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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 Canadian Press via CBC, with video from Russia Today and a slideshow from the BBC.

Vancouver leads Canada as Earth Hour 'capital'
Canadians will join millions worldwide in marking Earth Hour at 8:30 p.m. in local time zones
The Canadian Press
Posted: Mar 23, 2013 12:04 PM

The City of Vancouver beat out 66 other cities around the world for the title of Global Earth Hour Capital in a challenged issued by the World Wildlife Fund.

The WWFund, which is the driving force behind Earth Hour, said it bestowed the 'capital' honour on Vancouver in recognition of the city's efforts to reduce pollution that causes climate change.

The city also received the highest number of online votes in a People's Choice ballot, and the city's government passed an official "Earth Hour 2013" proclamation.

About 13-million Canadians turned off their lights for an hour last year in the symbolic event aimed at drawing awareness to climate change.

Planet Power: Over 150 countries turn lights off for Earth Hour 2013

It's an event that has united millions around the world - Earth Hour also saw Moscow turn the lights off in the Kremlin for the very first time. The lights are now back on in the Russian capital, and earlier I spoke to Madina Kochenova about the fascinating event.

In pictures: Earth Hour around the world

More stories after the jump.

Recent Science Diaries and Stories

Earth Hour Tonight. 8:30 local time
by ShoshannaD

Solar Probe Captures Sublime Cosmic Wonder on Video: A Comet, Earth, and the Sun Dancing Together
by Troubadour

Green Diary Rescue: State Dept. concealed consultants' connections to pipeline builder
by Meteor Blades

This week in science: and Neo was its name-o!
by DarkSyde

Slideshows/Videos

Discovery News: Bringing Back Weird Extinct Animals

An extinct frog that hatches its young inside its stomach might be making a comeback thanks to science! In this DNews video, Anthony shows us this amazing little amphibian and how scientists are bringing it back from the dead.
This is continuing coverage of this story that I first included in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Life possible on ancient Mars).  Also see the stories under Biodiversity.

CNN: Online advertisers know little about you.

Data company Enliken says data collected by online giants such as Yahoo and Google is often inaccurate.
This is more continuing coverage of this story that I first included in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Life possible on ancient Mars).  Also see the related article about what data mining of books reveals under Psychology/Behavior.

Discovery News: Humans Are Speeding Up Evolution

Turns out evolution isn't always slow. Scientists in Nebraska have discovered a bird evolving right before our eyes.

NASA Television: Cassidy and Crew Ready for Launch on This Week @NASA

NASA Flight Engineer Chris Cassidy, and Soyuz Commander Pavel Vinogradov and Flight Engineer Alexander Misurkin of the Russian Federal Space Agency are now at their launch site in Kazakhstan after finishing final training and prelaunch activities outside Moscow. The Expedition 35/36 crew is scheduled to liftoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Thursday, Mar. 28, U.S. time, and head for the International Space Station. Also, mitigating meteors; 50 years of cooperation; a Suni reception; ISS research; New Planck cosmology; first light of Landsat's latest; SXSW; and more!

snowhound on YouTube: Meteor on March 22 on security cam in Thurmont MD

This footage was shared on my FB page by Kim Fox in Thurmont MD. Thousands across the eastern US saw this around 7:50 PM EDT on March 22 2013.
See the article on this topic under Astronomy/Space.

Astronomy/Space

Nature via Scientific American:  New View of Primordial Universe Confirms Sudden "Inflation" after Big Bang
The Planck space telescope's picture of the cosmic microwave background sheds fresh light on the first instants following the birth of the universe, and suggests that it's about 80 million years older than previously thought
By Mark Peplow and Nature magazine
March 21, 2013

The Planck space telescope has delivered the most detailed picture yet of the cosmic microwave background, the residual glow of the Big Bang.

Scientists unveiling the results from the €600 million European Space Agency (ESA) probe said that they shed fresh light on the first instants of our Universe’s birth. They also peg the age of the Universe at 13.81 billion years — slightly older than previously estimated.

“For cosmologists, this map is a goldmine of information,” says George Efstathiou, director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmology at the University of Cambridge, UK, one of Planck’s lead researchers.

Scientific American: Star Performers: The Magellanic Clouds
Two intrepid galaxies dash past the Milky Way—and dazzle astronomers with their beauty and brilliance as new observations reveal why the pair is so flamboyant
By Ken Croswell
March 20, 2013

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is more than just a giant barred spiral harboring hundreds of billions of stars. It's also the hub of a gargantuan empire that stretches over more than a million light-years and rules some two dozen lesser galaxies, which revolve around it the way moons orbit a giant planet.

Of all our galaxy's many satellites, none compares with the Magellanic Clouds, which look like fragments of glowing mist torn from the Milky Way. Bold and beautiful, both galaxies are by far the liveliest and most lustrous of the Milky Way's retinue. In the last seven years astronomers have discovered just how rare this galactic duo is—and how lucky we are to have the pair close by. Moreover, new observations from the Hubble Space Telescope have given us the best clue yet to their path through space, which holds the key to their unique nature.

