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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 the Los Angeles Times.

2012 was hottest year on record for Lower 48 states
The average temperature was 3.3 degrees higher than in the 20th century, NOAA says, bolstering indications that global warming is linked to extreme weather events.
By Neela Banerjee, Los Angeles Times
January 8, 2013, 6:14 p.m.

Last year was the hottest year on record for the contiguous 48 states, marked by near-record numbers of extreme weather events such as drought, wildfire, tornadoes and storms, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In its annual report, State of the Climate, NOAA reported that the average annual temperature was 55.3 degrees — 3.3 degrees greater than the average temperature for the 20th century. It was also a full degree higher than the previous record-high temperature, set in 1998 — the biggest margin between two record-high temperatures to date.

The report confirmed what many Americans may have suspected over the last year: that extreme weather events are becoming more common. The only year when there were more extreme weather events was 1998, largely because a greater number of tropical cyclones made landfall, NOAA researchers said.

More stories after the jump.

Recent Science Diaries and Stories

Watch this space!

The Port-au-Prince Earthquake of January 12, 2010
by terrypinder

Build The Enterprise White House petition
by aaraujo

California stem cell program threatened-- again!
by diverdonreed

NASA Releases HD Video of Probe Flight Near Lunar Surface (Clearest Since Apollo)
by Troubadour

What the science of comment trolls means more generally, and for Malarkometer
by Brash Equilibrium

Draft Climate Assessment Report Released for Public Review
by SamuraiArtGuy

The Daily Bucket - new Bald Eagle pair
by bwren

This week in science: Release the Kraken!
by DarkSyde

Introduction to Agroecology: Holistic Management- Cattle, Cause or Cure for Climate Crisis?
by FinchJ

Largest spiral galaxy ever found five times bigger than Milky Way - vote for favorite galaxy photo
by HoundDog

Slideshows/Videos

CNN: 47 States hit by flu "Epidemic"


CNN's Athena Jones reports from a flu clinic in Virginia, where the flu virus has become widespread.

Accuweather: Risk of Avian Influenza Increase Due to Changing Climate


Two researchers from the University of Michigan have found the transmissions of avian influenza could increase due to a changing climate. Valerie Smock has the details.

NASA Television on YouTube: Commercial Crew Progresses on This Week @NASA


Officials from NASA and the companies participating in the agency's Commercial Crew Program update media at the Kennedy Space Center on the progress of CCP. Also, Landsat lasts; chasing climate change; celestial center of attention;
Curiosity Rover Report: FIRST's Firsts; and more!

NASA Television on YouTube: ScienceCasts: Dark Lightning


Researchers studying thunderstorms have made a surprising discovery: The lightning we see with our eyes has a dark competitor that discharges storm clouds and flings antimatter into space. Astrophysicists and meteorologists are scrambling to understand "dark lightning."

Astronomy/Space

Royal Astronomical Society (UK) via PhysOrg: Astronomers discover the largest structure in the universe
January 11, 2013

An international team of astronomers, led by academics from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), has found the largest known structure in the universe. The large quasar group (LQG) is so large that it would take a vehicle travelling at the speed of light some 4 billion years to cross it. The team publish their results in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
...
To give some sense of scale, our galaxy, the Milky Way, is separated from its nearest neighbour, the Andromeda Galaxy, by about 0.75 Megaparsecs (Mpc) or 2.5 million light-years.

Whole clusters of galaxies can be 2-3 Mpc across but LQGs can be 200 Mpc or more across. Based on the Cosmological Principle and the modern theory of cosmology, calculations suggest that astrophysicists should not be able to find a structure larger than 370 Mpc.

Dr Clowes' newly discovered LQG however has a typical dimension of 500 Mpc. But because it is elongated, its longest dimension is 1200 Mpc (or 4 billion light years) - some 1600 times larger than the distance from the Milky Way to Andromeda.

L.A. Times: Alien moons could be as habitable as exoplanets, astronomers say
By Amina Khan
January 11, 2013, 7:05 a.m.

Star Wars’ forest moon of Endor might be fiction, but astronomers say they’re hot on the trail of real-life alien moons -- which could also potentially be viable candidates for habitable worlds, researchers say.

Astronomers have found roughly 850 known alien worlds. And as announced at this week's American Astronomical Society meeting in Long Beach, the Kepler spacecraft has picked up 2,740 candidate planets since its 2009 launch. Scientists are looking for the slice of this population that lies in what’s known as the habitable zone, a region just close enough to the home star for liquid water to potentially exist.

Moons would be more challenging to find than planets – they’re much smaller, after all – but astronomers are on the hunt. A study to be published in January’s issue of the journal Astrobiology lays out the potential and drawbacks of habitable-zone moons.

L.A. Times: Doomsday chances dim: Asteroid won't hit Earth in 2036, NASA says
By Amina Khan
January 11, 2013, 6:08 p.m.

Sad day for the four horsemen of the Apocalypse: NASA scientists say a giant asteroid won’t be hitting Earth in 2036, as earlier feared.

The asteroid Apophis has less than a 1-in-a-million chance of smacking into the planet, according to Don Yeomans, NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program manager.

The hefty space rock was estimated to have a 2.7% chance of hitting Earth in 2029 after it was discovered in 2004, according to a NASA statement released Thursday. Although scientists later ruled out the 2029 scenario, there was still a chance Apophis would hit Earth some seven years later.

The Space Reporter elaborates on this story in Asteroid Apophis may be on course for 2068 collision with Earth
“I’m hoping that we don’t follow the bad precedent of stating that the risk from Apophis has been eliminated,” said Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart, a leader in raising awareness about the threats and opportunities presented by near-Earth objects, in an interview with NBC News. “Please look on the JPL risk page and especially the more detailed info and note that 1) The 2036 impact possibility is, while significantly reduced, still possible, and 2) that the 2068 impact possibility is now elevated … to a level that exceeds what the 2036 impact was prior to this apparition.”

