tomb May Be Too Deadly To Explore
Jesus Diaz
30 December, 2012

After discovering a secret palace hidden in China’s first emperor massive burial complex, Chinese technicians are nervous. Not because Qin Shi Huang’s tomb is the most important archaeological discovery since Tutankhamen, but because they believe his burial place is full of deadly traps that will kill any trespassers. Not to talk about deadly quantities of mercury.

The secret courtyard-style palace tomb is a mind-numbing discovery. Situated in the heart of the Emperor’s 56km² mortuary compound, guarded by more than 6000 (and counting) full-size statues of warriors, musicians and acrobats, the buried palace is 690 x 250m. It includes 18 courtyard houses overlooked by one main building, where the emperor is supposed to be. The palace — which has already been partially mapped in 3D using volumetric scanners — occupied a space of 170,000m². That’s one fourth the size of the Forbidden City in Beijing — for just one tomb.

Hispanically Speaking News: Nearly Intact 1,200 Year-Old Funerary Vessel Identified in Oaxaca, Mexico Temples
Published at 10:33 am EST, January 3, 2013

Information surrounding an exceptional effigy vessel, found a few months ago in a mortuary temple at the Atzompa Archaeological Zone in Oaxaca, has been released by archaeologists from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).  The ancient city of Atzompa, was one of the centers of the ancient metropolis of Monte Alban.

The ceramic piece with human characteristics is approximately 1,200 year-old, and has been recovered nearly intact with its red, brown and grayish green coloring present.

University of Cincinnati via PhysOrg: Research unearths terrace farming at ancient desert city of Petra
by M.b. Reilly
January 2, 2013

(—A team of international archaeologists including Christian Cloke of the University of Cincinnati is providing new insights into successful and extensive water management and agricultural production in and around the ancient desert city of Petra, located in present-day Jordan. Ongoing investigations, of which Cloke is a part, are led by Professor Susan Alcock of the Brown University Petra Archaeological Project (BUPAP). Ads by Google Irrigation Service - 15% Discount on new accounts We service all brands of systems - Using a variety of tools and techniques, including high-resolution satellite imagery and optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating of soils, Cloke, a doctoral student in the Department of Classics at UC, and Cecelia Feldman, classics lecturer at UMass-Amherst, have suggested that extensive terrace farming and dam construction in the region north of the city began around the first century, some 2,000 years ago, not during the Iron Age (c. 1200-300 BC) as had been previously hypothesized. This striking development, it seems, was due to the ingenuity and enterprise of the ancient Nabataeans, whose prosperous kingdom had its capital at Petra until the beginning of the second century.

Using a variety of tools and techniques, including high-resolution satellite imagery and optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating of soils, Cloke, a doctoral student in the Department of Classics at UC, and Cecelia Feldman, classics lecturer at UMass-Amherst, have suggested that extensive terrace farming and dam construction in the region north of the city began around the first century, some 2,000 years ago, not during the Iron Age (c. 1200-300 BC) as had been previously hypothesized. This striking development, it seems, was due to the ingenuity and enterprise of the ancient Nabataeans, whose prosperous kingdom had its capital at Petra until the beginning of the second century. The successful terrace farming of wheat, grapes and possibly olives, resulted in a vast, green, agricultural "suburb" to Petra in an otherwise inhospitable, arid landscape. This terrace farming remained extensive and robust through the third century. Based on surface finds and comparative data collected by other researchers in the area, however, it is clear that this type of farming continued to some extent for many centuries, until the end of the first millennium (between A.D. 800 and 1000). That ancient Petra was under extensive cultivation is a testament to past strategies of land management, and is all the more striking in light of the area's dry and dusty environment today.

Tuoi Tre News (Vietnam): Ancient water system found at Citadel

Traces of a huge water supply system and parallel ground wall from the time of the Ly dynasty have been unearthed at the former Thang Long Imperial Citadel in downtown Hanoi, archaeologists have announced.