The Magellan galaxies, named for the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan and best seen from the Southern Hemisphere, turn out to be unusual in several ways. For their size, they possess a large amount of star-making gas and dust: more than a billion suns’ worth. Indeed, of the several dozen galaxies that belong to the so-called Local Group in our neighborhood of the cosmos, it's the Large Magellanic Cloud—not the much mightier Andromeda Galaxy or Milky Way—that boasts the greatest known stellar nursery. Named the Tarantula Nebula, it spans 700 light-years. If it were as close as the Milky Way's well-known Orion Nebula, the Tarantula Nebula would loom 55 times larger than the moon.

Space.com via LiveScience: Meteor Over Manhattan: East Coast Fireball Sets Internet Abuzz
Tariq Malik, SPACE.com Managing Editor
Date: 23 March 2013

A bright meteor briefly outshined the lights of New York City Friday evening (March 22), according to reports by witnesses who used Twitter and the Internet to report sightings of the fireball streaking over a broad stretch of the U.S. East Coast.

"Strange Friday night … a meteor passed over my house tonight!" wrote one New Yorker writing as Yanksmom19.

The first fireball sightings came at about 8 p.m. EDT (0000 March 23 GMT) and sparked more than 500 witness reports to the American Meteor Society. Reports of the meteor flooded Twitter from New York, Boston and Washington, D.C.

Climate/Environment

Newcastle University (UK) via ScienceDaily: Ancient Rock Art at Risk, Warn Experts

Mar. 14, 2013 — Urgent action is needed to prevent ancient art disappearing,  Newcastle University experts have warned.

Researchers from the International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies (ICCHS)  and School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences (CEG) studied the physical underpinnings and condition of Neolithic and Bronze Age rock art panels in Northumberland. They conclude climate change could cause the art to vanish because new evidence suggests stones may deteriorate more rapidly in the future.

Writing in the Journal of Cultural and Heritage Studies, they say action is needed so the art can be preserved for future generations, but they also urge that a deeper understanding is needed of what causes rock art to deteriorate.

Reuters via Alertnet: Pre-Viking tunic found by glacier as warming aids archaeology
By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent
Thu, 21 Mar 2013 16:41 GMT

OSLO, March 21 (Reuters) - A pre-Viking woollen tunic found beside a thawing glacier in south Norway shows how global warming is proving something of a boon for archaeology, scientists said on Thursday.

The greenish-brown, loose-fitting outer clothing - suitable for a person up to about 176 cms (5 ft 9 inches) tall - was found 2,000 metres (6,560 ft) above sea level on what may have been a Roman-era trade route in south Norway.

Carbon dating showed it was made around 300 AD.

Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for these stories.

The Daily Climate via Scientific American: Seeding Atlantic Ocean with Volcanic Iron Did Little to Lower CO2
The eruption in Iceland naturally fertilized the ocean but failed to prod plankton to suck up much more carbon dioxide
By Alex Kirby and The Daily Climate
March 21, 2013

LONDON – Plankton, tiny marine organisms, are a good way of cleansing the atmosphere of one of the main greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide. To do this they need dissolved iron to help them to grow, and if they lack iron then they cannot do much to reduce CO2 levels.

So the eruption in 2010 of an Icelandic volcano gave scientists a perfect opportunity to see how much the cataclysm helped the plankton by showering them with unexpected clouds of iron.

Their verdict, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters – the volcano certainly helped, but not for long enough to make much difference.

Scientific American: Strength in Numbers: Mathematicians Unite to Tackle Climate Change and Other Planetary Problems
2013 is the year of "Mathematics of Planet Earth" for hundreds of organizations around the world
By Evelyn Lamb
March 21, 2013

What do polar ice caps, guinea worm disease and wildfires have in common? All are being modeled with cutting-edge mathematics. Mathematical societies and institutes around the world are participating in "Mathematics of Planet Earth," or MPE, this year. They aim to study the math that underpins geologic and biological processes on our planet as well as encourage more math researchers to tackle these problems. Events are planned for the year 2013, but the organizers hope that the initiative will have lasting effects.

MPE is the brainchild of Christiane Rousseau, past president of the Canadian Mathematical Society. She had the idea several years ago of uniting mathematicians from across the globe to study problems ranging from climate change and sustainability to earthquake prediction and disease pandemics. It was a lofty goal but it resonated within the community and took off. Just one week elapsed, she says, from the time she conceived the notion to when “all the North American research institutes” came onboard. Enthusiasm spread from North America overseas, and now MPE partners include societies all over the world, including schools and centers in Europe, Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa.