“Until JPL and the other guys get more data, enough to really define the Yarkovsky effect,” Schweickart continued, “we really won’t be able to get definitive data for longer time scales that we can rely on.”

The good news is that our species now has the observational technology to spot asteroids that pose a risk to the Earth several decades in advance. The bad news is that we are still completely unprepared to deflect a large rock if it is in fact on a collision course with our planet.

Russia Today: Billionaire space entrepreneur wants vegetarian-only colony on Mars
Published: 09 January, 2013, 00:26

A US billionaire and co-founder of PayPal, Elon Musk, has made plans to build a settlement for 80,000 people on Mars when technology makes it possible for man to live there – as long as the inhabitants are vegetarians.
...
Musk, who is worth about $2 billion, revealed his tactics in a speech at the Royal Aeronautical Society. He was in attendance in order to be presented with a gold medal for his contribution to space exploration in November.

While the idea of a city on Mars may seem far-fetched, scientists predict human settlements on the red planet and elsewhere in space could occur in the near future, possibly within ten years. Eric Anderson, a leading entrepreneur in the industry and chairman of Space Adventures, told RT that technology has almost reached the level where tourists can be sent to space.

L.A. Times: On simulated Mars mission, sleep becomes crucial issue
Scientists study six astronauts in a faux spacecraft for 17 months. Most experienced some trouble sleeping — a problem that could be disastrous on a real mission.
By Rosie Mestel, Los Angeles Times
January 8, 2013, 6:00 a.m.

If humans ever journey to Mars, they will face an array of challenges: assault by cosmic rays, the erosion of bone mass and more subtle problems that could disrupt a mission's success. Now experiments from an audacious, 17-month-long simulation of a trip to Mars and back show that the ability to concentrate and work together may decay unless preventive steps are taken to maintain sleep quality.

Six men agreed to hole up in a pressurized, spaceship-like environment in Moscow from June 2010 to November 2011 to help scientists lay the groundwork for an interplanetary mission. During that time, the pseudo-astronauts — three selected by the Russian Federation, two from the European Space Agency and one from the China National Space Administration — communicated with faux mission controllers (including delays to reflect the time it would take for radio transmissions to travel millions of miles) and performed mission-like activities. They even exited onto rocky, Mars-like terrain clad in heavy spacesuits to perform drills before simulating a return to Earth.

Scores of experiments were conducted during the mission.

The Guardian (UK): Virgin threatens to pull out of projected spaceport
Richard Branson's plan in the balance as Virgin Galactic argues with New Mexico over $200m spaceport
Edward Helmore in New York
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 12 January 2013

The future of Sir Richard Branson's project to blast wealthy tourists and celebrities into space is set to become clear this week when it makes it first rent payment on the futuristic "Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space" terminal.

Virgin Galactic has threatened to pull its support from the publicly financed $209m (£130m) "spaceport" in southern New Mexico, in the US, unless lawmakers extend the company's waiver of liability to manufacturers and parts suppliers in the event of an accident. In the rush to capitalise on the private space industry, several US states, including Virginia, Wyoming and California, and destinations such as Abu Dhabi, are competing to win Virgin's business. But none is as heavily invested as New Mexico, an impoverished US state that issued bonds and raised taxes to build the Norman Foster-designed Spaceport America. Nor have any potential rivals built a spaceport from scratch.

Anger has been rising after Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides indicated last year that failure to pass new legislation would force his company to rethink its plans. "We allowed our politicians to build something that was geared toward one player in the purely speculative field of space travel in the private sector that may never materialise," said Paul Gessing, of the conservative-leaning Rio Grande Foundation. "Virgin has all the power in this arrangement. We don't see it as a wise investment." But, Gessing added: "We're going to make the most of it."

L.A. Times: NASA seeks to lease or sell space shuttle facilities
NASA wants to lease or sell space shuttle facilities at the Kennedy Space Center before they waste away.
By Scott Powers
January 6, 2013, 8:08 p.m.

ORLANDO, Fla. — Does anyone need a 15,000-foot landing strip? How about a place to assemble rocket ships? Or a parachute-packing plant? A launchpad?

Make us an offer, says NASA, which is quietly holding a going-out-of-business sale for the facilities used by its space shuttle program.

The last shuttle flight was in July 2011, when Atlantis made its final touchdown. That orbiter, like its sisters Discovery and Endeavour, is now a museum piece. As soon as some remaining cleanup is finished at Kennedy Space Center, the shuttle program will be history.

That has prompted NASA to advertise a long list of space center facilities and equipment available for use, lease or, in some cases, purchase by the right business.

Climate/Environment

L.A. Times: Climate assessment delivers a grim overview
A draft version of a national report details the accelerated effects of climate change across the U.S., describing battered coastlines, devastating rainfall and drought.
By Neela Banerjee, Washington Bureau
January 11, 2013, 5:43 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The impacts of climate change driven by human activity are spreading through the United States faster than had been predicted, increasingly threatening infrastructure, water supplies, crops and shorelines, according to a federal advisory committee.

The draft Third National Climate Assessment, issued every four years, delivers a bracing picture of environmental changes and natural disasters that mounting scientific evidence indicates is fostered by climate change: heavier rains in the Northeast, Midwest and Plains that have overwhelmed storm drains and led to flooding and erosion; sea level rise that has battered coastal communities; drought that has turned much of the West into a tinderbox.

"Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present," the report says. "Americans are noticing changes all around them. Summers are longer and hotter, and periods of extreme heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer."

The Guardian (UK): As Australia heatwave hits new high, warning that bushfires will continue
As crews battle 'atrocious conditions' fire chiefs say that lives have been saved by better ways of predicting outbreaks
Alison Rourke   
The Observer, Saturday 12 January 2013 10.48 EST

Australia's heatwave set a new high of almost 50C as authorities warned that large uncontrolled bushfires would continue to threaten areas in the south-east of the country.