The findings were the first of their kind found in Vietnam and were heralded by most commentators and scientists as striking.

"Never before have architectural vestiges from the Ly dynasty (11th to 13th century) been detected in the North Gate area and what was found proves the dynasty's architecture was quite imposing," said Tong Trung Tin, head of Vietnam Institute of Archaeology, at a workshop on Dec. 26.

The water structure was about 2m wide and 2m high, archaeologists said. It was thought to have been a waterway, water tank, well, tunnel or spiritual work. It was built with square and rectangular bricks and timber poles in an east-west direction. The ground wall was 1.6m wide.

Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for these stories.


Discovery News: Small Tsunami Follows 7.5 Alaskan Earthquake
Analysis by DNews Editors
Sat Jan 5, 2013 07:51 AM ET

A magnitude 7.5 earthquake off the coast of Alaska generated a tsunami warning at midnight this morning, now canceled, of significant expected widespread inundation and dangerous coastal flooding.

By 1:17 a.m. local time that warning was canceled.


Consumer Energy Report: The Top 10 Energy Stories of 2012
By Robert Rapier

1. Revolution in US oil and gas production continues
 2. Hurricane Sandy and the Aftermath
 3. New CAFE standards doubled to 54.5 MPG by 2025
 4. India blackouts leaves 680 million people in the dark
 5. Low natural gas prices stimulate US economy
 6. California Implements Cap and Trade
 7. China in North America’s Oil Sands
 8. Obama Rejects Keystone XL Extension, Endorses Southern Leg
 9. Obama reelection
10. US Carbon Emissions Plummet
More best/worst of 2012 leftovers in the tip jar.


LiveScience: Atoms Reach Record Temperature, Colder than Absolute Zero
Charles Choi, LiveScience Contributor
Date: 03 January 2013 Time: 02:09 PM ET

Absolute zero is often thought to be the coldest temperature possible. But now researchers show they can achieve even lower temperatures for a strange realm of "negative temperatures."

Oddly, another way to look at these negative temperatures is to consider them hotter than infinity, researchers added.

This unusual advance could lead to new engines that could technically be more than 100 percent efficient, and shed light on mysteries such as dark energy, the mysterious substance that is apparently pulling our universe apart.


Scripps Research Institute via PhysOrg: A feat in synthetic chemistry: Steroids that only nature could make on a large scale
January 3, 2013

Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have achieved a feat in synthetic chemistry by inventing a scalable method to make complex natural compounds known as "polyhydroxylated steroids." These compounds, used in heart-failure medications and other drugs, have been notoriously problematic to synthesize in the laboratory.

The researchers demonstrated the new strategy by synthesizing ouabagenin [wa-bah-jenn-in], a close chemical cousin of ouabain, which Somali tribes once used as a potent poison on the tips of their arrows but was later developed as a treatment for congestive heart failure. This achievement, reported in the January 4, 2012 issue of Science, points the way to a scalable formation and modification of a variety of useful compounds that had been obtainable in significant quantities only from plants or animals.

"Previous synthetic routes to these compounds required so many steps as to be impractical on a large scale," said Phil S. Baran, a professor and a member of the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at TSRI, "but we were able to come up with a completely new strategy."

Science Crime Scenes

Pakistan Observer: Taxila: Treasure hunters steal ancient items illegally
Dr M Ramazan Rana

Friday, January 04, 2013 - Taxila—Scores of priceless antiquities including coins dated back to second century to 5th century AD belongs to ancient Gandhara civilization are feared to be lost as treasurer hunters make illegal excavations at a mound near Taxila. It has been learnt that a gang of influential treasure hunters carried out illegal digging at a mound in village Tofukian located near Taxila and recovered different antiquities especially coins of Kushan dynasty dated back to second Century to 5th century AD.