Climate change is the poster child for MPE. Mathematicians routinely travel to Antarctica to study polar ice; they are working on figuring out how quickly Earth is warming, what crops will be most affected by climate change and where the tipping points are if we want to try to mitigate damage. But even before questions of the climate and sustainability became paramount, Rousseau says, mathematics was, and still is, vital for discovering many aspects of the planet itself: Ancient scientists determined that the world was a sphere by observing the angle of the sun at different points on the planet. In the 1930s Danish seismologist Inge Lehmann used mathematics to determine that Earth is not molten liquid throughout, but has a solid core. "You cannot see what's inside the Earth with your eyes," Rousseau says. "I like to tell students, 'you put your mathematical glasses on, and then you understand.'"

The Daily Climate via Scientific American: Failure Becomes an Option for Infrastructure Engineers Facing Climate Change
A University of New Hampshire civil engineer thinks infrastructure must be designed to fail safely
By Jennifer Weeks and The Daily Climate
March 20, 2013

BOSTON – Civil engineers build rugged things designed to last for decades, like roads, bridges, culverts and water treatment plants. But a University of New Hampshire professor wants his profession to become much more flexible.

In a changing climate, civil engineer Paul Kirshen argues, facilities will have to adapt to changing conditions over their useful lives – and, in some instances, be allowed to fail. A leading example of this approach: The Netherlands' Room for the River project: Decades of thinking that floods must be held back are being tossed aside as workers move dikes to give the Rhine River room to spill.

The approach recognizes that the country's famed network of dikes and dams will come under increasing stress as sea levels rise. Rather than building protective walls ever higher, the Dutch believe they can keep safer by accepting a certain amount of controlled flooding.

Biodiversity

Slate: Don’t Bring Back the Saber-Toothed Tiger
How de-extinction could derail the conservation movement.
By Frank Swain
Posted Monday, March 18, 2013, at 1:58 PM

A few weeks back I chanced across a post by Carla Sinclair at BoingBoing in which she recounted a TED talk that proposed reviving extinct species:

“Stewart Brand began his TED talk today with the statement, ‘Biotechnology is about to liberate conservation.’* Before I had a chance to process what that meant, he went on to list a number of birds and mammals that have become extinct in the last few centuries, including the passenger pigeon, which was killed off by hunters in the 1930s. For a moment my mood plunged, as it always does with conversations of human-caused animal extinction. And then he asked the question, ‘What if DNA could be used to bring a species back?’ I felt a tsunami of awe and excitement barrel through the audience. This was as exciting as his declaration about the digital world in 1984 when he said, ‘Information wants to be free.’ ”

Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for this story.

Scientific American: Will We Kill Off Today's Animals If We Revive Extinct Ones?
De-extinction hopes to revive mammoths, gastric frogs and other missing species, but it might undermine the conservation of creatures that still survive
By David Biello
March 19, 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The rebirth of an extinct frog species may come from the freezer, not the stomach. The gastric brooding frog, when it existed on Earth, swallowed its eggs, transformed its stomach into a womb and vomited up its young once sufficiently grown. But the frog disappeared from the mountains of southern Australia shortly after it was discovered in the 1970s, persisting only as a few frozen specimens in the bottom of a scientist's freezer.

The cells in those tissues should have been ruptured by the swelling ice crystals that formed within and around them. But some of the cells remained reasonably intact, according to paleontologist Michael Archer of the University of New South Wales in Australia, who is attempting to resurrect the species via his Lazarus Project. He and his colleagues transplanted the nucleus of that cell and others like it into hundreds of eggs from a closely related species. "Last February we saw a miracle starting to happen," Archer announced for the first time to the crowd at the TEDx De-Extinction event on March 15 at the National Geographic Auditorium. "One of them began to divide." (Archer’s group has not published the work yet.)

While tadpoles may be a long way off, let alone a viable frog, the southern gastric brooding frog might be the first species brought back from the dead permanently. The first de-extinction happened in 2003, although it lasted all too briefly.  Scientists coaxed a clone of an extinct ibex from Spain to birth from a special hybrid goat. But the cloned bucardo bore a third lung and couldn't breathe properly, dying within 10 minutes.

Although this early effort failed, the growing cohort of resurrection projects raises a central question: Does extinction mean forever, anymore? If not, do we have an obligation to bring species back?

Nature via Scientific American: Giant Squid Reality: There Were Once Few Kraken to Release
The genetic uniformity of giant squid shows that the legendary cephalopods are remarkably vulnerable to extinction today and came close to it at some point in the not too distant past
By Matt Kaplan and Nature magazine
March 20, 2013

The fearsome sea monster of Greek and Norse tales — and the creature that fought Captain Nemo in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea — was once driven close to extinction, gene sequencing suggests. The genetic uniformity of giant squid across distant oceans hints at a past evolutionary bottleneck, but also at low resiliency toward future crises.