Meanwhile, in remote Moomba, a gas exploration and processing town in the outback of South Australia, the temperature hit 49.6C by mid-afternoon, making it the hottest of the two-week spell, and 48.6C in the town of Bourke, 500 miles north-west of Sydney.

In other parts of New South Wales (NSW) authorities fought nearly 100 bushfires with many still out of control. Fire crews also fought blazes in Tasmania, Victoria and Queensland. In the south, firefighters struggled to control a massive bushfire near the town of Cooma, that has burned through 10,000 hectares. In the late afternoon an emergency alert was issued indicating that danger from fire was imminent.

   

Biodiversity

L.A. Times: Giant squid video resulted from biologist's invented lure
A giant squid caught on video in the wild for the first time was made possible by marine biologist Edith Widder's custom-built bioluminescent sphere, which lured in the elusive animal.
By Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times
January 12, 2013

Some people use worms to attract fish. Others use intricately painted lures or feathery flies.

To get the catch of a lifetime, marine biologist Edith Widder built a bioluminescent sphere that mimics the frenzied pinwheel display of a panicked jellyfish.

Her soccer-ball-sized creation enticed a giant squid to swim near waiting undersea cameras. The resulting video, shot 2,000 feet below the North Pacific Ocean, about 260 miles south of Tokyo, was the first to capture the elusive creature in action and became an Internet sensation this week.

Biotechnology/Health

L.A. Times: California avoids worst of flu, but probably not for long
A U.S. flu epidemic has not hit hard in California, but officials say it's coming and urge people to get flu shots.
By Eryn Brown and Alana Semuels, Los Angeles Times
January 11, 2013, 5:30 p.m.

California public health officials are bracing for an increase in new flu patients in the coming weeks as the influenza outbreak that has engulfed 47 other states gears up here.
...
So far this flu season, 28,747 confirmed cases have been reported to the CDC. The true number is certainly far higher, but many people who get the flu don't go to their doctors, and others who do are not tested to confirm infection.

The CDC also tracks flu-related deaths in children; there have been 20 since the flu season began.

io9 has an even blunter assessment in Holy crap, this year’s flu season is shaping up to be downright terrifying.

The Guardian (UK): Gene breakthrough boosts hope of drug for blood diseases
Discovery could prevent lethal blood clots and help children with rare platelet function disorder
Robin McKie Science editor
The Observer, Saturday 12 January 2013

Noah Edwards is four years old and suffers from a disorder that prevents his blood from clotting. He bleeds profusely when cut and his face and body are easily bruised.

His condition, called platelet function disorder, is a constant worry for his mother, Ruby. However, thanks to Noah's involvement in a remarkable project, funded by the British Heart Foundation, his prospects of leading a normal life have received a major boost.

Researchers at Birmingham University have uncovered the genetic roots of platelet function disorder, a breakthrough that should not only improve screening and treatments for the condition but also increase chances of developing a new generation of drugs to counter blood clots and thrombosis, one of the main causes of death in the western world.

L.A. Times: Beta blockers may reduce Alzheimer's risk, study finds
Beta blocker drugs for hypertension may protect the brain from effects of Alzheimer's disease.
By Melissa Healy, Los Angeles Times
January 7, 2013, 6:43 p.m.

Beta blockers, a venerable class of blood pressure drugs that has fallen from favor in recent years, may help protect the aging brain against changes linked to Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia that rob memory and mental function, new research indicates.

In autopsies on the brains of 774 men after their deaths, scientists found that those who took beta blockers to help control hypertension had fewer of the brain lesions and less of the brain shrinkage seen in Alzheimer's than men who took other types of blood pressure medications and those who left the condition untreated. Their brains also showed significantly less evidence of multiple tiny strokes, called microinfarcts.

A parallel study showed that an expanded group of men who took beta blockers also experienced less cognitive decline as they aged compared with those in the control groups.

The research, to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting in March but released to the media on Monday, is preliminary; of the 774 Japanese American men who agreed to have their brains examined after death, 610 had suffered from high blood pressure and only 40 had taken beta blockers.

Psychology/Behavior

Greater Good at University of California, Berkeley: The Top 10 Insights from the “Science of a Meaningful Life” in 2012
The most surprising, provocative, and inspiring findings published this past year.
By Jason Marsh, Lauren Klein, Jeremy Adam Smith
January 3, 2013

The science we cover here on Greater Good—aka, “the science of a meaningful life”—has exploded over the past 10 years, with many more studies published each year on gratitude, mindfulness, and our other core themes than we saw a decade ago.

2012 was no exception. In fact, in the year just past, new findings added nuance, depth, and even some caveats to our understanding of the science of a meaningful life. Here are 10 of the scientific insights that made the biggest impression on us in 2012—the findings most likely to resonate in scientific journals and the public consciousness in the years to come, listed in roughly the order in which they were published.

L.A. Times: China's 'Little Emperor' generation fits stereotypes, study finds
A study comparing people born before and after China's 'one child' policy in 1979 finds the younger group to be not as trusting, conscientious or inclined to compete or cooperate with others.
By Melissa Healy, Los Angeles Times
January 11, 2013, 6:00 a.m.

China's "Little Emperors" — the generations of only-children born under the government's rigid "one child" policy — are living up to their name.

A study published Thursday in the journal Science has found that compared with two groups of people born in the years before China began its harsh population-control policy, those born after were less conscientious, more risk-averse and less inclined to compete with — or cooperate with — others.

In short, a nation forged by collectivism, hard work and deprivation has created a generation of young adults that could be its undoing.

io9: The 12 cognitive biases that prevent you from being rational
George Dvorsky   
January 9, 2012

The human brain is capable of 1016 processes per second, which makes it far more powerful than any computer currently in existence. But that doesn't mean our brains don't have major limitations. The lowly calculator can do math thousands of times better than we can, and our memories are often less than useless — plus, we're subject to cognitive biases, those annoying glitches in our thinking that cause us to make questionable decisions and reach erroneous conclusions. Here are a dozen of the most common and pernicious cognitive biases that you need to know about.