L.A. Times: Colombia residents want Germany to return stone statues
A petition calls on Colombia to request the return of the 35 artifacts to San Agustin. An archaeologist sent them to Germany after World War I ended.
By Chris Kraul, Los Angeles Times
December 27, 2012, 5:11 p.m.

BOGOTA, Colombia — Nearly a century ago, Konrad Preuss did pioneering work in Colombia's most important archaeological zone, called San Agustin. But the German archaeologist also took 35 stone statues back to Germany, and now residents of the southern Colombian region where he worked have mounted a campaign to get them back.

About 1,800 residents of the Andean community of the San Agustin region signed a petition this month in a grass-roots effort to urge Colombia's government to make a formal request for the return of the intriguing artifacts. Some of the statues are on display and others are in storage at the Ethnological Museum in Berlin's Dahlem neighborhood.

The statues in Berlin, which are as tall as 3 feet and at least 1,000 years old, were carved to resemble "supernatural" human figures, often with feline or reptile characteristics. Little is known about the society that produced the statues, its people having vanished long before Spanish colonists arrived in the late 15th century.

Dallas Star-Telegram: Looting public lands steals everyone's heritage
By Jeffery Hanson
Special to the Star-Telegram

I remember walking up the slope of tall grass waving in the breeze of a cool South Dakota morning. I was a young graduate student on my first archaeological project, and we were conducting site surveys along the east shore of Lake Oahe in the summer of 1979.

It was also my introduction to the wanton destruction of our archaeological heritage by looters.

It was the Mobridge site, a prehistoric American Indian village established centuries ago along the Missouri River. The people had been drawn there by the arable and soft floodplain soils, where they grew maize, beans and squash and hunted bison on the prairies that seemed to extend forever outward from the river.

As we walked among the large depressions left from the ancient lodges the ancestors of the Arikara tribe had constructed, we saw depressions of another kind.

Agence France Presse via Discovery News: Dried Squash Holds Headless King's Blood
Analysis by DNews Editors
Tue Jan 1, 2013 01:32 PM ET

Researchers have been trying for years to verify a claim imprinted on an ornately decorated calabash that it contains a sample of the blood of the French king guillotined in Paris on January 21, 1793.

The dried, hollowed squash is adorned with portraits of revolutionary heroes and the text: "On January 21, Maximilien Bourdaloue dipped his handkerchief in the blood of Louis XVI after his decapitation".

He is then believed to have placed the fabric in the gourd, and had it embellished.

The sinister souvenir has been in the private hands of an Italian family for more than a century, said the team of experts from Spain and France which published its findings in the journal Forensic Science International.

Two years ago, analysis of DNA taken from blood traces found inside the ornate vegetable revealed a likely match for someone of Louis' description, including his blue eyes.

Discovery News: Remains of Nazi Goering's Wife Identied (sic)
Analysis by Rossella Lorenzi
Thu Jan 3, 2013 03:16 PM ET

Swedish scientists have solved the mystery over a a zinc coffin found 21 years ago at the German estate of Hitler's right-hand man, Hermann Göring, by identifying the skeletal remains as those of Göring's first wife Carin.

Born in Stockholm, Sweden, Carin Fock married the decorated pilot Hermann Göring in 1923. The couple settled in Germany, where Carin enjoyed a high social status as the wife of a central leader in the growing National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP).

"Adolf Hitler liked her. She has been called the mascot of the Nazi party," Marie Allen, professor of forensic genetics at Uppsala University, Sweden, and colleagues wrote in the journal PLoS ONE.

Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for these stories.

Science, Space, Environment, and Energy Policy

The Daily Mail (UK): American bounty hunters submit plans to raise gold coins worth hundreds of millions from the wreck of HMS Victory

  • In 2008, the wreck was discovered by Odyssey Marine Exploration, 264 years after it sank
  • It is believed it could contain gold worth hundreds of millions of pounds and 100 bronze cannon
  • Descendants of crew and experts say it could betray those killed to exploit it for commercial gain

By Amanda Williams
PUBLISHED: 05:18 EST, 5 January 2013 | UPDATED: 09:45 EST, 5 January 2013
U.S. bounty hunters should not be allowed to raise the wreck of one of Britain's greatest warships and take some of the millions of pounds of gold it contains, it has today been claimed.