The finding comes from an analysis of tissue samples from 43 giant squid (Architeuthis spp.) from around the world. The samples came mostly from dead squid that had been found washed up on beaches or floating on the ocean surface, although a few came from animals that were accidentally caught by deep-sea trawlers.

When the researchers looked closely at the mitochondrial DNA of the creatures, they noticed something remarkable. Irrespective of where they came from — be it be it California, Japan, South Africa, New Zealand or somewhere else — the squid were genetically very similar.

Biotechnology/Health

Nature via Scientific American: Genetically Engineered Immune Cells Found to Rapidly Clear Leukemia Tumors
The new therapy for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a swift-growing cancer that tends to kill more than 60 percent of those afflicted, involves extracting T cells and modifying them to home in on and destroy B cells in healthy and cancerous tissue
By Heidi Ledford and Nature magazine
March 21, 2013

Genetically engineered immune cells can drive an aggressive type of leukemia into retreat, a small clinical trial suggests.

The results of the trial — done in five patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia — are published in Science Translational Medicine and represent the latest success for a 'fringe' therapy in which a type of immune cell called T cells are extracted from a patient, genetically modified, and then reinfused back. In this case, the T cells were engineered to express a receptor for a protein on other immune cells, known as B cells, found in both healthy and cancerous tissue.

When reintroduced into the patients, the tricked T cells quickly homed in on their targets. “All of our patients very rapidly cleared the tumor,” says Michel Sadelain, a researcher at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and an author of the study. The treatment “worked much faster than we thought”.

Scientific American: Tread Lightly: Labels That Translate Calories into Walking Distance Could Induce People to Eat Less
Including the amount of physical activity needed to burn off the calories from a meal caused people to order on average 200 calories less in an online survey
By Roxanne Khamsi
March 18, 2013

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s campaign to limit sugary drinks is losing juice, but an idea the city has used to convey caloric information about these beverages might actually have legs. Public awareness posters used by the campaign showed the number of miles a person would have to walk to burn off the calories in a 20-ounce soda, and new research suggests that physical activity–based conversions such as these can actually persuade people to make healthier choices.

Psychology/Behavior

Nature via Scientific American: Text Mining Uncovers U.S. Emotion and British Reserve
An analysis reveals that writers' expressions of sentiment on opposite sides of the pond have grown apart in recent decades
By Philip Ball and Nature magazine
March 22, 2013

If you associate modern British fiction with the cool, detached tones of Martin Amis and Julian Barnes, and US fiction with Jonathan Franzen's emotional inner worlds or John Irving's sentimentality, it seems you have good reason. An analysis of the digitized texts of English-language books over the past century concludes that, since the 1980s, words that carry emotional content have become significantly more common in US books than in British ones.

The study, by anthropologist Alberto Acerbi of the University of Bristol, UK, and his colleagues, takes advantage of Google’s database of more than 5 million digitally scanned books from the past several centuries. This resource has previously been used to examine the evolution of literary styles and trends in literary expressions of individualism.

Such mining of the cultural information made available by new technologies has been called ‘culturomics’. Its advocates think that these approaches can unearth trends in social opinions and norms that are otherwise concealed within vast swathes of data.

“Language use in books reflects what people are talking about and thinking about during a particular time, so Google Books provides a fascinating window into the past,” says psychologist Jean Twenge of San Diego State University in California.

Jean Twenge and I attended the University of Michigan at the same time.  Small world.

Nature via Scientific American: Serotonin Receptors Offer Clues to New Antidepressants
Long-sought specificity on the shapes of serotonin binding sites could aid in the discovery of new drugs to combat depression, as well as in the study of consciousness
By Arran Frood and Nature magazine
March 22, 2013

Researchers have deciphered the molecular structures of two of the brain's crucial lock-and-key mechanisms. The two molecules are receptors for the natural neurotransmitter serotonin — which regulates activities such as sleep, appetite and mood — and could provide targets for future drugs to combat depression, migraines or obesity.

“This is huge,” says Bryan Roth, a neuropharmacologist at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Medical School, and a co-author of the two studies published in Science today. “Before this there was no crystal structure for any serotonin receptor. A lot of what was theoretical is now known with a great degree of certainty,” he says.

Scientists have been trying to decipher serotonin receptors for years. Armed with information on the atomic level, they might now be able to make breakthroughs in drug discovery and in understanding how the physical structures of the brain produce consciousness, says Roth.

Archeology/Anthropology

Science News: Disputed finds put humans in South America 22,000 years ago
Brazilian site may have been home to people before the Clovis hunters
By Bruce Bower

Stone tools unearthed at a Brazilian rock-shelter may date to as early as 22,000 years ago. Their discovery has rekindled debate about whether ancient people reached the Americas long before the famed Clovis hunters spread through parts of North America around 13,000 years ago.