Before we start, it's important to distinguish between cognitive biases and logical fallacies. A logical fallacy is an error in logical argumentation (e.g. ad hominem attacks, slippery slopes, circular arguments, appeal to force, etc.). A cognitive bias, on the other hand, is a genuine deficiency or limitation in our thinking — a flaw in judgment that arises from errors of memory, social attribution, and miscalculations (such as statistical errors or a false sense of probability).

Some social psychologists believe our cognitive biases help us process information more efficiently, especially in dangerous situations. Still, they lead us to make grave mistakes. We may be prone to such errors in judgment, but at least we can be aware of them. Here are some important ones to keep in mind.

Evolution/Paleontology

The Guardian (UK): The world's fossils are going extinct
It may sound like a strange concept, but fossils are a limited resource and they will run out says Dr Dave Hone
Saturday 12 January 2013 15.23 EST

The world has a finite number of Tyrannosaurs rexes. All that there will ever be have lived and long since died. And all of those that could have become fossilised have done so. What remains for palaeontologists is to find what of these are out there, but the number is constantly being reduced.

In order for us to end up with a fossil, quite a few things have to happen. Obviously the creature in question must become buried in some manner (in mud, in desert sands, in a tar pit) and in a form that will allow it to become fossilised (tiny insects can't leave much impression in coarse sand where the grains are bigger than they are). This must then be compressed and undergo the necessary geological processes to become a fossil. In then has to survive what may be hundreds of millions of years where it could be lost or destroyed from an earthquake perhaps, or simply buried under more recent rocks and inaccessible to researchers - we can only excavate fossils from places where they are exposed on the surface after all, and here there's the big problem.

They are exposed on the surface and visible to us because that rock is, by definition, eroding. If it was an area of deposition like a floodplain, more material would be being piled on top, or an area with little activity has little change (or perhaps has not much rock exposed, such as on a savannah), but where the rocks are on the surface and eroding, the bones and shells within will be exposed. Of course they will only be exposed for a limited time before they too are weathered away to nothing.

This means that every fossil going generally has a pretty limited timeframe in which it can be discovered.

Archeology/Anthropology

Cyprus Mail: Ancient floor not seen for 10,000 years
Published on January 10, 2013

AN ANCIENT floor which has not seen the light of day for 10,000 years has been uncovered at the Ayia Varvara-Asprokremmos site, the antiquities department said yesterday.

The department said new finds during the latest excavations had redefined the understanding of the kind of human occupation that existed at the Neolithic site in the Nicosia district, which has been radio-carbon dated to between c. 8,800-8,600 BC.

BBC: Severn Estuary fossils reveal Stone Age fire starting

Stone Age fossil finds in the Severn Estuary suggest hunter-gatherers were shaping the environment long before farming started, say researchers.

Flint "tools" dating back 7,500 years as well as bones and campfire debris were found at Goldcliff, near Newport.

University of Reading academics said the finds pointed to Mesolithic people using fire to encourage plant growth.

Fossil footprints found in the estuary include those of children as young as four helping with food production.

The Mesolithic, or Middle Stone Age, started in about 10,000BC, as the last Ice Age ended.

Al Ahram (Egypt): Archaeologists unearth five ancient tombs on Luxor's west bank
Collection of tombs from Egypt's turbulent Third Intermediate Period are found in King Amenhotep II's funerary complex by Italian archaeological mission
Nevine El-Aref
Thursday 10 Jan 2013
An Italian archaeological mission has accidently uncovered a collection of five private rock-hewn Third Intermediate Period tombs while brushing sand from parts of King Amenhotep II’s temple, located on the northern side of the Serapaeum on Luxor's west bank.

Each tomb includes a deep shaft leading to a burial chamber containing a wooden painted sarcophagus. The sarcophagi are decorated with funerary and religious scenes painted in black and red and house skeletons of the deceased.

USA Today: Maya 'fat god' platter found in ruins
Dan Vergano, USA TODAY
9:30a.m. EST January 5, 2013

Maya ruins at Kiuic turn out to boast a pyramid of surprising antiquity, dating back to 700 B.C., and more signs of rapid "collapse" as the ancient culture's era ended.

Here's one more reason to be glad those 2012 Maya doomsday worries didn't pan out — Maya scholarship, thankfully, just kept on going.

An international archaeology team, for example, reports that a well-known Maya ruin site had its origins further back in time than anyone first supposed. Nestled in the hilly interior of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, the ruin of Kiuic turns out to boast a pyramid of surprising antiquity, dating back to 700 B.C., as shown by carbon dating. Long seen as a transitional corridor between the ancient Maya cities of Central America and the later ones of the Yucatan coast, the hilly "Puuc" region that is home to Kiuic and other sites, instead, looks like a longtime home of the vanished culture.

LiveScience: Baby Bones Found Scattered in Ancient Italian Village
Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer
Date: 07 January 2013 Time: 03:01 PM ET

SEATTLE — The death of an infant may not have been an occasion for mourning in ancient Italy, according to archaeologists who have found baby bones scattered on the floor of a workshop dating to the seventh century B.C.

The grisly finds consist of bone fragments uncovered over years of excavation at Poggio Civitate, a settlement about 15 miles (25 kilometers) from the city of Siena in what is now Tuscany. The settlement dates back to at least the late eighth century B.C. Archaeologists excavating the site have found evidence of a lavish residential structure as well as an open-air pavilion that stretches an amazing 170 feet (52 meters) long. Residents used this pavilion was as a workshop, manufacturing goods such as terracotta roof tiles.