Leading archaeologists and descendants of the crew of HMS Victory, predecessor to Nelson's flagship, say that allowing it to be exploited for commercial gain would be a 'flagrant breach' of the military covenant and a betrayal of the more than 1,000 Royal Navy sailors who died.

In 2008, the wreck was discovered by Odyssey Marine Exploration, a U.S. company, some 264 years after it sank in a storm off the Channel Islands.

It is believed it could contain gold worth hundreds of millions of pounds and 100 bronze cannon.

The Ministry of Defence has said recovery could go ahead under the 'auspices of a charity'.

Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for this story.

Science Education/Science Writing and Reporting

San Jose Mercury News: Author opens world of archaeology to young readers
By Lou Fancher

For a guy who has built his career and staked his reputation on the methodical, thoughtful repatriation of archeological treasures, Jordan Jacobs has plunged rather messily into writing "Samantha Sutton and the Labyrinth of Lies."

"I didn't have an outline," admits the 33-year-old senior specialist at the Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology at UC Berkeley, "and I was not very disciplined. And I'm not rigorous about schedule. I wrote disconnected scenes and completely polished them, then let the book sit. When I picked it up, I had to almost start from scratch."

What Jacobs did have was a firm idea: a young girl who wants to be an archeologist, just like he did, 28 years ago.

Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for this story.

NBC News: 'Collapse' in Congress: Lawmakers should learn from tribal elders
By Alan Boyle

In the wake of a high-wire "fiscal cliff" performance that wasn't exactly their finest hour, members of Congress would do well to learn a lesson from the tribes of New Guinea and the Amazon: Listen to your elders. At least that's the lesson passed along by UCLA Professor Jared Diamond, the author of "The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn From Traditional Societies?"

Diamond documented the reasons why European invaders overwhelmed less technologically advanced cultures in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies." He laid out cautionary tales of social breakdown in the follow-up book, "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed." In his newly published book, Diamond draws upon his decades of research in far-flung locales to lay out lessons for us less traditional types.

"Tribes constitute thousands of natural experiments in how to run a human society," he told a capacity crowd Thursday night during the kickoff of his international book tour at Town Hall Seattle.

Science is Cool

Discovery News: Banned 'Aristotle' Sex Manual Goes to Auction
Analysis by Rossella Lorenzi
Fri Jan 4, 2013 03:58 PM ET

A 18th century sex manual is going to be auctioned in Edinburgh nearly 200 years after it was banned from sale in Britain.

Known as Aristotle’s Complete Master-Piece, the book has little to do with Greek philosophy.

"It has very little at all to do with Aristotle. In fact, first published in 1684, the book is an early manual of sex and pregnancy," Cathy Marsden, a book specialist at the auction house Lyon and Turnbull in Edinburgh, where the copy is set to be auctioned, said in a statement.

Discovery News: ISS Astronaut Reports to Captain Kirk: DNews Nugget
Analysis by Ian O'Neill
Thu Jan 3, 2013 09:38 PM ET

No Klingons, Yet: During a magical Twitter conversation today, science fiction met science fact. Actor William Shatner decided to drop Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield a line. Usually, this wouldn't be particularly newsworthy, except for the fact that Hadfield is currently living on the International Space Station -- orbiting over 250 miles above Earth -- and Shatner, well, is Captain James T. Kirk!
In his tweet, Shatner wanted to know if his fellow Canadian was in space, to which the astronaut replied: "Yes, Standard Orbit, Captain. And we're detecting signs of life on the surface."

Originally posted to Overnight News Digest on Sat Jan 05, 2013 at 09:18 PM PST.

Also republished by SciTech and Astro Kos.

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