These relics of ancient South Americans add to evidence from nearby sites challenging the longstanding view of Clovis people as the first Americans (SN: 8/11/12, p. 15), a team led by geochronologist Christelle Lahaye of the University of Bordeaux 3 and archaeologist Eric Boëda of the University of Paris X reports March 4 in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

New Scientist (UK): Farming has deep roots in Chinese ice age

Some ideas need time to take root. A new analysis suggests it took up to 12,000 years for people in what is now China to go from eating wild plants to farming them. Agriculture elsewhere also took time to flower.

Li Liu of Stanford University and colleagues studied three grinding stones from China's Yellow River region. They bear residues showing that they were used to process millet and other grains, as well as yams, beans and roots.

LiveScience: Holy Land Farming Began 5,000 Years Earlier Than Thought
Douglas Main, LiveScience Staff Writer

AVDAT, Israel — For thousands of years, different groups of people have lived in the Negev desert, building stone walls and cities that survive to this day. But how did they make their living?

The current thinking is that these desert denizens didn't practice agriculture before approximately the first century, surviving instead by raising animals, said Hendrik Bruins, a landscape archaeologist at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

LiveMint (India): Explorers find evidence of 2,500-year-old planned city
The discovery in Chattisgarh is being billed as India’s biggest archaeological find in at least half a century
Jacob P. Koshy
First Published: Sun, Mar 17 2013. 09 43 PM IST

New Delhi: Explorers claim they have evidence of a 2,500-year-old planned city—complete with water reservoirs, roads, seals and coins—buried in Chhattisgarh, a discovery that is being billed as the nation’s biggest archaeological find in at least half a century.

The discoveries were made from Tarighat in Durg district and spanned five acres of a sparsely inhabited region beside a river, according to archaeologists from the state’s department of culture and archaeology.

The Tennessean: Archaeological dig aims to save Native American burial mounds
Goal is National Register listing for ancient Native American burial site
Written by Josh Adams
Mar 16, 2013

FRANKLIN — Toye Heape stood on the slope of an ancient Native American burial mound, confident in the significance of what was beneath his feet.

The 1,800-year-old site has long been known to historians. But Heape, vice president of the Native History Association, was still excited to see state archaeologists slowly burrowing into the dirt last week.

The excavation, scheduled to end Friday, was never intended to prove specifically what rests within the two small hills that sit just south of Highway 96 in the Westhaven subdivision. The intent is simply to preserve them.

BBC: Jewish bones burial an 'historic event' says community

The remains of 17 people suspected to have been killed under 12th Century religious persecution, have been given a Jewish ceremonial burial in Norwich.

The bones, which include the remains of 11 children, were found piled in a well during survey work ahead of the city's Chapelfield development in 2004.

Historical evidence has indicated the remains are of Jewish descent so they have been buried on "sacred land".

About 100 people from a number of faiths attended the "historic event".

Alexandria Times: Alexandria archaeologists dig up possible slaughterhouse
By Derrick Perkins

Archaeologists are poring over a massive, brick-lined hole not far from Jefferson-Houston School, containing what might be the most interesting — and surprising — find in recent memory.

Local historians believe the uncovered structure likely is all that remains of the 19th-century equivalent of a slaughterhouse. They made the discovery as Alexandria City Public Schools prepares to break ground on a new Jefferson-Houston building.

Belfast Telegraph (UK): Crannog dig team gets one last reprieve
By Linda Stewart
15 March 2013

One of Ireland's richest archaeological digs has won another week-long reprieve – but that's it.

Roads Minister Danny Kennedy says there can't be any more delays to work on the A32 Cherrymount Link Road near Enniskillen which has been held up by the treasure trove of historical artefacts discovered.

Archaeologists are working round the clock to excavate as much material as possible from the Fermanagh site, before the major roads project goes ahead.

Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for these stories.

Evolution/Paleontology

LiveScience: Inbreeding Common in Early Humans, Deformed Skull Suggests
Tanya Lewis, LiveScience Staff Writer
Date: 18 March 2013 Time: 05:00 PM ET

Inbreeding may have been a common practice among early human ancestors, fossils show.

The evidence comes from fragments of an approximately 100,000-year-old human skull unearthed at a site called Xujiayao, located in the Nihewan Basin of northern China. The skull's owner appears to have had a now-rare congenital deformity that probably arose through inbreeding, researchers report today (March 18) in the journal PLOS ONE.

LiveScience: 'Out of Africa' Story Being Rewritten Again
Tia Ghose, LiveScience Staff Writer
Date: 21 March 2013

Our early human ancestors may have left Africa more recently than thought, between 62,000 and 95,000 years ago, suggests a new analysis of genetic material from fossil skeletons.

The new findings are in line with earlier estimates, but contradict a more recent study that put humans' first exodus from Africa least 200,000 years ago.

Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for these stories.