LiveScience: Athenian 'Snake Goddess' Gets New Identity
by Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer
Date: 08 January 2013 Time: 09:18 AM ET

SEATTLE - A mysterious "snake goddess" painted on terracotta and discovered in Athens may actually be Demeter, the Greek goddess of the harvest.

Once linked to the worship of the dead, the goddess is flanked by two snakes on a slab of terracotta about the size of a piece of notebook paper. She has her hands up above her head, which has given her the nickname "the touchdown goddess" thanks to the resemblance of the pose to a referee's signal. The goddess is painted in red, yellow and blue-green on a tile, with only her head molded outward in three dimensions. This unusual piece of art was found amid a jumble of gravel and other terracotta fragments in 1932 in what was once the Athenian agora, or public square.

The catch, however, is that the snake goddess isn't originally from the agora. The gravel and figurine fragments were fill material, brought in from an unknown second location to build a path or road in the seventh century B.C.

HealthDay News via WTVM: Ancient pills found in shipwreck offer rare insight into early medicine
By Barbara Bronson Gray
HealthDay Reporter
Updated: Jan 08, 2013 1:24 PM CST

TUESDAY, Jan. 8 (HealthDay News) -- Archeologists investigating an ancient shipwreck off the coast of Tuscany report they have stumbled upon a rare find: a tightly closed tin container with well-preserved medicine dating back to about 140-130 B.C.

A multi-disciplinary team analyzed fragments of the green-gray tablets to decipher their chemical, mineralogical and botanical composition. The results offer a peek into the complexity and sophistication of ancient therapeutics.

"The research highlights the continuity from then until now in the use of some substances for the treatment of human diseases," said archeologist and lead researcher Gianna Giachi, a chemist at the Archeological Heritage of Tuscany, in Florence, Italy. "The research also shows the care that was taken in choosing complex mixtures of products -- olive oil, pine resin, starch -- in order to get the desired therapeutic effect and to help in the preparation and application of medicine."

LiveScience: Down the Drain: Lost Items Reveal Roman Bath Activities
Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer
Date: 11 January 2013 Time: 12:08 PM ET

Ever go swimming with rings on your fingers or hoops in your ears only to find your jewelry had vanished after your dip?

If so, you've got something in common with ancient Romans.

A new study of objects lost down the drains in the bathhouses from the Roman Empire reveals that people got up to all sorts of things in these gathering places. They bathed, of course, but they also adorned themselves with trinkets, snacked on finger foods and even did needlework.

"For the Romans, the baths weren't just a place to get clean, but this larger social center where a variety of activities were taking place," said study researcher Alissa Whitmore, a doctoral candidate in archaeology at the University of Iowa.

LiveScience: 2,000-Year-Old Treasure Discovered In Black Sea Fortress
Owen Jarus, LiveScience Contributor
Date: 10 January 2013 Time: 09:08 AM ET

Residents of a town under siege by the Roman army about 2,000 years ago buried two hoards of treasure in the town's citadel — treasure recently excavated by archaeologists.

More than 200 coins, mainly bronze, were found along with "various items of gold, silver and bronze jewelry and glass vessels" inside an ancient fortress within the Artezian settlement in the Crimea (in Ukraine), the researchers wrote in the most recent edition of the journal Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia.

LiveScience: Heap of Cattle Bones May Mark Ancient Feasts
Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer
Date: 09 January 2013 Time: 10:44 AM ET

A metric ton of cattle bones found in an abandoned theater in the ancient city of Corinth may mark years of lavish feasting, a new study finds.

The huge amount of bones — more than 1,000 kilograms (2,205 pounds) — likely represent only a tenth of those tossed out at the site in Peloponnese, Greece, said study researcher Michael MacKinnon, an archaeologist at the University of Winnipeg.

"What I think that they're related to are episodes of big feasting in which the theater was reused to process carcasses of hundreds of cattle," MacKinnon told LiveScience. He presented his research Friday (Jan. 4) at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in Seattle.

Discovery News: Scale Model Discovered for Florence Cathedral
by Rossella Lorenzi
Jan 10, 2013

Italian archaeologists have unearthed the remains of a mini dome near Florence’s cathedral — evidence, they say, that the structure served as a scale model for the majestic structure designed by Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446).

Found during excavations to expand the Cathedral museum, the model measures 9 feet in circumference and it’s made of bricks arranged in a herringbone pattern.

“This building technique had been previously used in Persian domes, but Brunelleschi was the first to introduce it into Europe when he worked at the dome,” Francesco Gurrieri, professor of Restoration of Monuments at the University of Florence, told Discovery News.

Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for these stories.

Geology

L.A. Times: Statewide quake in California may be possible after all
New research challenges assumptions that the central part of the San Andreas fault would act as a barrier, preventing a big quake from traveling between the northern and southern parts of the state.
By Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times
January 9, 2013, 7:44 p.m.

For decades, scientists have assumed the central portion of California's San Andreas fault acts as a barrier that prevents a big quake in the southern part of the state from spreading to the north, and vice versa. As a result, a mega-quake that could be felt from San Diego to San Francisco was widely considered impossible.

But that key fault segment might not serve as a barrier in all cases, researchers wrote Wednesday in the online edition of the journal Nature.

Using a combination of laboratory measurements and computer simulations, the two scientists showed how so-called creeping segments in a fault — long thought to be benign because they slip slowly and steadily along as tectonic plates shift — might behave like locked segments, which build up stress over time and then rupture.

Energy

Treehugger: Apple's New Wind Tech Design Generates and Stores Heat
Derek Markham
Technology / Wind Technology
December 31, 2012

A patent application from the computing giant Apple claims to be able to store wind power as heat, and then release it on demand to generate electricity.

Apple doesn't just confine itself to innovation in computer and mobile technology, but also pursues ideas in other areas, such as renewable energy. A patent for a design for "On-Demand Generation of Electricity from Stored Wind Energy" was filed by the company in June 2011, and if it pans out, the new technology could help to even out the supply and demand disparities in wind power.

Physics

Science News: Heart of the Matter
Neutrinos’ shifty behavior might help explain why the universe has so much stuff in it
By Charles Petit
Web edition: January 10, 2013

A golden age for the neutrino is dawning.

A few decades ago, these shy phantoms that flit nearly unfelt through the interstices of the universe seemed mere leftovers in the world of physics.

They outnumber all other particles of matter, whizzing away everywhere — many of them arising in droves from nuclear reactors and nucleosynthesis in stars. Their characteristics made them, to be sure, vitally important building blocks in the 1970s and ’80s for theorists who put together the standard model of physics, describing how fundamental forces and particles fit together. Yet, for decades, neutrinos seemed nearly incapable of doing a lick of work. They were like clowns pouring from a circus car, entertainment for theorists but without important jobs in keeping the cosmos running smoothly.

It is about time for the neutrino to add gravitas.

Chemistry

Penn State University via PhysOrg: Mussels inspire innovative new adhesive for surgery
January 9, 2013

Mussels can be a mouthwatering meal, but the chemistry that lets mussels stick to underwater surfaces may also provide a highly adhesive wound closure and more effective healing from surgery.

In recent decades bioahesives, tissue sealants and hemostatic agents became the favored products to control bleeding and promote tissue healing after surgery. However, many of them have side effects or other problems, including an inability to perform well on wet tissue.

"To solve this medical problem, we looked at nature," said Jian Yang, associate professor of bioengineering at Penn State. "There are sea creatures, like the mussel, that can stick on rocks and on ships in the ocean. They can hold on tightly without getting flushed away by the waves because the mussel can make a very powerful adhesive protein. We looked at the chemical structure of that kind of adhesive protein."

Science Crime Scenes

Egyptian Chonicles on Blogspot: An International #SOS From #Dahshur !!

Why is it an international SOS !? Because our ruling government , our president,ruling party and their allies from Islamists care less about Ancient Egyptian history. Why is it an international SOS ?? Because our government and president are still sensitive to Western Pressure more than local pressure.

There is a danger surrounding the Dahshur archaeological area and the bent Pyramid according to renowned journalist Yasser El Zayat. Mr. El Zayat reported that armed locals “from land traders and robbers ” stormed the archaeological site and began to distribute the land in the site for illegal construction. El Zayat who works in ONTV also reported that construction has began and is reaching to the bent pyramid by those armed thugs who are threatening archeological inspectors

.

BBC: Gaza's archaeological treasures at risk from war and neglect

Years of conflict have exacted a heavy toll on centuries of history in the Gaza Strip. While traces of its rich past remain, the race to preserve what is left beneath the surface of this battle-scarred land is fraught with problems, as Ruqaya Izzidien reports.

Settled by civilisations spanning some five millennia, Gaza has been built layer-upon-layer since the Bronze Age.

As each era ended, its people left behind remnants of their times - churches, monasteries, palaces and mosques, as well as thousands of precious artefacts.

"Underneath Gaza there is a whole other Gaza, but every archaeological site here is found by accident," says Hayam Albetar, an archaeologist at the Hamas-run Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.

BBC: Silbury Hill trespassers causing 'spectacular' damage

Trespassers on a rain-soaked monument in Wiltshire are causing "spectacular" damage, an archaeologist has warned.

Heavy rain has led to standing water around Silbury Hill in Avebury and very soft ground which is being eroded by people climbing the monument.

Jim Leary, an archaeologist for English Heritage, said that illegal climbers on the sodden hill were "leaving some really rather hideous scars".

The hill dates back to 2400 BC and is the largest man-made mound in Europe.

Mr Leary said access to the mound had been prohibited for a number of decades and people should not be attempting to climb it.

Associated Press via the Windsor Star: Spanish police seize ancient plundered vase from an antique shop
Harold Heckle, The Associated Press
Jan 05, 2013 | Last Updated: Jan 05, 2013 - 6:30 UTC

MADRID - The owner of an antique shop in Spain was arrested after police investigators found a vase there dating back to the late second century B.C., officials said Saturday.

The antiquity had been illegally plundered from an Iberian era archeological site in the province of Alicante, an Interior Ministry statement said.

WNWO: Toledo Museum returns ancient water jug to Italy
by Kevin Kistner
Posted: 01.09.2013 at 12:26 PM

TOLEDO -- The Toledo Museum of art has handed over a rare jug to the Italian government that was illegally dug up in the country.

The US government was there as the museum gave the ancient jug back to the Italians on Tuesday.

L.A. Times: Getty Museum to return Hades terracotta head to Sicily
By David Ng and Jason Felch
January 10, 2013, 3:20 p.m.

A terracotta head depicting the Greek god Hades that the J. Paul Getty Museum acquired in 1985 is being voluntarily sent back to Sicily, the museum has announced.

Getty officials said that the museum has worked with officials from Sicily during the last two years to determine whether it would be appropriate to return the artifact.

Gawker: 18th Century Cannon in Central Park Found Loaded and Ready to Fire
Taylor Berman

On Friday, conservancy workers in New York's Central Park discovered a fully loaded, ready-to-fire 18th century cannon during a routine cleaning. Upon finding the ammunition after removing the cannon's plug, the park workers called 911, who sent in a bomb squad.

According to Paul J. Browne, the NYPD's chief spokesman, the bomb squad found one pound and 12 ounces (over 800 grams) of still-functional gun powder wrapped in wool. "They tilted the barrel of the cannon and the cannonball rolled out," Browne told the New York Times. "In theory you could have fired that cannon because the powder was still working."

Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for these stories.