Scientific American: Deus ex Cicada: Are Predatory Bird Populations Influenced by Cicadas’ Odd Life Cycles?
Bird population crashes seem to correlate with the strange 13-year and 17-year cycles of periodical cicadas. Some researchers suggest that the dissonant insects actually orchestrate the behavior of their predators
By Charles Q. Choi
March 19, 2013

As the first day of spring approaches a scientific mystery will soon return with a roar— the 2013 return of the east coast b rood of cicadas, or Brood II. Now a team of scientists hint they may have a solution as to why this brood and its fellows bizarrely emerge only after lulls more than a decade long—to control their surroundings in ways that may lead to crashes in numbers of predatory birds.

Periodical cicadas are the longest-lived insects known. After childhoods spent underground living off the juices of tree roots, broods of red-eyed adults surface in precise cycles— 13 years long in the southeastern U.S. and 17 years long in the northeastern part of the country. Fifteen broods are known to exist today on Earth, all native to North America. Brood II is set to emerge this spring in New York State, Connecticut, Maryland, North Carolina, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia with choruses of males bent on wooing mates with their din. It remains an enigma why these cicadas only emerge together in the adult stage every 13 or 17 years, as opposed to some other duration — other cicada species are not so synchronized.

"The 'periodical cicada' problem is one that's been kicking around for nearly 350 years at this point," says behavioral ecologist Walter Koenig at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. "The first known mention of periodical cicadas was in Volume 1 of Philosophical Transactions, the first real scientific journal ever published, in 1665 . The fact that these insects still pose some of the most challenging problems there are in evolutionary biology is impressive."

Geology

Nature via Scientific American: Triassic Extinction Tied to Massive Lava Spills
A dating technique has pinned down four volcanic eruptions that may have triggered the extinction event that cleared the way for dinosaurs to dominate on Earth for the next 135 million years
By Sid Perkins and Nature magazine
March 22, 2013

The mass extinction that wiped out many species at the end of the Triassic period some 200 million years ago made way for the dinosaurs' domination of Earth for the next 135 million years. Now, researchers have determined the timing of a possible trigger for that Triassic extinction event with unprecedented precision.  

Scientists have long suspected a link between the Triassic die-offs — one of the five largest mass extinctions to have struck Earth in the past 542 million years — and widespread volcanic activity that occurred at around the same time. The vast amounts of lava spilled from those eruptions, which covered an area slightly smaller than Australia, can now be found on four continents.

Radioactive dating techniques used in previous studies haven’t been accurate enough to pin down exactly when those eruptions took place, says Terrence Blackburn, a geochronologist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC. Some estimates have even suggested that the die-offs took place before the eruptions started, implying that the volcanism may have had only a peripheral role.

Nature via Scientific American: Earthquakes Make Gold Veins in an Instant
Pressure changes cause the precious metal to deposit each time the crust moves, a new study finds. The insight suggests that remote sensing could be used to find new deposits in rocks where fault jogs are common
By Richard A. Lovett and Nature magazine
March 18, 2013

Scientists have long known that veins of gold are formed by mineral deposition from hot fluids flowing through cracks deep in Earth’s crust. But a study published today in Nature Geoscience has found that the process can occur almost instantaneously — possibly within a few tenths of a second.

The process takes place along 'fault jogs' — sideways zigzag cracks that connect the main fault lines in rock, says first author Dion Weatherley, a seismologist at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia.

Energy

The Daily Climate via Scientific American: Major Fuel and Emissions Savings Unlikely in Automobiles
The U.S. National Academy of Sciences suggests that it will be "extremely challenging" to cut emissions and oil use by 80 percent by 2050 in a new report
By Brian Bienkowski and The Daily Climate
March 19, 2013

Efforts to drastically slash automobile emissions and fuel use within 40 years don't stand a chance without subsidies, technology improvements and more stringent government standards, according to a report by a panel of experts released Monday.

Congress in 2010 directed the National Research Council to assess the feasibility of reducing both gasoline use and greenhouse gas emissions in cars and light trucks by 80 percent by 2050. The council concluded that goal would be "extremely challenging."

Even hitting an intermediate target – cutting fuel use in half by 2030 – would be "very difficult," the council reported.

Physics

Department of Energy via ScienceDaily: Quantum Computers Coming Soon? Metamaterials Used to Observe Giant Photonic Spin Hall Effect
March 21, 2013

Researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)'s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have once again demonstrated the incredible capabilities of metamaterials -- artificial nanoconstructs whose optical properties arise from their physical structure rather than their chemical composition. Engineering a unique two-dimensional sheet of gold nanoantennas, the researchers were able to obtain the strongest signal yet of the photonic spin Hall effect, an optical phenomenon of quantum mechanics that could play a prominent role in the future of computing.

"With metamaterial, we were able to greatly enhance a naturally weak effect to the point where it was directly observable with simple detection techniques," said Xiang Zhang, a faculty scientist with Berkeley Lab's Materials Sciences Division who led this research. "We also demonstrated that metamaterials not only allow us to control the propagation of light but also allows control of circular polarization. This could have profound consequences for information encoding and processing."