Science, Space, Environment, and Energy Policy

The Hindu (India): Unkempt and uncared for
Sohail Hashmi

Delhi has been the Capital of many and, without counting New Delhi, has seen the rise of seven large cities and a few smaller ones like Kilokhri - the capital of Quaiqbaad. It is no wonder that it is full of all kinds of structures of historical, archaeological and architectural value. Some of them are almost intact, while others are barely recognisable as structures and there are many that fall between these two extremes. In all about 1200 structures have been listed, and of these only 174 have been considered worthy of preservation by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).

In the run up to the Commonwealth Games the Archaeological Department of the Delhi government increased their list of protected monuments to 92, till a few months before that landmark event they had only 33 monuments on their list and it was not too long ago that the Delhi Heritage List had only six monuments that were considered worthy of preservation. How seriously do our governments take the business of preservation can be had from the fact that three out of the six were the North, South and Central gateways of Badarpur and the other three were Kos Minars, (distance markers erected by Sher Shah Suri along the road that he had built linking Peshawar to Bengal) and that it had taken the Delhi Government full 15 years to realise that this meager list of six was inadequate and something needed to be done.

Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for this story.

The Guardian (UK): White House Death Star petition is a no-go
Petition urging building of Star Wars-style weapon system rejected as 'administration does not support blowing up planets'
Conal Urquhart and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 12 January 2013 07.16 EST   

Paul Shawcross, the head of the science and space branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget, outlined the reasons why the White House was not planning to build a Death Star, an artificial planet used with devastating consequences in the Star Wars films.

He said the estimated cost of $850 quadrillion would not help deficit reduction plans and asked: "Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?"

The original has a clever title, This Isn't the Petition Response You're Looking For.  PoliticusUSA has a good natured report, No Death Star, ‘The Administration does not support blowing up planets’.  Wonkette snarks away in Obama Administration Crushes Nerds’ Dreams, Will Not Build Death Star.

L.A. Times: Yosemite plan calls for more campsites and parking spaces
The National Park Service would restore 203 acres along the Merced River and eliminate an ice rink, commercial horseback riding, hotel swimming pools and raft and bicycle rentals.
By Bettina Boxall, Los Angeles Times
January 9, 2013

Yosemite Valley would have more camp sites and parking spaces — and the number of daily visitors would not be reduced — under a National Park Service plan intended to ease congestion in one of the country's most scenic spots.

The proposal is the agency's third attempt to produce a legally acceptable management plan for the Merced River and the ever popular valley that it flows through. Environmental groups have twice sued the agency, winning court orders that compelled the park service to draw up new blueprints.

The latest effort, a lengthy draft document released Tuesday, navigates a middle course. The agency's preferred alternative would restore 203 acres along the river, change traffic circulation and parking, and eliminate an ice skating rink, commercial horseback riding, hotel swimming pools and raft and bicycle rentals.

But the plan steers clear of the politically sensitive issue of reducing the number of visitors to the valley, which on a busy summer day can be packed with nearly 20,000 people.

As someone who spent his summers growing up at Yosemite, and whose sisters worked there during the 1980s, I can say that this has been a long time coming.  The first signs of the trend leading to this plan appeared during the early 1970s.

L.A. Times: DWP will allow customers to sell back excess solar energy
The so-called feed-in-tariff program would pay customers 17 cents per kilowatt hour for energy produced on their own equipment.
By Catherine Saillant, Los Angeles Times
January 11, 2013, 6:53 p.m.

Los Angeles Department of Water and Power customers for the first time will be able to sell back excess solar energy created on rooftops and parking lots under a new program approved Friday by the city utility's board of commissioners.

Described as the largest urban rooftop solar program of its kind in the nation, the so-called feed-in-tariff program would pay customers 17 cents per kilowatt hour for energy produced on their own equipment. The DWP has already accepted more than a dozen applicants and will be taking dozens more as it accepts contracts for up to 100 megawatts of solar power through 2016.

Environmentalists, business supporters and solar vendors were thrilled by the vote. Feed-in-tariff programs help generate jobs and economic activity while decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, they say.

"Today's vote is a major step forward for the economic and environmental sustainability of Los Angeles," said Mary Leslie, President of the Los Angeles Business Council, a group advocating the Clean LA Solar program since 2009.

Science Education

L.A. Times: Scientific research increasingly fueled by prize money
Prize sponsors, like those in centuries past, say that offering financial incentives gets new people thinking about old problems. But some worry the trend could distort scientific priorities.
By Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times
January 10, 2013, 4:50 p.m.

Ever since the splashy success of the Ansari X Prize, which in 2004 awarded $10 million to a team that launched a spacecraft 60 miles above Earth, funders are turning to contests — some with big cash prizes — to get answers to nagging scientific questions.

Taking their cue from the potentates of old, who often pitched competitions to spur creative minds, prize sponsors today say that offering incentives gets new people thinking about old problems.
...
The X Prize Foundation, based in Los Angeles, is running multimillion-dollar contests to sequence genomes, send robots to the moon and create health-monitoring sensors.

Others chase humanity's classic quests — human-powered flight, or eternal life.

The Guardian(UK): Science should be on the journalism curriculum
The goal of BenchPress is not to turn journalists into scientists but to give them a sense of how numbers behave in the wild
Posted by
Frank Swain   
Friday 11 January 2013 03.00 EST

"What I want to know," said the voice on the other end of the phone, "is how many more students would have passed this year if the grade boundaries hadn't been changed." It's a good question, and it strikes to the heart of last year's GCSE fiasco. Even when they're writing about numbers, journalists are really writing about people.

Together we worked through the data he had, converting quantities of graduates into pass rates and back again, standardising, multiplying, distilling, until we had a number that reflected the human cost of the skirmish between teachers and examination boards. For a science or maths graduate, it would have been a straightforward problem to solve, but most journalists are not science or maths graduates. In fact, most journalists do not get any kind of numeracy training at all.

Today I'll be speaking at the Association for Journalism Education conference in Middlesex to argue that should change. In a world increasingly saturated with data, science and statistical classes should form part of the core curriculum for journalism training. Despite its reputation as an enclave for humanities graduates, journalism is endlessly focussed on numbers: economic growth, benefit cuts, political polling, house prices, opinion surveys, crime stats, health risks, fare rises, birth rates, pass rates, unemployment rates, mortality rates. To get to the truth of these stories, it's essential that journalists are comfortable handling the data they report. Otherwise, we risk a media which conjures non-existent trends from statistical noise and writes off real trends as non-existent.

Science Writing and Reporting

The Guardian (UK): Scientists take to Twitter to reveal their less than scientific methods
Scientists across the world are tweeting about how experiments really get done. Some are brutally honest, most are very funny
Posted by
Dr Mark Lorch   
Thursday 10 January 2013 13.40 EST

Scientists are a precise bunch. Our experiments are carefully planned down to the last detail, the methods we use are selected with great care and forethought and our sample sizes are perfectly calibrated to ensure statistically valid results. But first our hypotheses are constructed only after carefully reading our peers' work. You can see evidence of this clearly spelled out in any research paper which will invariably present a logical series experiments that lead to a nice clear conclusion all carefully referenced to all the relevant prior-art. So if a reaction was left for 60 minutes there must be a sound scientific reason for this. And of course the equipment we use is carefully built from only the highest quality parts.

At least these stereotypes are what we wanted you to believe in. That is until a couple of days ago. Since then, scientists from all four corners of the twitterverse have not just dismantled that pure-of-thought image but demolished it with repeated 140-character salvos all bearing the hashtag #overlyhonestmethods. Most of these tweets are jokes that rail against the stuffy and sometimes unclear way that scientific papers are written, but there is certainly more than a grain of truth in most of them.

Mother Jones: The Science of Why Comment Trolls Suck
The online peanut gallery can get you so riled up that your ability to reason goes out the window, a new study finds.
By Chris Mooney
Thu Jan. 10, 2013 3:06 AM PST

Everybody who's written or blogged about climate change on a prominent website (or, even worse, spoken about it on YouTube) knows the drill. Shortly after you post, the menagerie of trolls arrives. They're predominantly climate deniers, and they start in immediately arguing over the content and attacking the science-sometimes by slinging insults and even occasional obscenities. To cite a recent example:
What part of "we haven't warmed any in 16 years" don't you understand? Heh. "Cherry-picking" as defined by you alarmists: any time period selected containing data that refutes your hysterical hypothesis. Can be any length of time from 4 billion years to one hour. Fuck off, little man!?
It was reasonably obvious already that these folks were doing nothing good for the public's understanding of the science of climate change (to say nothing of their own comprehension). But now there's actual evidence to back this idea up.

The Guardian (UK): The Malay Archipelago by Alfred Russel Wallace – review
In this book the naturalist and explorer who lived in Darwin's shadow reveals himself to be a truly extraordinary figure
Tim Radford
guardian.co.uk, Friday 11 January 2013 02.00 EST

Just before Christmas, Science magazine published "an update of Wallace's zoogeographic regions of the world". The headline presumes immediate recognition by surname alone and it implies that the observations of a lone Victorian traveller and a self-taught naturalist were sufficiently sound to survive as standard biology for more than a century.

Five generations of increasingly professional taxonomists, geneticists, systematists, ecologists, ornithologists, zoologists, ichthyologists and botanists – the most recent equipped with electron microscopes, DNA sequencing technology and satellite observation – tested his findings again and again. The Science team report that their own classification of vertebrate assemblages "exhibits some interesting similarities with Wallace's original classification, as well as some important differences". Consider it not a correction but a salute.

This will be a year of salutes to Alfred Russel Wallace, who died 100 years ago this coming November. To understand why he was such an extraordinary figure, just read The Malay Archipelago: The Land of the Orang-Utan and the Bird of Paradise, a Narrative of Travel with Studies of Man and Nature. He is an adventurer who does not present himself as adventurous; he is a Victorian Englishman abroad with all the self-assurance but without the lordly superiority of the coloniser; he is the chronicler of wonders who refuses to exaggerate, or to believe anybody else's improbable marvels: what he can see and examine (and, very often, shoot) is wonder enough for him.

Science is Cool

LiveScience: Pompeii 'Wall Posts' Reveal Ancient Social Networks
Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer
Date: 10 January 2013 Time: 01:05 PM ET

Think of it as the earliest version of the Facebook wall post: Ancient Pompeii residents revealed their social networks through graffiti on actual walls.

Now, a new analysis of some of these scribbled messages reveals the walls of the wealthy were highly sought after, especially for political candidates hoping to drum up votes. The findings suggest that Pompeii homeowners may have had some control over who got artistic on their walls, said study researcher Eeva-Maria Viitanen, an archaeologist at the University of Helsinki.

"The current view is that any candidate could have chosen any location and have their ad painted on the wall. After looking at the contexts, this would not seem very likely," Viitanen told LiveScience. "The facades of the private houses and even the streetwalks in front of them were controlled and maintained by the owner of the house, and in that respect, the idea that the wall space could be appropriated by anyone who wanted to do it seems unlikely."

LiveScience: Roman Kids Showed Off Status with Shoes
Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer
Date: 07 January 2013 Time: 05:00 PM ET

SEATTLE - Even on the farthest-flung frontiers of the ancient Roman Empire, the footwear made the man ­— and the kid.

Children and infants living in and around Roman military bases around the first century wore shoes that revealed the kids' social status, according to new research presented here Friday (Jan. 4) at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America. The teeny-tiny shoes, some sized for infants, not only reveal that families were part of Roman military life, but also show that children were dressed to match their parent's place in the social hierarchy, said study researcher Elizabeth Greene of the University of Western Ontario.

Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for these stories.

Originally posted to Overnight News Digest on Sat Jan 12, 2013 at 09:08 PM PST.

Also republished by Astro Kos and SciTech.

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