Chemistry

LiveScience: Genetic Origami: DNA Bent Into Strange Shapes
Tia Ghose, LiveScience Staff Writer
Date: 21 March 2013

Scientists have bent DNA into bizarre, basket-woven shapes, from spheres to corkscrews.

The new DNA origami, described today (March 21) in the journal Science, is one of the first steps in designing tiny nano-robots that could carry medicines or repair cells in the body.

"These are just the basic elements for device construction," study co-author Dongran Han, a chemistry doctoral candidate at Arizona State University, told LiveScience. "For future applications, we need a much bigger toolbox."

LiveScience: New Crystal Holds Promise for Future Electronics
Jiangyu Li Ph.D., University of Washington
Date: 20 March 2013

Researchers have discovered a new material that may have important applications for a wide range of industries. The material is a molecular crystal called diisopropylammonium bromide (DIPAB), which has robust ferroelectric properties — meaning it exhibits positively and negatively charged poles, like a magnet, that can be rotated by an electric field. This makes the material useful for applications such as sensing, actuating, data storage and flexible electronics.

While most ferroelectric materials are expensive to produce, DIPABcan be easily synthesized from aqueous solution because of its molecular structure.

Additionally, many ferroelectric materials are inorganic and contain lead, making them environmental hazardous. But DIPAB contains only carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and bromine, and is therefore environmentally friendly.

Science Crime Scenes

The Independent (UK): Afghanistan's heritage is at stake
One of the country's richest archaeological treasures sits on top of vast copper reserves now sold to the Chinese
Freddie McConnell

South east of Kabul lies Logar, the latest province to backslide into the clutches of insurgency and Taliban rule. Upon the region's barren landscape sits a cluster of rocky foothills known collectively as Mes Aynak. To the Afghan and Chinese governments, Mes Aynak is the site of massive copper reserves, the world's second largest, with an estimated worth exceeding $100bn (£66bn). To others, it is a site of enormous historical importance, a settlement dating back to the Bronze Age which includes a 100-acre ancient monastery complex, and a mere 10 per cent of which has been excavated. Its destruction would see Afghan society robbed of a unique link to its rich heritage.

Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for this story.

Science, Space, Environment, and Energy Policy

Scientific American: How to Kick-Start Innovation with Free Data
Weather and GPS information stimulated the economy with new products and services. Todd Park, the U.S. chief technology officer, wants to repeat that success with the rest of the government’s data trove
By Philip Yam
March 23, 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Government-funded projects have yielded a wealth of information, but much of this data has historically remained locked up in difficult-to-use form. To get this data to people who might start businesses with them, the Obama administration created the position of chief technology officer.

Todd Park, the nation’s current CTO, has plenty of innovation experience. In 1997, at the age of 24, he co-founded his first start-up, called Athenahealth, which provides online data management for physicians. After momentarily retiring to focus on his family he set up two other start-ups before joining the White House team four years ago.

At a media briefing in February he talked about getting government data into the hands of entrepreneurs to spark innovation and economic growth.

Scientific American: Do Big New Brain Projects Make Sense When We Don’t Even Know the “Neural Code”?
By John Horgan
March 23, 2013

Does anyone still remember “The Decade of the Brain“? Youngsters don’t, but perhaps some of my fellow creaky, cranky science-lovers do. In 1990, the brash, fast-growing Society for Neuroscience convinced Congress to name the ’90s the Decade of the Brain. The goal, as President George Bush put it, was to boost public awareness of and support for research on the “three-pound mass of interwoven nerve cells” that serves as “the seat of human intelligence, interpreter of senses and controller of movement.”

One opponent of this public-relations stunt was Torsten Wiesel, who won a Nobel Prize in 1981 for work on the neural basis of vision. When I interviewed him in 1998 for my book The Undiscovered Mind, he grumbled that the Decade of the Brain was “foolish.” Scientists “need at least a century, maybe even a millennium,” to understand the brain, Wiesel said. “We are at the very beginning of brain science.”

I recalled Wiesel’s irritable comments as I read about big new neuroscience initiatives in the U.S. and Europe. In January, the European Union announced it would sink more than $1 billion over the next decade into the Human Brain Project, an attempt to construct a massive computer simulation of the brain. The project, according to The New York Times, involves more than 150 institutions. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama is reportedly planning to commit more than $3 billion to a similar project, called the Brain Activity Map.

Science Education

Science News for Kids: Teens seek invention protection
Increasingly, young researchers seek patents to defend their innovations against theft
By Kellyn Betts
March 20, 2013

Naomi Chetan Shah didn’t think much about the air inside her Portland, Ore., home until she was 11. Then the sixth grader began to wonder why her father and brother always had watery eyes and runny noses. They suffered all year. That seemed to rule out seasonal allergies often caused by the pollen from blooming flowers, trees, grasses and weeds.

It took Naomi until high school to sleuth out what caused her family’s health problems. She even invented a computer program to help others diagnose similar problems. Her project earned her a spot as a finalist in this year’s Intel Science Talent Search (STS). This premier research competition is for students in their last year of high school. The Society for Science & the Public (which also publishes Science News for Kids) developed and runs the prestigious science competition.

While Naomi, now 17, hopes her computer program can help others, she doesn’t want anyone to steal her invention either. So she’s seeking to patent it. Governments offer patents for new inventions. These can include new processes, devices, substances or even plant varieties. Anyone who develops such a novelty can submit an application to the government.

Science Writing and Reporting

Science News: BOOK REVIEW: The Kingdom of Rarities
By Eric Dinerstein
Review by Janet Raloff
March 20, 2013

Armchair naturalists will delight in following Dinerstein as he treks the globe to find uncommon species and figure out why they are rare. Through field investigations and other research, this conservation biologist with the World Wildlife Fund comes to a rather startling conclusion: The majority of Earth’s nonmicroscopic species are rare — and probably always have been.

Unlike the dandelions and starlings of the world, he points out, most species consist of small numbers of individuals or are found only in a few tiny bits of real estate. People often take the blame for making species rarer, and Dinerstein by no means exonerates humans. Thanks to overhunting and a general despoiling of the environment, many once-common species are at risk of vanishing. One prime example: the lowland rhinos of Nepal that Dinerstein studied for five years.

Science News: BOOK REVIEW: Louis Agassiz: Creator of American Science
By Christoph Irmscher
Review by Erin Wayman
March 20, 2013

Swiss-born Louis Agassiz was the most famous naturalist in America in the mid-19th century. When he died in 1873, people across the United States mourned the loss of their favorite scientist.

Today, Agassiz is largely forgotten outside academia. After reading his biography, it’s not hard to understand why people may have wanted to forget him. Agassiz was something of a scoundrel — an arrogant idea stealer who left his family when he immigrated to North America. He also rejected Darwin’s theory of natural selection, instead believing in the fixity of species created by God.

Science is Cool

Scientific American: Let's Get Physical: The Psychology of Effective Workout Music
New research clarifies why music and exercise make such a good team, and how to create an optimal workout playlist
By Ferris Jabr
March 20, 2013

“I dare them to find the iPod on me,” Richie Sais told the New York Times in 2007, when he was preparing to run the Marine Corps Marathon. USA Track & Field, the national governing body for distance racing, had just decided to ban athletes from using portable music players in order "to ensure safety and to prevent runners from having a competitive edge." Rais resolved to hide his iPod shuffle under his shirt. Many fellow runners protested the new rule, which remains in effect today in an amended form: It now applies only to people vying for awards and money.

For some athletes and for many people who run, jog, cycle, lift weights and otherwise exercise, music is not superfluous—it is essential to peak performance and a satisfying workout. Although some people prefer audio books, podcasts or ambient sounds, many others depend on bumpin' beats and stirring lyrics to keep themselves motivated when exercising. A quick Twitter search uncovers plenty of evidence: "Trying to let my phone charge a little more before I go, because lord knows I can't even try and workout without music," tweeted @Gianna_H21. "I just made my mom turn around to get my headphones. I can't possibly work out without music," @Codavoci_Kyle admitted.

In the last 10 years the body of research on workout music has swelled considerably, helping psychologists refine their ideas about why exercise and music are such an effective pairing for so many people as well as how music changes the body and mind during physical exertion. Music distracts people from pain and fatigue, elevates mood, increases endurance, reduces perceived effort and may even promote metabolic efficiency. When listening to music, people run farther, bike longer and swim faster than usual—often without realizing it. In a 2012 review of the research, Costas Karageorghis of Brunel University in London, one of the world's leading experts on the psychology of exercise music, wrote that one could think of music as "a type of legal performance-enhancing drug."

Inside Science News Service via Scientific American: A Quantum Leap for Basketball "Bracketology"
Some physicists are relying on a phenomenon called superposition to fill in their NCAA men's basketball tournament selections
By Chris Gorski and Inside Science News Service
March 20, 2013

University of Maryland are filling out their brackets to predict the winners and losers in the NCAA men's basketball tournament. While most people use a strategy to guide their picks -- such as relying on advanced basketball knowledge or identifying the cutest mascot -- this Maryland method relies on quantum physics.

David Hucul, a graduate student, came up with the idea. Last year, his quantum picks performed surprisingly well against picks from other people in the laboratory.

"It almost won," Susan Clark, a post-doctoral researcher who works with Hucul. "It was kind of scary."

Originally posted to Overnight News Digest on Sat Mar 23, 2013 at 08:59 PM PDT.

Also republished by SciTech and Astro Kos.

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